GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This year is the 70th anniversary of the Flint/Beecher tornado of June 8, 1953

The tornado resulted in 116 fatalities and 844 injuries (not including those who self-treated).  This is the most tornado fatalities ever from a single tornado in Michigan and it was the most fatalities in the U.S. from a single tornado until the Joplin, Missouri, tornado of 2011, which had 161 fatalities. 

The tornado left 340 homes completely destroyed, 107 had major damage and another 153 had relatively minor damage.

The tornado was rated F5, the highest category, with winds over 200 mph. It was half a mile wide. It stayed on the ground for 27 miles. The forward speed of the tornado was 35 mph. Damage was estimated at $19 million (in 1953 dollars). That would be close to a third of a billion dollars in today’s dollars. The only other F5 tornado in Michigan history was the Hudsonville-Standale Tornado of April 3, 1956. The last F4 tornado in Michigan was the Kalamazoo County to Eaton County twister of April 2, 1977.

Path and some facts about the Flint-Beecher Tornado

The bark was stripped off trees and a few homes were leveled down to the concrete foundation.

Of the 116 fatalities, 113 occurred over a four-block stretch, generally along Coldwater Road. The vast majority of fatalities and injuries were the result of structural failure. Fifty-five of the fatalities were to children under age 20 and 32 of the fatalities were to children under age 10. Two families lost five members.

Aerial view of the damage from Ken Kelly

The tornado struck around 8:30 p.m. and tracked through an area of single-family homes, with many residents employed by auto factories.

The National Guard was mobilized and the Red Cross was one of many agencies that provided relief.

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Damage from the Flint Tornado

Here is more information on the Flint/Beecher Tornado. The year 1953 was also one of the nation’s worst tornado years. Earlier in the spring, a tornado ripped through Waco, Texas, killing 114 and injuring 597. And the day following the Flint-Beecher tornado, the same storm system spawned an F4 Tornado in Worcester, Massachusetts, that killed 90 people and injured over 1288.

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Here’s a map of the tornado paths. A panel of experts voted the Flint Tornado as the worst natural disaster in Michigan in the 20th century.

Facts about the Flint Tornado

Besides the Flint-Beecher tornado, at least eight other tornadoes occurred in Michigan and northern Ohio late on the afternoon of June 8.

Tornadoes in SE Michigan and N Ohio on 6/8/53

An F4 intensity tornado touched down near Temperance, moved east through Erie, and then continued for another 44 minutes as a waterspout over Lake Erie, one of the longest waterspout tracks on record. Another tornado touched down in southwestern Washtenaw County and tracked several miles before dissipating just south of the Ann Arbor- Ypsilanti area. An F4 intensity tornado roared through St. Clair County and the Port Huron area, killing two and injuring 68. Yet another tornado touched down just northeast of Brighton in Livingston County and moved northeast across GM Proving Grounds into the Milford area. The eight tornadoes in Michigan that day resulted in 125 deaths and 925 injuries. (treated at hospitals and triage centers).

Surface Weather Map – June 8, 1953

The day started on a cool note with temperatures in the upper 40s and dew point temperatures in the mid-upper 40s. A warm front passed through and the temperature in the late afternoon soared into the low 80s. The dew point temperature was 72° as the tornado passed through the area.

Severe Weather Watch issued by the National Weather Service.

The forecast on the front page of the afternoon edition of the Flint Journal trumpeted “strong thunderstorms with hail and gusty winds over 50 mph” for the coming evening. The map above shows the Weather Bureau Severe Storms Unit (precursor of today’s NWS Storm Prediction Center) Severe Weather Bulletin #27 issued at approximately 730 pm the evening of June 8 — an hour prior to the Flint-Beecher tornado. The blue scalloped area denotes the expected severe thunderstorm threat, and the solid red area denotes the expected tornado threat. Even though it was not a perfect forecast, it was certainly a remarkable forecast given the total lack of today’s satellite data, radar data and computer processing.

More information on the tornado:

One house was destroyed. A china (very breakable) piggy bank from that house was found in the street – still intact. Cars were carried a block away and a couple of trucks were moved 1/2 mile. A 350-gallon oil tank was never found. An elderly lady in bed escaped with minor injuries after her bed was moved from the house into the street.

People recalled coming out of the basement and “there was nothing left.”

“My father was trying to keep the back door closed. I was watching TV,” one person recalled. “My next memory was lying in the hospital. I was in the hospital for four months. My father and sister didn’t make it.”

Another survivor said that “the lightning was extremely intense. The lights went out. My brother was on the 2nd floor. He ended up in the front yard.”

Many pets lost their lives or were injured and many of the surviving pets were wandering around disoriented.