Weather

June 20, 1957 – Deadly F5 Tornado Strikes Fargo, North Dakota

Fargo Tornado

F-5 tornado touches down near Hector Field, the local airport 3 miles northwest of Fargo

On June 20, 1957, a series of 23 tornadoes spawned by a supercell thunderstorm, including a massive F5 twister which leveled 329 homes and killed ten people, struck Fargo, North Dakota.  The 9-miles-long, 700-feet-wide monster traveled over 57 miles on a track originating in Albertha, North Dakota and continuing across the state to beyond the Minnesota border.  Debris from Fargo was found as far away as Rochert, Minnesota, 54 miles east of the devastated town.  Additional damage across the state included 1035 homes, four churches, three schools, and 45 businesses, mostly small shops.

Dr. T. Theodore Fujita from the University of Chicago studied the Fargo tornado extensively.  His published work introduced many terms for tornado technology still in use today.  In 1971, Dr. Fujita created the F-Scale for rating tornado intensity based on damage to structures and vegetation.  At that time, the Fargo tornado was designated with F5 status.

Image Credit: North Dakota State University

June 15, 1957 – Record Rainfall in East St. Louis, Illinois

On June 15, 1957, a 16.54″ (42.01 cm) deluge of rain fell on East St. Louis, Illinois within a twelve-hour period.

A region of plentiful coal resources, East St. Louis grew quickly after the Civil War with industries such as mining, steel, and also meatpacking.  The population peaked in the 1950’s, when ensuing de-industrialization and factory closures ushered in a long period of decline.  The deterioration of the core urban area of East St. Louis was so severe that John Carpenter filmed his futuristic science fiction film Escape from New York on location there, using the blighted cityscape to represent a postapocalyptic Manhattan Island which had been converted to a maximum-security prison.

In the 50s, though, East St. Louis was evidently still bucolic enough for Ward Cleaver to flatteringly refer to his wife, June, as “the Belle of East St. Louis” in an episode of Leave it to Beaver.  Other notable (real) people connected with the city: Miles Davis, Jimmy Connors, Dawn Harper, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Al Joyner all were born there; and Ike and Tina Turner met at the Club Manhattan in 1956.  Illinois Senator and Democratic Minority Whip Richard Durban was also born and raised in East St. Louis.  At the time of the record-breaking deluge, Dick was 12 years old.

November 7, 1957 – Record-Setting Deadly Tornadoes in Texas and Louisana

Texas-Louisana Tornado Map

Image: National Weather Service, NOAA

On November 7, 1957, ten people were killed and hundreds more injured when fourteen separate tornadoes struck parts of southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana in a ten-hour period.  Additional tornadoes touched down at the same time in other parts of Louisiana and the southeastern United States, causing death, injuries and destruction on this tragic day in weather history.  Despite the relatively small path widths and lengths of the Texas and Louisiana tornadoes, they were large storms as measured on the Fujita scale: an F4 storm hit Orange County, Texas, and several others in the grouping measured F3, including two cutting through Groves, Texas and Alexandria, Louisiana.  Total damage was estimated at $5 million dollars (equivalent to about $40 million today).

Only one tornado to date had been deadlier in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana – the Alexandria tornado of April 4, 1923, which killed 15 people and injured 150.  Making this recent tornado outbreak all the more devastating was the fact that it followed so closely on the heels of massive Hurricane Audrey, the deadliest natural disaster in the area of all time, which struck only a little more than four months earlier on June 27th.