June 1 2011 Springfield Sturbridge Sutton Tornado Photos
Massachusetts is not known for its tornadoes. Blizzards, yes. Tornadoes? Those are things that are found in the midwest. So in the early afternoon of Wednesday, June 1, 2011, I was relaxing in the beautiful sunshine and posted:
A gorgeous 85.7F in Sutton MA, gentle breezes, the sun is shining, birds are singing, an idyllic day in central Massachusetts.
Almost immediately Dee, one of our Facebook friends, chimed in with "Tornado watch until 8pm". At almost the exact same time, my boyfriend was paging through his web tabs and said the exact same thing. I thought this was quite amusing. Tornado watch? In Sutton?
By 3:32pm things were changing, I posted:
Thunder is booming in Sutton MA and the sky has gone an ominous dark grey color. Maybe this tornado watch is actually meaningful.
4:25pm is when things became more real.
Sutton MA is under a tornado warning - an actual tornado exists in Brimfield MA and is heading east. Warning is active until 6:15pm.
I'm lucky that at the time I didn't look on the web to see what this tornado looked like. I thought it was a tiny twister that might whip up some leaves. However, this thing was HUGE and in Springfield it was flipping cars and ripping up buildings. The photo to the right is one I took the next day in Sturbridge MA.
Here's a video of the tornado sucking up the Connecticut River in Springfield MA -
Springfield MA Tornado
Another video shows the tornado crossing the Mass Pike in Springfield - right during rush hour -
Springfield MA Tornado Video
If I'd known the tornado was this giant I would have been quite nervous (i.e. maybe petrified). As it was, I only thought of this as a big storm.
The next hour was amazing. The sky got darker and darker. The wind was howling through the leaves. The rain was pelting down like a waterfall, the house was shaking with the furious thunderclaps and then at one point the lighting was going off literally five times a second. I still wasn't thinking about a real tornado being somewhere nearby. Tornadoes don't seem real in Sutton. I was thinking this lightning was going to get through my surge supressor and fry my computer, and I hadn't backed it up recently, and I'd be completely doomed. So I was turning everything off and unplugging things from the wall. With that done, Bob and I moved to the kitchen to wait for it all to end.
Finally at 5:28pm things had calmed down enough that I felt it was safe to plug the computer back in. I saw that the tornado had reportedly gone just north of us, and posted:
Wow that was intense. Incredibly powerful lightning strikes in Sutton MA and the tornado skimmed the northern border with Millbury.
Even now there are incredibly powerful thunder booms going on, shaking the whole house.
I thought that was rather amazing - the last time I knew of a tornado being in Sutton was in 1831 - Sutton Tornado of 1831. This was a freak weather anomaly. I sat down to let my friends know we were OK. My boyfriend headed off to the gym.
Then the next thing I know, he's calling me from the gym. The TV sets there were talking about a SECOND tornado that was coming through Oxford and heading our way! Two in one day??? So at 6:14pm I posted:
Heads up in Sutton MA! Another tornado was spotted in Brimfield MA and it's coming towards us. Two in one day!! Be safe!
My sister lives in Sturbridge so I immediately called her to warn her. Again the rain began pelting, the wind began kicking up, and this time I was taking it more seriously. I shut everything down and actually headed into the basement. Interestingly, it wasn't as bad this time in terms of the lightning and house-shaking thunder. Still, of course, better safe than sorry. By 7:24pm things were calm enough for me to come back online.
The second tornado barely missed us in Sutton MA - it came from Oxford along Central Turnpike then headed into Millbury. Two in one day!
By now it was getting dark - and a THIRD heavy cell of thunderstorms began coming at us - and now we couldn't tell if there was a tornado in there or not! We had to try to listen for tell-tale sounds like a roaring train. Luckily things only got heavily rainy.
My friend Debi in Worcester on the Millbury line had large hail coming down during the first tornado; we didn't get hail here.
On Thursday morning I woke up bright and early to drive around - including out to Sturbridge - and take photos of the tornado damage. Here are the photos!
Sturbridge MA Tornado Photos
I've also put together a guess at what the path of the tornado through Sturbridge was, based on the damage -
Sturbridge MA Tornado Path
UPDATE: News reports are saying the first tornado was a F2.
I just did some research on the 1953 Worcester Tornado, which didn't touch Sutton but is the biggest tornado people tend to remember in this area. It was on June 9, 1953, and was a F4. The meterologists knew it might happen but they didn't want to inform the public (i.e. "it might scare them") so there was no warning at all when it appeared in the Quabbin Reservoir about 4:30pm. It went through Barre, Rutland, Worcester, Shrewsbury, Westboro, and died out in Framingham. It killed 94 people along its path. It was a mile wide at some times, and ripped brick buildings apart. It ended about 5:45 so it was going strong through rush hour activities. It is the fourth most fatal tornado in US history.
Sutton Massachusetts Photo Collection