1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak: Wikis


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Palm Sunday (1960) Tornado Outbreak II
Picture of the "double tornado" that hit the Midway Trailer park killing 33.
Date of tornado outbreak: April 11-12 1965
Duration1: ~11 hours
Maximum rated tornado2: F4 tornado
Tornadoes caused: 47
Damages: $1.6 billion (2007 dollars)[1]
Fatalities: 271
Areas affected: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio

1Time from first tornado to last tornado
2Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita Scale

The second Palm Sunday tornado outbreak occurred on April 11, 1965 and involved 47 tornadoes (15 significant, 17 violent, 21 killers) hitting the Midwest. It was the second biggest outbreak on record. In the Midwest, 271 people were killed and 1,500 injured (1,200 in Indiana). It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in Indiana history with 137 people killed.[1] The outbreak also made that week the second most active week in history with 51 significant and 21 violent tornadoes.[citation needed]


Meteorological synopsis

The tornadoes occurred in a 450-mile swath west-to-east from Clinton County, Iowa, to Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and a 200-mile swath north-to-south from Kent County, Michigan, to Montgomery County, Indiana. The outbreak lasted 11 hours and is among the most intense outbreaks — in terms of number, strength, width, path, and length of tornadoes — ever recorded.

This is the third deadliest day for tornadoes on record, trailing the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974, which killed 315, and the outbreak that included the Tri-State Tornado which killed 747. It occurred on Palm Sunday, an important day in the Christian religion, and many people were attending services at church, one possible reason why some warnings were not received. There had been a short winter that year, and as the day progressed, the temperature rose to 83° F in some areas of Midwestern United States.

Confirmed tornadoes

47 0 15 10 5 17 0
List of reported tornadoes - Sunday, April 11, 1965
Time (UTC)
Path length
F4 NE of Tipton Cedar, Clinton, Jackson 1855 91.5 miles
(146.4 km)
1 death - One person died one month later from their injuries. 25 farms were affected.
F1 SE of New Hampton Chickasaw, Fayette, Allamakee 1915 49.9 miles
(79.8 km)
F1 SE of Monroe Green, Rock, Dane 2000 27.1 miles
(43.3 km)
50 homes and 65 businesses destroyed or damaged and 40 were injured.
F2 S of Watertown Jefferson 2030 14.5 miles
(23.2 km)
3 deaths - 28 others were injured.
F1 S of Soldiers Grove Crawford 2045 13.3 miles
(21.2 km)
One barn was destroyed
F1 W of Lake Geneva Walworth 2150 1.9 miles
(3 km)
F1 NW of Elkhorn Walworth 2155 1 mile
(1.6 km)
One barn was destroyed
F1 W of Tomah Monroe 2214 2 miles
(3.2 km)
Several farm buildings were destroyed
F4 Crystal Lake McHenry, Lake 2120 9.1 miles
(14.6 km)
6 deaths - Destroyed large sections of the town including a shopping mall. Damage estimates were at about $1.5 million.
F2 N of Gurnee Lake 2150 4.5 miles
(7.2 km)
Some homes were damaged and two planes flipped at Waukegan Memorial Airport.
F1 Geneva Kane 2200 0.3 mile
(0.5 km)
About a dozen homes were heavily damaged
F1 Zion Lake 2204 0.5 mile
(0.8 km)
F3 NE of Knox to S of South Bend Starke, Marshall, St. Joseph, Elkhart 2245 35.6 miles
(57 km)
10 deaths - 30 cottages were destroyed and 70 others were damaged. 26 homes, one church and one high school were also destroyed. There were 82 people injured.
F3 S of Crown Point to SE of Laporte Porter, Laporte 2310 33.1 miles
(53 km)
Several homes and barns were destroyed and 4 people were injured.
F4 W of Wakarusa to NW of Middlebury Elkhart 2315 21.2 miles
(34 km)
14 deaths - Destroyed Midway Trailer Park in Dunlap and numerous other homes. Was photographed as a double funnel. 1st of 2 tornadoes hitting the town of Dunlap and the Elkhart region.
F4 NE of Goshen to W of Orland Elkhart, LaGrange 2340 21.6 miles
(34.6 km)
5 deaths - A dozen homes were demolished
F4 Manitou Beach-Devils Lake, Michigan (1st tornado) Steuben, IN, Branch, MI, Hillsdale, Lenawee, Monroe 0000 90.3 miles
(144.5 km)
23 deaths - Starting just south of the Indiana-Michigan state line, the massive tornado caused extensive damage to the Manitou Beach region and southwestern suburbs of Detroit. First of two violent tornadoes to affect the same large portion of Lower Michigan.
F4 SE of Lafayette to W of Russiaville Tippecanoe, Clinton 0007 21.8 miles
(34.9 km)
Several homes and other buildings were destroyed or damaged.
F4 SE of South Bend to NE of Shipshewana St. Joseph, Elkhart, LaGrange 0010 37 miles
(59.2 km)
36 deaths - Second violent tornado struck the Dunlap/Elkhart region in just over an hour. Destroyed an entire subdivision of the town of Dunlap. Affected rescue efforts after the first tornado.
F4 Russiaville to SE of Marion, Indiana and Greentown, Indiana Clinton, Howard, Grant 0020 48 miles
(76.8 km)
25 deaths - Large sections of Russiaville, southern Kokomo and Alto were destroyed. Over 800 people were injured.
F4 SE of Crawfordsville to Arcadia Montgomery, Boone, Hamilton 0050 45.7 miles
(73.1 km)
28 deaths - 80 homes were destroyed and over 100 people were injured.
F4 W of Montpellier, IN to N of Spencerville, OH Blackford, IN, Wells, Adams, Mercer, OH, Van Wert 0110 52.5 miles
(84 km)
4 deaths - F5 damage was observed in Keystone in Wells County. Crossed into Ohio where it destroyed five homes and damaged five others.
F4 N of Grand Rapids Ottawa, Kent 2254 20.6 miles
(33 km)
5 deaths - 34 homes were destroyed and nearly 200 others damaged. Nearly 150 were injured and damage amounts were estimated at almost $15 million.
F1 N of Middleville Allegan, Barry 0005 19.5 miles
(31.2 km)
1 death - A trailer and 5 homes were destroyed while 25 others were damaged.
F3 NE of Kalamazoo Kalamazoo 0030 14.2 miles
(22.7 km)
4 homes were destroyed and 22 others damaged. 17 people were injured.
F3 Hastings Barry 0040 14.1 miles
(22.6 km)
15 homes were damaged.
F4 Manitou Beach-Devils Lake, Michigan (2nd tornado) Branch, Hillsdale, Lenawee, Monroe 0040 80.5 miles
(128.8 km)
21 deaths - Second tornado to hit the same areas 30 minutes after being affected by the first tornado. Total damage estimates from the two tornadoes were $32 million. Over 550 homes and 100 cottages were destroyed in total.
F4 N of Lansing Clinton, Shiawassee 0115 21 miles
(33.6 km)
1 death - Several homes were severely damaged or destroyed.
F2 W of Ithaca Montcalm, Gratiot 0125 15.1 miles
(24.1 km)
Several farm buildings and livestocks were destroyed.
F2 Alma (1st tornado) Gratiot 0130 0.1 mile
(0.16 km)
One of three tornadoes to struck the area where it caused damage to several buildings including the library.
F2 Alma (2nd tornado) Gratiot 0130 0.5 mile
(0.8 km)
F2 E of Alma Gratiot 0130 1 mile
(1.6 km)
F2 SE of Bay City Bay 0150 9.9 miles
(15.8 km)
F2 SW of Unionville Tuscola 0200 9 miles
(14.4 km)
Damage to a firehall and lumberyard.
F4 Toledo (northern sections) Lucas, OH, Monroe, MI 0230 5.6 miles
(9 km)
18 deaths - Numerous homes in the northern suburbs of Toledo were completely destroyed. There were reports of twin tornadoes during the event. Damage amounts were estimated at $25 million.
F4 N of Lima Allen, Hancock 0230 32.5 miles
(52 km)
13 deaths
F4 N of Sidney Shelby 0300 18.4 miles
(29.4 km)
3 deaths - Affected Anna, Swanders and Maplewood where 25 homes were destroyed and 20 others heavily damaged. Several train cars were derailed.
F3 SE of Tiffin Seneca 0315 15 miles
(24 km)
4 deaths - Affecting Rockaway, 4 homes were destroyed and three others were damaged.
F4 S of Oberlin, Ohio to Strongsville Lorain, Cuyahoga 0405 22 miles
(35.2 km)
18 deaths - Extensive damage to Pittsfield and Strongsville. Damage amounts were estimated at $5 million.
F1 S of Eaton Preble 0415 0.1 mile
(0.16 km)
F1 Brunswick Medina 0430 8.2 miles
(13 km)
One home was destroyed and another one was damaged.
F2 N of Delaware Union, Delaware, Morrow 0430 22.2 miles
(35.5 km)
4 deaths
F1 S of Cedarville Greene 0450 0.1 mile
(0.16 km)
F1 Ashville to Somerset Pickaway, Fairfield, Perry 0530 38.4 miles
(61.4 km)
Several farm buildings were destroyed.
F1 SW of Grassdale Bartow 0950 (04/12) 2 miles
(3.2 km)
West Virginia
F2 N of Princeton Mercer 1130 (04/12) 0.1 mile
(0.16 km)

Tornado History Project Tornado Data for April 11, 1965, Tornado History Project Tornado Data for April 12, 1965, NWS Detroit Storm Data

Outbreak description

At around 12:55 P.M.[2], the first tornado of the day occurred in Clinton County, Iowa. It was an F4 on the Fujita scale of severity. It was spawned from a thunderstorm cell first detected near Tipton in Cedar County, Iowa, around 12:45 P.M. by radio news reporter Martin Jensen at the WMT Stations in Cedar Rapids, some 50 miles northwest of Tipton. The station was equipped with a Collins Radio aviation radar that was mounted on the roof of the station building and used to support severe weather reports on local and regional newscasts. After detecting the strong and very tall thunderstorm, the reporter called National Weather Service offices in Waterloo (which had no radar) and Des Moines to alert them to the storm. His call was to become the first solid evidence obtained by the Weather Service on the growing severe storms that spawned dozens of tornadoes over the next 12 hours.


A tornado occurred at Crystal Lake, Illinois, where it destroyed several subdivisions and a golf course. It grazed a junior high school before destroying several homes in a community called Colby's Home Estates. 145 homes were damaged - 45 beyond repair - as well as a shopping centre. Five people were killed. The tornado then overtopped a hill and destroyed the small community of Island Lake, killing one more person before ascending back into the clouds at 3:42 P.M. This was one of a handful of F4 tornadoes that occurred during this outbreak.


Northern Indiana tornado tracks. Map showing the confirmed paths of the Palm Sunday tornadoes with Fujita scale intensity.

Later in the day, the tornadoes became more numerous. Several tornadoes touched down in Indiana, and many of them were lethal. Some individual supercells spawned as many as 5 violent tornadoes as they raced from west to east. The first touched down at around 5:30 P.M. in Koontz Lake, Indiana. This massive F4 killed 10 people and injured 180. This tornado then moved northeast toward La Paz and Lakeville where it destroyed a brand new high school that was still under construction. The tornado then moved into Wyatt and destroyed twenty homes.

Another violent tornado formed near the St. Joseph County-Elkhart County border and moved east-northeast, first striking Wakarusa, Indiana, where it killed a child. Then it moved toward the towns of Nappanee, Goshen, and Dunlap. Elkhart Truth reporter Paul Huffman captured a spectacular series of photographs as this double tornado moved past Goshen, IN; one of these photos is pictured above right. The Palm Sunday Tornado Memorial Park now exists near this location, at the corner of County Road 45 and Cole Street in Dunlap.

One-half hour later, a second tornado devastated the Sunnyside Housing addition and the unoccupied Sunnyside Mennonite Church. The death toll from the Sunnyside tornado was over 20 people. Most of the 36 people killed in the tornado had no warning because the high winds had knocked out the telephone and power grids. For the first time in the U.S. Weather Bureau's history, all nine counties in the northern Indiana office's jurisdiction were under a tornado warning.[citation needed] This is called a "blanket tornado warning."[citation needed] Both tornadoes were officially rated as F4 according to the National Weather Service records. However, the second Dunlap tornado was previously rated F5.[2]

Ninety miles to the south, at just past 7:30PM, another massive tornado slammed into the town of Russiaville, Indiana. Most of the town was destroyed, leaving several dead. The storm churned into nearby Alto, obliterating it completely, before striking the southern edge of the larger city of Kokomo. As the tornado continued east, it killed ten more people in Greentown, Indiana, most of whom had been riding in automobiles that were hurled across the landscape. More destruction ensued in Marion, Indiana, before the storm crossed into Ohio.

Michigan and Ohio

Outbreak death toll
State Total County County
Iowa 1 Cedar 1
Illinois 6 McHenry 6
Indiana 138 Adams 1
Boone 20
Elkhart 62
Grant 8
Hamilton 6
Howard 17
Lagrange 10
Marshall 3
Montgomery 2
St. Joseph 3
Starke 4
Wells 2
Michigan 53 Allegan 1
Branch 18
Clinton 1
Hillsdale 6
Kent 5
Lenawee 9
Monroe 13
Ohio 60 Allen 11
Cuyahoga 1
Delaware 4
Hancock 2
Lorain 17
Lucas 16
Mercer 2
Seneca 4
Shelby 3
Wisconsin 3 Jefferson 3
Totals 261
All deaths were tornado-related

With the telephone lines down, emergency services in Elkhart County, Indiana, could not warn Michigan residents that the tornadoes were headed their way. The radar operator at the U.S. Weather Bureau, at Detroit Metro Airport, observed that the thunderstorms over northern Indiana and western Lower Michigan, were moving east-northeast at 70 mph (112 km/h). In Michigan, tornadoes hit as far north as Kent County, Michigan, just north of Grand Rapids. Out of the southernmost counties of Michigan, all but three (Berrien, Cass, and St. Joseph counties) were hit. Two F4 tornadoes struck Hillsdale County and destroyed about 200 cottages along Baw Beese Lake. It was said many people were saved as they were in church instead of out by the lake. Later, the Manitou Beach-Devils Lake area in Lenawee County was hit by two tornadoes (one an F4) in a span of a little more than 30 minutes, causing numerous fatalities (including a family of six). One of the buildings leveled was the local dance pavilion on Devils Lake, which had just recently been rebuilt after having been destroyed by a fire on Labor Day of 1963. One of the twisters went on to damage parts of Onsted; in the nearby village of Tipton, which suffered a direct hit, 94% of the town's buildings were damaged or destroyed.

One of the tornadoes then hit in Milan, Michigan, near Ann Arbor. It destroyed the building of Wolverine Plastics (the top employer in Milan), completely removing the roof.

Tornadoes continued from Indiana into Ohio, and additional fatalities occurred across the border. A double tornado was sighted near Toledo, Ohio and that system devastated northern parts of the city with F4 damage. Five people were killed when a tornado flipped over a bus on the Detroit-Toledo Expressway (today's Interstate 75). Other violent tornadoes occurred near the Indiana/Ohio border.

At around 11 P.M., another violent tornado touched earth in Lorain County, Ohio and slammed into Pittsfield, Ohio, killing seven and destroying most structures. The same tornado caused severe damage to homes in Grafton. By the time the storm got to Cleveland, Ohio, the storm "appeared to have split into two paths about a 1/2 mile apart." Several witnesses also saw two funnels merging into one similar to the Dunlap tornado.[2] Large trees laying 50 feet apart were felled lying in different directions. The storm also displayed F4 damage near Strongsville where homes literally vanished. This tornado killed 18 people and was also previously rated as an F5 before being lowered to an F4 by NWS officials.

The last tornado of the day occurred at 12:30 A.M. on April 12. It moved along a 30-mile path south of Columbus, Ohio, causing F2 damage.


The U.S. Weather Bureau later investigated why so many people died in this event. Radar stations were few and far between in 1965, so tornadoes were identified by the characteristic shape of "hook echoes", but the danger in this storm was identified in plenty of time. The real answer was simple: the warning system failed. The Bureau disseminated the warnings quickly, but the public never received them. Additionally, the public did not know the difference between a Forecast and an Alert. Thus the current Tornado watch and Tornado warning program was implemented because of the terrible death toll from the Palm Sunday outbreak. Pivotal to those clarifications was a meeting in the WMT Stations studio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Officials of the severe storms forecast center in Kansas City met with WMT meteorologist Conrad Johnson and News Director Grant Price. Their discussion led to establishment of the official "watch" and "warning" procedures in use since 1965.

Technology has grown tremendously since 1965; warnings can now be spread via cable and satellite television, PCs and the Internet, solid-state electronics, cell phones, and NOAA Weatheradio.

Suction vortices

Dr. Ted Fujita discovered suction vortices during the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak. It had been believed the reason why tornadoes could hit one house and leave another across the street completely unscathed was because the whole tornado would "jump" from one house to another. However, the actual reason is that most of the destruction is caused by suction vortices: small, intense mini-tornadoes within the main tornado.


In the Midwest, 271 people were killed and 1,500 injured (1,200 in Indiana). It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in Indiana history with 138 people killed.[3]

See also


External links

Further reading

  • Palm Sunday tornadoes of April 11, 1965, by Tetsuya T. Fujita and Dorothy L. Bradbury, with C. F. Van Thullenar. Chicago Satellite & Mesometeorology Research Project, University of Chicago, 1970. There is no ISBN available; Library of Congress Control Number: 70017916.
  • The Night of the Wicked Winds: the 1965 Palm Sunday tornadoes in Ohio, by Roger Pickenpaugh. Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, 2003. ISBN 0-9709059-3-9 (paperback).
  • Winds of fury, circles of grace: life after the Palm Sunday tornadoes, by Dale Clem. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997. ISBN 0-687-01795-5 (alk. paper)
  • The Mighty Whirlwind, by David Wagler. Aylmer, Ontario: Pathway Publishing Corp., 1966. There is no ISBN available; Library of Congress Control Number: 67112646.
  • The Palm Sunday Tornado, by Timothy E. Bontrager, 2005. A novel by an author whose grandparents died in the tornado. For details see www.timothybontrager.com.
  • Fujita, Tetsuya T., et al. (1970). "PALM SUNDAY TORNADOES OF APRIL 11, 1965" [4]. Monthly Weather Review, 98 (1), pp. 29–69.
  • Night of the Wind: The Palm Sunday Tornado of April 11, 1965, by Dan Cherry. Adrian, Michigan: Lenawee County Historical Society, 2002. A collection of interviews and eyewitness accounts from the Devils Lake area, located in northwest Lenawee County. There is no ISBN available; Library of Congress Control Number not available.


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