April 3rd 1956 Tornado Outbreak

posted in: Michigan Weather Forecast | 36

I conclude this week with the April 3rd 1956 tornado outbreak.

On the days of the 2nd and 3rd an outbreak produced 47 tornadoes in the U.S. including an F5 tornado that devastated Hudsonville and Standale  on April 3. It was one of three tornadoes to move across southwest Lower Michigan on that day. A fourth tornado struck north of the Manistee area. The Hudsonville-Standale tornado killed 18 and injured 340. In addition to confirmed tornadoes, there were several unconfirmed but possible tornadoes.

April 3, 1956, was a warm and humid day across most of the Midwestern U.S., the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley. Temperatures in the areas affected by the worst of the outbreak were well into the 70s°, approaching 80 ° with high dew points. A low pressure system with a strong cold front located across the western Great Lakes was moving to the northeast. The front was already responsible for deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas on April 2 in which seven people were killed by the storms.

Early on the afternoon of April 3, thunderstorms were already starting to form across Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, with the first deadly tornado reported in Wisconsin. A powerful F4 tornado struck the town of Berlin, Wisconsin, in which seven people were killed and a large portion of Berlin destroyed. Prior to the arrival of the storms in the Midwest, schools had closed earlier than usual due to the threat of severe weather.

Below is a synopsis of the storm outbreak. The columns are divided into city, county, time and path length.

F5 Saugatuck to Hudsonville to S of Lakeview Allegan, Ottawa, Kent, Montcalm 2240 58.8 miles 17 deaths  Officially listed as a single tornado, but may have been a tornado family of two or more tornadoes, one of which was an F4 and the other an F5. The first (F4) tornado may have lifted near Holland, passing aloft over Zeeland before touching down as a second (F5) tornado just east of town. The second tornado then continued northeast before lifting northeast of Trufant.
F4 NW of Onekama to E of Suttons Bay Manistee, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau 2335 50.3 miles 1 death – This possible tornado family destroyed 13 homes and at least 26 barns before ending over Grand Traverse Bay. Two homes in Benzie County were leveled to the ground, one of which was a multi-story building in which one person died. Other homes were reported destroyed in Lake Ann, southeast of Solon, and in Cedar Run. One barn was also destroyed at Bear Lake. Two people (officially only one) may have died. The tornado affected very rural areas for most of its life, and was rated F3 by Grazulis.
F3 S of Bangor to S of Lowell Van Buren, Allegan, Barry, Kent 0015 60.6 miles This “minimal” F3 tornado began on the south side of Bangor and gradually intensified. Near the Van Buren–Allegan County line, it leveled a farmhouse and swept away several small cottages The tornado also hit the edge of Bloomingdale.  In Allegan, the tornado mostly unroofed a factory and a road commission building, and at least 12 farms reported severe losses to livestock.  Afterward, the tornado weakened, turned to the right, and lifted before reforming into a new tornado, as no structural damage occurred and damage to vegetation was lighter than elsewhere along the path. The second tornado then re-intensified before badly damaging many farms in Barry and Kent Counties before dissipating near Lowell. In all, the tornado (or tornado family) destroyed 29 homes, one of which was totally leveled in F4 fashion but could not be rated as such due to lack of information about construction quality.

By late afternoon, the cold front crossed over the western Great Lakes including Lake Michigan. Just before 5:00 PM CST, a tornado touched down on the beach near Saugatuck, Michigan, and proceeded 9 mi (14 km), producing F4 damage and injuring seven people while destroying barns, outbuildings and garages. The tornado destroyed multiple homes, some of which were swept away. The historic lighthouse on the shore near Saugatuck was also leveled by the winds.

Some reports indicate that the tornado dissipated near Holland and formed into a new, more powerful tornado southwest of the Grand Rapids metropolitan area at around 6:30 PM. Officially, however, a single continuous track is listed. Beginning in Vriesland in Ottawa County, the F5 tornado moved northeast for 52 miles over areas just north and west of Grand Rapids, causing extensive devastation to Hudsonville, Standale and suburban areas of Grand Rapids.

Homes in the Hudsonville area were cleanly swept away from their foundations, with only small pieces of debris recovered in some locations. At least one home was so obliterated that all the floor tiles had been completely scoured from the foundation.  Vehicles nearby were tossed hundreds of yards and mangled beyond recognition. Extensive wind-rowing of debris was observed, and hundreds of trees were snapped and debarked as well.

In all, the tornado destroyed numerous homes and businesses, especially in Standale. Some homes in this area were swept away as well.  The tornado continued northeast, destroying a mobile home park before dissipating.  Officially, 17 (possibly 18) people were killed and hundreds injured by the storm. This was the last F5 (confirmed and/or possible) in the U.S. state of Michigan and occurred three years after the Flint Tornado that killed 116.

More on this storm outbreak with weather maps and photos can be found in an article written by Ernest J. Ostuno for the E Journal of Severe Storms.

The feature image is the Saugatuck to Holland tornado seen shortly before the damage path ended, as it was moving into a residential section of Holland, MI. Photo credit: Don Brink.


Today won’t be the most pleasant of spring days with temps in the 30s and gusty NW winds – after a few snow showers this morning the skies should clear bringing in a sunny weekend with temps in the upper 40s to low 50s.  The CPC has released its April outlook which is guessing a 33% chance of below normal temps.


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Sandy (Hudsonville)
Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

I have not seen it however I would like to see it! Some more bueatiful winter scenery. Winter is the best!!!!

Sandy (Hudsonville)
Sandy (Hudsonville)

Well in Hudsonville tomorrow we have a 5K race. We have some family running it. It will be a very chilly start. Should turn out to be a nice day overall.

Sandy (Hudsonville)
Sandy (Hudsonville)

Excellent post Michael. I was hoping you would write on this one. I find reading on it very interesting. Where I live it was devastated. I recognize the area in photos. I pray it never happens again even though we all know it will.

INDY
INDY

Currently 28* degrees out at thee YARDofBRICKS NE GR.. January cool .INDY!

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

Nope. Average lows for today are in the 20s.

Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

You are 100% wrong. The average lows for GR currently is 29 degrees! Just the facts getting in the way again!

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

Wow, so 29 is no longer the 20s? Where would you consider it to be then, single digits? You have totally lost your mind.

Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

Lol, the point is that the low last night in the upper teens to around 20 degrees is just like mid January baby! Face reality!

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

Gr is around 23 this morning, nothing out of the ordinary for March. If it was May that would be a different story.

INDY
INDY

Coming from who pick a high of 71″ degrees for March not quite there yet lol..INDY!

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

Months not over yet either now is it? How about the one who chose his/her pick in the 40s. That didn’t take long to wipe out.

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

Decent chance of Northern lights over the next 24 hours. Geomagnetic Storm Warning out for a possible G2 storm, and for once we have clear skies!

http://spaceweather.com/

Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

What a winter for gr! Above normal snowfall! What a month of March so far! Above normal snowfall and below normal temps and a very cold night coming up! Incredible!

INDY
INDY

I had my heat on today in my truck not sure how some think it’s warm today currently 38* out at thee YARDofBRICKS NE GR..

Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

It’s called DELUSION!

INDY
INDY

Not even talking about the wind chill eather lol..INDY!

INDY
INDY

Furnace is a Crankin tonight! INDY!

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

Well GR hit 43 today, close to the average high for this date. Combined with the higher angle of the sun and clear skies, can’t imagine why anyone would have their car heat on when the inside of the car feels like a greenhouse. But I suppose in your area there must still be 8 and a half inches of snow on the ground yet so that must be why it’s so much colder by you.

Mr. Negative
Mr. Negative

Spoiler alert: It’s cold, with more cold coming. Winter in MI.

Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

You got it!

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

With full sun and all the concrete, the South side of our house thermometer by the garage is at 52, also sheltered from any wind. My pws temp is at 42. Quite a difference the sun makes at this time of the year.

Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

The temps will be tanking tonight! Lows in the upper teens! Incredible!

Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

Cold, cloudy, windy March day outside! Typical March day in MI!

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

40s are far from cold, and cloudy? Well I guess if you look close at the pic I just took, you can see about 3 clouds or so:

http://tinypic.com/usermedia.php?uo=jJm7XUcEEIyCBEedRLcOvYh4l5k2TGxc#.XJUuw4wpChA

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

My step mom lived in Hudsonville at the time, and even today, at 93, she can vividly recall watching that tornado go past less than a mile from her house. She has pictures of it, but has been unable to locate them in her boxes of pictures. I should dig through them and try to find them. We live only about a mile from Vriesland, and some of the old times here can still recall that day. I do find it interesting that it “skipped” over Zeeland. Even back then the storm bubble was in effect over church town USA.

Sandy (Hudsonville)
Sandy (Hudsonville)

Zeeland was lucky.

Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

Just another nice Spring day in MI! Despite the hype about a major warm up, reality shows March is a cold month and we are below normal for temps currently! Wind chills in the mid 20’s today, low around 20 degrees tonight, and a cold week ahead! Who would have thought? Face reality people!

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

What are you hollering about? I was just outside and it is a near perfect day out. Bright sun, mild temps, and even my car was so hot inside I had to open the sunroof.

Slim

The clouds have rolled in and with the wind it feels cold out side now. Remember the sun is at the same angle as September 21st. The current temperature in GR is 36.
Slim

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

Still mostly sunny here with a few puffy clouds. Gorgeous out!

Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

Too funny!

Sandy (Hudsonville)
Sandy (Hudsonville)

🙂 It was beeautiful out.

Slim

I now live less then a mile from where the 1956 tornado crossed 3 Mile road. And the 1965 storm passed close by as well. I sure hope there will not be a 3rd time. Clear and 32 here this morning. There is a lot of frost here.
Slim