Today is the 57th anniversary of the famous Palm Sunday tornado outbreak of April 11, 1965.  There were 271 killed and approx. 1,500 injured that day. The picture at the top is the Swan Inn at 6 Mile Road and Alpine Avenue in Comstock Park (by Walter Nelson). A long-track F4 tornado moved from Ottawa Co. into Kent Co. – hitting Comstock Park and Rockford, then moving northeast into Montcalm Co. before dissipating. Here’s the story of some survivors. Check out photos from the aftermath of the twister. Could it happen again? Major West Michigan tornadoes through the decades.

A file image shows damage left by the 1965 Palm Sunday Allendale tornado. (Courtesy Lee Nelson via NWS)

Two F4 tornadoes struck Branch and Hillsdale Counties 30 minutes apart with 21 lives lost. One tornado had a continuous track of over 90 miles. The twisters moved across Coldwater Lake, Devils Lake, Manitou Beach and Baw Beese Lake destroying hundreds of cottages and homes. A wind instrument near Tecumseh measured a wind of 151 mph in the 2nd tornado. The loss of life would have been much worse, but for the fact that it was still too early for the summer influx of cottage owners and the fact that many residents had left for evening Palm Sunday church services.

Another F4 tornado north of Lansing left one person dead and there was a tornado fatality near Middleville in Barry Co. Other tornadoes that day hit north of Kalamazoo (17 injured there), near Hastings, Bay City, Unionville and 2 tornadoes struck Alma. After this event, the Weather Bureau began the Watch/Warning system that is still in use today. Read more here, here, and here. That year we had a record March snowfall (36″) and it was quite cold in March. Hail up to golfball-sized fell. Photos here. Check out the Comstock Park Palm Sunday tornado facebook page. Pictures from Marion, Indiana.

Twin Tornadoes in Elkhart, Indiana on Palm Sunday 4/11/65

This is a picture of a rare “double tornado” taken Palm Sunday 1965 near Elkhart, Indiana. Links: Actual pic. of the Branch Co. tornado – what a MONSTER wedge tornado!  Spoon wrapped around tree branchMuncie newspaper day after.

Path of the Palm Sunday tornado that moved through Ottawa, Kent and Montcalm Counties

Here’s a map of the path of the Palm Sunday tornado that went through Ottawa and Kent Counties. The tornado formed south of Allendale, came up through Marne into Comstock Park, where it destroyed the Holy Trinity Church in Alpine Township and the Swan Inn Motel/Restaurant on Alpine Avenue (one of the fatalities was there, another across the street. The tornado continued through Rockford to Trufant in Montcalm County.

Supercells produced long-track tornadoes across N. Indiana into S. Michigan and Ohio. Check out Actual pic. of the Branch Co. tornado – what a MONSTER wedge tornado!  Spoon wrapped around tree branchMuncie newspaper day after. Photos here. More pictures. 1995 special from WSBT on the tornado outbreak. Here’s old film from 1965 – Toledo. Here’s more old film – look at what radar looked like in those days. A lot more people live in the path of these tornadoes 51 years later.

F-Scale Tornado Ratings on Palm Sunday 1965

Here’s the 47 tornadoes that occurred that day by F-Scale…there were seventeen F4 tornadoes and another 5 were F3 intensity. The twisters moved through 6 states. Here’s how you can be prepared when severe weather threatens. Scientists explore changes to tornado warnings. West Michigan counties with the highest tornado count. Emergency preparedness for severe storms. In 2015 Alpine Twp. printed The 50th Anniversary of the Palm Sunday Tornado book.

Book from Meteorologist Ernest Ostuno on the Hudsonville-Standale Tornado of 4/3/56

BTW, the book on the Hudsonville-Standale Tornado by Meteorologist Ernest Ostuno is still available. This is the worst tornado ever to hit West Michigan and Ernie does a great job giving you both the meteorology of that dreadful day and also the stories of people who survived the strongest tornado ever to hit West Michigan.

The paths of the 1956 (Standale) and 1965 (Palm Sunday) tornadoes

The paths of the Standale/Hudsonville and the Palm Sunday Tornado crossed in Comstock Park close to Samrick Avenue, just north of West River Drive. Here’s our 50th anniversary TV special on the Standale-Hudsonville Tornado of 1956.

1965 Palm Sunday tornado (file)_86957
Damage from the Palm Sunday Tornadoes.

There was a lot more open space in 1965. Areas that were farmland in 1965 are covered with suburban homes now. A similar tornado would do a lot more damage today.

From Ernie Ostuno: “In the 24 years from 1953 to 1977 there were 19 violent (F4, F5) tornadoes in Michigan (This included the Flint/Beecher F5 in June, 1953 and the April outbreaks) and there have been none since”. Last year we had 18 tornadoes in Michigan – only one was rated EF2, the rest were all EF1 or EF0. We are long overdue for a long-track violent tornado.