History

Deadliest Tornadoes in Texas History

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Tornadoes of the Lone Star State have shaped the history and directed the development of towns across the state.  “The more than fifteen thousand tornadoes that have touched down somewhere within the boundaries of the Lone Star state since 1880 have claimed nearly eighteen hundred lives. Most were so weak the only evidence of their brief existence was a few displaced shingles or scattered tree branches. A few, however, left behind such destruction that just a mention of them sends chills down the spines of survivors,” as Marlene Bradford was quoted on Texasescapes.com. Marlene Bradford is a local tornado expert and retired teacher. Her research and books have provided excellent information about Texas’ tornadoes, for the historical perspective and also modern preparedness.

The three deadliest Texas tornadoes caused widespread disasters in their communities and the effects of the storms were felt for years to come. All three of these monstrous storms; Waco, Goliad, and Rock Springs, all “occurred well south of what is considered Tornado Alley,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Most of NOAA’s “significant tornadoes” have occurred in the tornado season of late spring, with just a few making their appearances in early summer or wintertime.

Tornado funnel cloudPhoto Credit: Freeimages.com/Cheryl Empey

Texas’ most damaging and deadliest tornado hit Waco just after Mother’s Day in 1953. The storm moved northeast from Lorena towards Waco. One hundred fourteen lives were lost in that massive storm. Close to 1,600 houses and buildings were destroyed and damaged, along with over 2,000 vehicles. The community of Waco bonded together to help rescue and rebuild the damage from the tornado. “Countless hours of volunteer efforts poured into the recovery of the city. The aftermath of the Waco tornado also contributed to the development of an efficient tornado warning system for the entire nation, and promoted greater communication amongst relief agencies to better deal with future disasters,” Waco History writes on their website.

May 1902 brought the second deadliest tornado to Goliad, Texas. The Goliad tornadic storm was an F4 that moved northeast over the San Antonio River. One hundred fourteen people lost their lives, just like in Waco, and saw fewer injuries than in Waco’s tornado. The storm came through town at nearly an eighth of a mile wide. Property damage caused many of the deaths that afternoon.

An F5 tornado came through Rocksprings and destroyed a majority of the town’s buildings and population. NOAA reports that this storm took out “235 of the 247 buildings in the town. It killed 74 people and injured 205, almost 1/3 of the population.” A devastating storm in April of 1927, it continued its path for miles after Rocksprings.

Texas’ infamously severe weather has shaped our state’s culture and history. Developments in new technology in construction, as well as early warning systems, contribute to helping present-day Texans stay significantly safer during the unstable storm season.