GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — April 3 marks the 67th anniversary of the Hudsonville-Standale tornado, the strongest tornado that has ever hit West Michigan.
The strongest wind anywhere on Earth in the year 1956 occurred that Tuesday afternoon in Hudsonville, Michigan (on Van Buren Street to be exact). The tornado was rated F5.
The old Fujita scale had F5 winds at 261-318 mph. The new EF5 scale has peak winds at over 200 mph. Regardless, it was the only F5 tornado anywhere in the world in 1956.
Many homes were blown completely away, leaving bare foundations behind. Extensive wind-rowing of debris was observed. Vehicles were tossed hundreds of yards and were barely recognizable as vehicles. One home that was swept away had all of its tile flooring scoured from the foundation.
The Hudsonville-Standale tornado was one of four strong tornadoes that hit West Michigan that day. The numbers on the map indicate the F-scale of the tornadoes.
That March had been very cold and snowy. People were waiting for spring. On Monday, April 2, 1956, warm air moved north from the Gulf of Mexico. Severe thunderstorms developed and produced 19 tornadoes in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. The twisters killed seven people. One tornado skipped along a 108-mile path from Oklahoma into Kansas. A savings bond from a destroyed home in Oklahoma, was found near Williamsburg, Kansas — more than 100 miles from its origin. Near Maple City, Kansas, a plastic belt was found embedded in a tree. Another tornado skipped up and down along a 127-mile path through four counties in Kansas.
On April 3, severe thunderstorms developed from eastern Wisconsin to eastern Oklahoma. These storms produced 28 tornadoes in 11 states. Six of these twisters produced 31 fatalities.
During the late afternoon, a strong waterspout moved onshore from Lake Michigan. This first tornado hit Saugatuck, Gibson, Graafschap and southeast Holland. That tornado was a powerful F4 and destroyed the Saugatuck Lighthouse and the beach house at Oval Beach.
It’s very unusual to have a strong tornado come off a cold lake, where the water temperature was probably in the low 40s.
That tornado injured seven and destroyed four homes. This twister occurred between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. and was on the ground for 9 miles.
As the first tornado dissipated, a second quickly formed at Vriesland and intensified rapidly, reaching F5 strength as it moved through Hudsonville. I believe that’s Chicago Drive in the upper right of the picture. That was the main route to Chicago before I-196 was built, which would be a little south or right of this picture.
Thirteen of the 17 fatalities were in the Hudsonville area, including two people who were in a car “that was lifted as high as the telephone poles.”
This tornado would remain on the ground for nearly 50 miles through Georgetown Township, Standale, Walker, Comstock Park, Rockford and all the way to Trufant in Montcalm County. There were four deaths in Kent County.
A strong tornado also hit Benzie County that day.
Two more strong tornadoes occurred that evening: an F4 that formed near Lake Michigan and traveled through northwest Manistee, Benzie and Grand Traverse counties and an F3 twister that formed near Bangor and stayed on the ground until it reached Lowell. That tornado was on the ground continuously for 55 miles and resulted in 12 injuries.
A 2019 WOOD TV8 weather special has film of the deadly tornado and tips that can keep you safe during severe weather.
Check this out: Former WOOD TV8 weatherman Buck Matthews with film of the tornado and damage, and Blake Naftel’s awesome video on the tornadoes. Here’s more film of Standale, Walker and Comstock Park.
All total, there were 40 storm-related fatalities in the April 2-3 storms and 685 were injured. Michigan had a dozen F4-F5 tornadoes from 1953-77 and we have not had a single EF4/5 tornado since 1977. We are long overdue for a violent tornado in Michigan.
No. 3 on the map above in the Flint-Beecher tornado of June 8, 1953. There is some debate whether that tornado was F4 or F5. The Hudsonville-Standale tornado is generally regarded as the strongest tornado in recorded Michigan history.