Written by Tom Reaugh
National Weather Service - Northern Indiana
Additional pictures and survivor accounts can be found on the Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak page courtesy of Blake Naftel at Western Michigan University.
Map of Palm Sunday Tornado Tracks
The day was going to be busy, it was apparent right from the start. A strong springtime storm system was developing over the Central Plains, and all the ingredients for severe weather were present. Warm, very moist air was flowing northward from the Gulf of Mexico with cool air rushing down from Canada to meet it. A jet stream streaked across the country from southern California to northern New England, passing right over the developing surface system.
Analysis of the 7 am surface chart showed a large red "L" drawn just about on the center of the map. Low pressure was deepening over western Iowa. From this low center a warm front reached east across central Illinois to central Indiana, and then snaked its way to South Carolina. In the other direction, a cold front dropped south to the Ozarks and then southwestward to the Big Bend region of Texas.
At 1045am, the Severe Local Storms Center, SELS, in Kansas City issued a statement concerning the possibility of tornadoes that afternoon from northeast Missouri across central Illinois to north central Indiana.
Around 1pm, the SELS forecaster issued a tornado
forecast (analogous to today’s tornado watch). It
covered central and northern Illinois and southernmost
Wisconsin. Unbeknownst to him, the first two tornadoes
of the day had touched down fifteen minutes earlier.
Though it was apparent to most meteorologists that
the weather on that eleventh day of April was going to
be much more dangerous than usual, nobody imagined that
the Lowden tornado would be the first of thirty-nine
twisters to tear up the Midwestern landscape over the
course of the afternoon and evening. Nobody dreamt that
those tornadoes would carry death to 260 people.
Seven minutes after the Jefferson County tornado touched down, another tornado reached earthward in McHenry County, Illinois. It would become one of the most famous tornadoes of the day. It began its eleven mile path of destruction on the southwest side of Crystal Lake, near the public golf course. It rampaged across the southeast side of town, destroying subdivision after subdivision. The tornado brushed the junior high school, and ripped apart the Lake Plaza Shopping Center. In one neighborhood, known as Colby’s Home Estates, the tornado was a quarter mile wide. One hundred fifty-five homes were damaged – forty-five of them beyond all repair. Five people were killed in the tempest. East of town, the tornado narrowed to a width of about 650 feet. It slid down a steep hillside without ever losing contact with the ground. The storm continued on and devastated the tiny community of Island Lake, killing one more person before it lifted a few minutes later. It would be classified as an F4. It lifted at 3:42pm.
Around 3:40pm, the Weather Bureau office in Chicago issued a tornado warning for the Crystal Lake Tornado.
At 3:50pm a tornado was born over Druce Lake in central Lake County, Illinois. It moved to just north of Gurnee, crossing Interstate 94, producing F2 damage. Today, this area is highly commercialized with malls and hotels, and heavily populated with new subdivisions full of huge, beautiful homes.
Ten minutes later the third Chicagoland tornado in half an hour touched ground near Saint Charles. The Chicago weather office put out a tornado warning immediately. Nobody was killed, and the twister was relatively weak. It did manage to severely damage a dozen homes as it crossed US Route 30.
Several minutes after 4pm the storm system spat out one more tornado in southwest Wisconsin, and then took a rest. For an hour and a half, no tornadoes fell to earth. However, the people at SELS knew that the siege wasn’t over. Not by a long shot.
At 4:35pm a squall line reached from near LaCrosse, Wisconsin through Rockford to Champaign Illinois. SELS issued another tornado forecast. It was valid over the northern half of Indiana, northwest Ohio, and southeast Michigan.
Done with its brief nap, the storm system woke up with renewed vigor shortly before 6pm. Massive thunderstorms had erupted over northwest Indiana, and the first Hoosier tornado of the day crashed to earth. It touched down in Starke County a few miles southwest of a hamlet known as, appropriately, Hamlet. It crossed US Route 30 and tore directly across Koontz Lake. One hundred vacation cottages were severely damaged. As one of the cottages was blown to pieces, the man inside was lifted into the air and thrown to his death 600 feet away.
The people of Lapaz and Lakeville had been very happy in recent weeks. Lakeville High School had grown old, and was in need of repairs and modernization. Instead of fixing the old building, however, the two communities decided to build a brand new high school for their students. Residents of the area often drove by the construction site, and the progress of the new school was a common topic of conversation. It became even more of a topic of conversation after April 11. The tornado that wreaked havoc at Koontz Lake was huge and grey by the time it reached US Route 31 between LaPaz and Lakeville. It completely flattened the high school. Weeks of hard, backbreaking work were undone in a few seconds.
The people of Wyatt, Indiana, had been watching the southwest sky grow darker and darker. By the time it finally changed its hue from black to green, they knew trouble was coming. They gathered their families, maybe a flashlight or a few candles, and hurried into their basements and storm cellars in a state of controlled urgency. The tornado that had just ripped down all of the new boards at Lakeville High School had been moving across open country, and was hungry for another town. Wyatt was that town. The funnel swirled directly down Main Street in Wyatt, and destroyed twenty homes. Wyatt’s already small population fell even further.
The South Bend weather office had issued a tornado warning for LaPorte, Starke, and Marshall counties two minutes before the Koontz Lake tornado touched down in central Starke County. The South Bend office had no radar, nor a remote radar feed. They were relying on phone conversations with radar operators in Chicago.
At 6pm the South Bend office received reports of tornadoes near Grovertown on US Route 30 in northeast Starke County, just north of Plymouth, and near Argos in southern Marshall County. The weather observer issued a Tornado Warning for Saint Joseph, Marshall, Elkhart, and Kosciusko counties.
At a quarter after six, as the incomplete Lakeville High School was splintering apart, another tornado touched down just fifteen miles to the east, near the Saint Joseph/Elkhart county line. It moved northeast to Wakarusa, where it took the life of a child.
The AP wire had been going crazy at the Elkhart Truth. Many weather bulletins had printed out that afternoon, and were collecting in a huge pile on the desk of Paul Huffman. Paul was sifting through the warnings when the editor told him to grab his camera and go out to document the extreme conditions. Paul was out of the door in a flash, and directed his car southeastward towards Goshen. Just before he left the newspaper, he learned from the South Bend weather office that a tornado had been reported northwest of Nappanee and was moving northeast. He knew that meant the tornado was heading for the northwest side of Goshen, so that’s where he positioned himself. He sat in his car and waited.
As the sky grew blacker and blacker to his southwest, Paul wondered if he had underestimated what he had gotten himself into. He nervously fidgeted with the camera in his lap as he stared out his car window. The rain that had been falling began to mix with large hailstones that bounced madly on Paul’s car and made a terrifying ding. Paul was shrinking back from the windshield in front of him when suddenly the hail and rain stopped. He was about to breathe a sigh of relief, when instead he gasped for air. Just off to his left was what he had been waiting for. It was a spinning mass of black cloud dragging itself along the earth. Bright sky was behind the funnel, and with no precipitation falling, Paul knew he would be able to get some great shots.
Mr. Huffman lifted the camera to his eye and began snapping pictures as quickly as he could. The funnel was moving to the right across his field of vision. As it approached the road about half a mile in front of him, it grew to such a massive size that it took up much of the frame. The tornado, in the midst of crossing the highway, decided to put on a spectacular show. Paul Huffman took one of the most celebrated tornado pictures of all-time as the monster before him morphed into a spectacular double funnel. One massive tornado just a couple of hundred feet behind another massive tornado, they charged northeast in tandem in front of Paul’s lens. As they continued off to the right they combined into a chaotic mass of boiling, black cloud raking over Elkhart County.
The small community of Dunlap, made up primarily of mobile homes and modest houses, lay just southeast of Elkhart on US Highway 33. The tornado Paul Huffman was photographing must have had some sort of vendetta against sleepy Dunlap, for it was on the edge of town when the tornado developed its incredible double funnel structure. The twins chewed through the southeast side of Dunlap, destroying eighty percent of the Midway Trailer Court and killing ten people. It tossed planes around upside down in the air and ripped their wings off as it skimmed by Goshen Airport. One of the airplane wings was later found near Centreville, Michigan, thirty-five miles away from Goshen, and nearly twenty-five miles beyond the end of the tornado’s path!
At 6:25pm one tornado had just finished destroying Lakeville High School in Saint Joseph County, a second tornado had just killed a child in Wakarusa in Elkhart County, and a third tornado had just dropped to earth a few miles south of Valparaiso in Porter County. This third tornado would go on to produce near-F4 damage to homes southwest of Wanatah, and would destroy homes near Kingsford Heights, while the other two tornadoes were simultaneously producing F4 damage in Wyatt and Dunlap.
Although he had no idea at the time, as Paul Huffman was watching the double funnel cross Route 33 in front of him, another monstrous twister was spinning to the ground nine miles behind him near Millersburg. This new tornado struck off to the northeast, devastating the Amish counrtryside of eastern Elkhart County and the northwest half of Lagrange County. As the storm passed south of Shipshewana it flattened the quiet communities of Shore and Rainbow Lake, doing near-F5 damage as it reduced large farm houses to nothing more than a foundation.
The South Bend weather office issued several products during the day’s eighteenth hour describing the locations of the tornadoes swarming through the area. Finally at 6:50pm the exasperated observer issued the following statement:
Reports of tornadoes and funnel clouds have become so numerous that it is impossible to keep track of them. Warnings should therefore exist throughout the central northern portion of Indiana. The problems have been intensified by telephones being out in many areas and it is impossible to notify many people.
While the South Bend observer was sending that statement, an F4 tornado started satisfying its appetite in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where it ruined the property and lives of many residents.
The unique intensity of the weather system in the Midwest that Palm Sunday was about to be demonstrated ten minutes later as an unusual event began to take shape in the northwest corner of Steuben County, near the community of Orland, Indiana. An intense tornado formed and quickly crossed the border into Michigan. It struck the village of East Gilead squarely, and then continued on to destroy homes along the shore of Coldwater Lake, filling the water with debris. When it reached the opposite shore of the lake, a second tornado formed just five miles to the southwest near Kinderhook. The two tornadoes took off together in the same direction along the same path, so that anybody hit by the first twister would get hit by the second one several minutes later. By the time the first tornado passed south of Hillsdale, its friend was about thirty minutes behind it. The duo roared across the countryside producing F4 damage in a swath over a mile wide.
In western Lenawee County, Michigan, about fifty people were attending Palm Sunday church services at the Manitou Beach Baptist Church. When they arrived at church, rumors of tornadoes peppered the conversations as the crowd gathered together outside the front doors of the building. At 7pm the service started, and the congregation filed in. Faint thunder was heard stirring in the distance. As the service progressed, the thunder became loud enough that it shook the church. The people began thinking more about the weather outside than what they were hearing from the pulpit. The thunder developed into a low, steady rumble. The church-goers noticed the rumble before they even realized it. They had been feeling the vibration in their feet before the sound actually reached their ears and alerted them to the fact that something was happening behind them. As the service was nearing its end, the rumbling sound that had been distracting the parishoners grew deafeningly loud. The stained glass windows shattered. People began screaming in their surprise and terror. Plaster rained down on them as mothers grabbed their children and everybody began pushing each other into the aisles. The shrieking wind blew the church doors open, forcing the people inside to bend over to nearly a ninety degree angle as they fought the wind, rain, hail, and debris in order to reach the stairs to the basement. Half of them never made it. The church folded and collapsed upon them, burying over two dozen people in the rubble.
Forty minutes later the second tornado roared through, but there was nothing left for it to destroy, other than some vacation cottages along the shore of Manitou Lake.
As the storm continued across Lenawee County, the twin tornadoes, combined with powerful downburst winds, created a damage path up to four miles wide from one end of the county to the other. The wind recorder at Tecumseh, in the northeast part of the county, recorded a wind gust of 151 mph when the south fringe of the first tornado passed by. Fifty-five minutes later the second tornado hit the airport directly and gave a wind gust of 75 mph. Ten minutes later, straight-line winds rushing into the backside of the thunderstorm gusted to 70 mph.
The horrific supercell finally took its two destroyers back up into the cloud in northern Monroe County, just west of Lake Erie and southwest of Detroit. The second, weaker tornado had fallen back to about an hour behind the first one. Together they traveled ninety miles, killed forty-four people, and injured 612.
Of the counties that these tornadoes hit, only Hillsdale was warned for. The Lansing weather office thought the storm would move to the northeast rather than the east, and as a result they warned for the counties to the north of the eventual track. The Lansing office had good reason to forecast a northeast movement, since every other tornado in the border area that day had indeed moved in a northeast direction; as was this pair of tornadoes, until it reached central Hillsdale County and made a turn to the right.
As the Manitou Beach Tornado was just crossing the Michigan/Indiana line, hail two inches in diameter -- about the size of a hen’s egg -- was battering Lafayette, Indiana. Another tornado formed a few miles southwest of the city. This tornado passed through mostly rural country, although it did produce F4 damage in northwest Clinton County between Cambria and Moran. This tornado was significant in that it did not form in the same area as the previous tornadoes in Michiana. It developed in a whole new supercell. A supercell that would grow, evolve, and become one of a new front of storms that would rake across central Indiana about a hundred miles south of the storms in the Michigan/Indiana border area.
Three minutes after the tornado began near Lafayette, the most powerful tornado ever to hit northern Indiana struck ground. It began several miles south of South Bend and set off to the northeast, heading directly for...Dunlap.
Paul Huffmans’s tornadoes crushed the Midway Trailer Court around 6:30pm. As the storm continued on beyond the town, the residents cautiously crept out from their damaged homes to survey the destruction and to assist their injured neighbors. Rescue crews arrived almost immediately from Elkhart and Goshen to tend to the hurt. A constant stream of ambulances, fire trucks, hearses, and volunteer’s cars filled the highway as they shuttled people to hospitals. The tornado had hit, and the people of the area had paid a terrible price to it, but at least it was done. The storm had moved on, and once you’re hit by a tornado it’s supposed to be over. After the tornado, the weather is supposed to calm down. So when the southwest sky began to fill with lightning before many of the tornado victims had even been found yet, the crowds at Dunlap groaned. They groaned not because they feared another tornado, but because they didn’t want to get rained on. But rain it did. The rain slashed down on rescuers and victims alike, chilling people to the bone and stinging their faces. Soon the rain began falling nearly sideways as the wind increased. At half past seven, the people in the unassuming community of Dunlap had their worst fears realized – again. A tornado even more powerful than the first one ripped into town. It leveled houses to the ground. It destroyed the Sunnyside and Kingston Heights subdivisions. Anything left standing after the first tornado was not only leveled, but swept clean from the surface of the earth.
Its need of destruction not yet satiated, the twister moved on and destroyed a truck stop at the corner of routes 20 and 15 where it took six more lives. The horror finally lifted back into the sky in the northwest corner of Lagrange County near Stone Lake. With this tornado, the storms along the state line had finally blown themselves out, and would produce no further major tornadoes.
It was not a good day for the poor observer at the South Bend weather office. At 7:13pm he issued this statement:
Broadcasting stations are urged to ask people to not call the Weather Bureau unless they have weather to report. We have had numerous poor joke calls and they tie up the lines.
At the time that statement was issued, three different areas of storms were producing tornadoes: one in central Michigan, one along the Indiana/Michigan border, and one in central Indiana.
The people of Crawfordsville had been watching the sky that evening with great apprehension. Fathers were pointing to the sky and telling their sons how to read the clouds. At twenty after seven a twister came to the ground on the southeast side of town, sending everybody rushing inside to safety. The tornado spared Crawfordsville, but had different plans for many other locations in Montgomery, Boone, and Hamilton counties. It produced F4 damage near Smartsdale as it leveled a home to its foundation, killing a person inside. The funnel grew to a mile in width as it moved northwest of Lebanon, and it destroyed over four dozen homes and killed eleven people, six of whom were from the same family. Two cars were thrown a hundred yards from the roadway resulting in four more deaths. The death and destruction then continued into the Arcadia area, forty-five miles east of Crawfordsville.
The news media had been making the Crystal Lake and Dunlap tornadoes famous that evening. At 7:30pm, when the second Dunlap tornado was crushing that town, another tornado was touching down near the Howard/Clinton County line, and would become just as well-known. Within seconds of reaching ground it blew into a community of nine hundred souls known as Russiaville. When it was done tearing up the town, ninety percent of its buildings had been damaged or destroyed. A few miles further along, the tornado became a mile-wide wedge that devastated a hundred homes in Alto, where the Maple Crest Apartments lost their entire second floor. The tornado continued to strengthen, and reached F4 intensity as it pummeled Greentown where eighty homes were destroyed and ten people killed. Debris from Greentown was spread out across the Indiana landscape.
The tornado continued to the east, paralleling the Norfolk and Southern Railroad. Fortunately the tornado was just far enough south so that it missed the towns that were strung out along the tracks.
The people in the VA Hospital in Marion had heard that a tornado was charging through Grant County, though they didn’t know for sure if it was going to hit Marion or not. They soon got their answer when the roof of the hospital was ripped off. Then the Panorama Shopping Center was blown down, and almost immediately was converged upon by looters. Thirty-one electric company transmission towers were toppled. An astounding 835 people had been injured by this tornado, 600 of them in Howard County. Twenty-five were killed.
The funnel lifted near Arcana. As the funnel lifted, the weather office at Fort Wayne issued a Tornado Warning for the counties of Grant, Blackford, Jay, southern Wabash, Huntington, Wells, and Adams. The parent thunderstorm proceeded on to the east, and after only about ten minutes decided to put down another tornado, along the same path.
The tornado steamed across farmland near Roll, and then struck Keystone with F4 strength, killing two people. It continued to the northeast and hit Linn Grove, causing two more fatalities. As it hit Linn Grove, the weather office in Fort Wayne issued the following statement:
The Weather Bureau radar at Baer Field shows a strong hook echo about five miles west of Berne Indiana and moving eastward. Residents in the Berne area should take immediate precautions for personal safety for a strong possibility of a tornado in the next 30 to 60 minutes.
In reality, the tornado skimmed the north side of Berne about six minutes after that statement was sent out. The Fort Wayne office had no idea that an F4 tornado had already been on the ground for twenty-five miles in Grant County, and for thirty-five miles before it finally reached Berne. Twenty-nine people had died and nearly nine hundred were injured when the Fort Wayne office sent out that message.
The twister set its sights on Ohio, and moved into the Buckeye State south of Willshire. Five homes were leveled flat to the ground, and a mother and her son were killed. The tornado then lifted. As the tornado dissipated, the Fort Wayne weather office sent this product:
The Weather Bureau radar at Baer Field shows the strong hook echo now just a mile or two south of Van Wert and weakening in intensity. Hold the line a minute for a definite report on tornado at Berne. The tornado touched down at Berne three miles west and one mile northeast. Several houses destroyed and ambulances are rushing to scene. Tornado hit between ten and fifteen minutes ago which would be between 8:50 and 8:55 PM EST.
In the days following the Marion and Linn Grove tornadoes, several witnesses would report having seen two tornadoes in tandem push through the area. The known existence of twin tornadoes at Dunlap and from Hillsdale to Monroe County Michigan lend credence to these reports.
While the weather was wreaking havoc in central Indiana, the storms in central Michigan continued to produce tornadoes. The Michigan tornadoes were weaker; mostly doing F2 damage. However they were still quite widespread and resulted in fifty-three fatalities that evening. Before 9pm Lansing, Michigan reported 63mph winds with 3/4-inch hail. Several minutes later half-inch hail fell on Ypsilanti and Detroit. Detroit Metropolitan Airport received an inch of rain in thirty minutes.
At 9:20pm, the Fort Wayne office issued the following unfortunate statement:
Attention WOMO Please use emergency action notification signal. Marion Indiana reported through Fort Wayne signal department at 9:07 PM EST that three tornadoes had struck the city of Marion with extensive damage. The Veterans Administration Hospital was one area hit. Request for ambulance assistance has been requested from Muncie and Anderson. The Fort Wayne Weather Bureau places these counties under alert for eastward movement that struck Marion. These counties are Wells Adams Blackford and Jay Counties. Residents in these counties should remain on the alert for the next 60 minutes.
The tornadoes Fort Wayne was warning for had actually hit Marion a full hour and twenty minutes earlier. Apparently the Fort Wayne weather observer thought that the report he received from Marion was saying that the tornadoes had just occurred. The Fort Wayne observer then sent a message to the Columbus Ohio weather office stating that a tornado had hit Marion at 9:07pm, and the Columbus weather office then issued its own statement with that same erroneous information. In reality the storm had hit Marion around 8pm. At the time of Fort Wayne’s warning, the line of storms on radar was well east of Marion, extending from Paulding and Van Wert counties into Adams and Jay counties.
At 9:30pm the Fort Wayne office lost power, and was out of service for an hour. By the time the office got its electricity back the storms were well east into Ohio.
In northwest Ohio a thunderstorm had blown up and managed to put a tornado down on the northwest side of Toledo. As the tornado pushed across the edge of town, it caused near-F5 damage in the Creekside Addition as fifty homes were razed. The twister crossed the Detroit-Toledo Expressway where it picked up a bus and then slammed it down onto the pavement, killing four people inside. When the tornado moved into the northern section of Maumee Bay at the western tip of Lake Erie, it picked up cars from the land and plucked boats out of the water, and sent them hurling into buildings along the shore.
The Toledo tornado was never warned for. The only mention the storm got was from the Columbus weather office ten minutes before the twister struck: "A moderate to heavy storm was about ten miles west of Toledo". The storm was within sight of both the Fort Wayne and Detroit radars, and passed about 15 miles north of the Toledo weather office. The Columbus office learned of the damage around a quarter to eleven, though it still had not yet been confirmed that it was caused by a tornado.
Shortly after 10pm a tornado derailed fifty-three cars of a sixty-eight unit train in Shelby County, Ohio.
A few minutes past 11pm the second, an F5 tornado touched soil. It fell to earth in western Lorain County, Ohio, four hours after the Dunlap F4 and 180 miles almost due east. The tornado was only about five minutes old when it roared into Pittsfield. Seven of the fifty residents were killed and, as the Cleveland weather office put it in a damage survey the next day, "the destruction was total". As it approached Grafton is was eight hundred feet wide and gave up to F2 damage to two hundred homes. In the tornado’s twentieth mile, according to Cleveland, "the storm appeared to have been split into two paths about ½ mile apart. Large trees laying 50 feet apart were lying in opposite directions." The tornado displayed its F5 intensity in Strongsville, where homes literally vanished. The tornado rose back into the clouds just two minutes later.
The last tornado of the Palm Sunday Outbreak occurred at 12:30 am Monday morning. It moved along a thirty mile path southeast of Columbus, producing scattered F2 damage.
In the half-day that the event lasted, twisters tasted the ground from Cedar County, Iowa eastward 450 miles to Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and from Kent County, Michigan southward two hundred miles to Montgomery County, Indiana. Six states and four dozen counties had tornadoes within their borders. Fifteen weather offices had a busy Sunday as the tornadoes swept through their areas of responsibility.
It had been twelve hours unlike any the region had ever seen before. Nature’s most powerful force was displayed with appalling brutality as buildings were reduced to rubble, years of hard work were obliterated in a matter of seconds, and possessions were scattered for miles across the countryside. Twelve hours of terror, of destruction, of death. Tornadoes grew to over a mile wide and F4/F5 intensity as they scoured the landscape clean of human endeavor.
The day after the outbreak, in addition to local storm survey teams, a team of higher ranking officials was assembled in Kansas City. The team consisted of:
They published their findings three weeks later, in a sixty-four page storm survey document that included maps, charts, a description of the events of April 11, 1965, and recommendations on how the Weather Bureau could improve its service to the public. Those recommendations are listed here.
April 11, 1965 started off as a beautiful day across much of the region...especially east of the Mississippi River. The sun was shining brightly and temperatures were climbing rapidly through the fifties and sixties that morning. It was the first really nice day of the new spring season, and as a result, most people were recreating outside, away from their televisions and radios. In this area, the media were about the only way to get severe weather warnings to the public. While locations in the central and southern Plains had already begun using civil defense sirens to warn citizens of approaching tornadoes, that practice had not yet been adopted in the lower Great Lakes region. Therefore, many of the people who were outside enjoying the warm weather were not aware of the tornado forecasts and warnings that were being issued. It was recommended that the civil defense sirens be used for tornado warnings throughout the Plains and Midwest.
The Weather Bureau in 1965 disseminated its warnings, along with all of its other products, via teletypewriter. Generally the teletypewriter lines fed from the weather office to other weather offices and to local television and radio stations. Most weather offices had counties in their area of responsibility that had no teletypewriter connection to the office. When the weather office issued products, including severe weather warnings, the staff had to call these counties individually on the phone. The list of phone numbers was so long at some offices, that by the time the last person on the list was called the event had already ended. After the Palm Sunday Outbreak, the necessity of having all counties linked to the weather bureau via teletypewriter was recognized.
In surveys and personal interviews conducted by the Weather Bureau after the event, it was learned that many people did not know the difference between a tornado forecast and a tornado warning. This was despite the fact that the bureau had already produced and distributed thousands of pamphlets, leaflets, films, and recordings that included discussions on the subject. During the Palm Sunday event the Chicago office, immediately after issuing a warning, would issue a follow-up message with tornado safety rules. The bureau commended this method, and requested that all stations do the same in the future. Eventually these safety statements became mandatory on all warnings and came to be known as call-to-action statements.
Additional spotters were needed. There had been, at one time, an extensive network of weather spotters in the area. Unfortunately, budget problems caused the offices to cut back on the number of spotter meetings given. As the number of spotter meetings decreased, so did the number of spotters, and by early 1965 only a skeleton crew of weather spotters was left. It was suggested, after the tornado outbreak, that one additional person be hired by the Weather Bureau for each state. This person would be assigned to the state’s central office, such as Indianapolis, and would be responsible for giving spotter talks throughout his state, as well as organizing emergency alert procedures.
One of the more urgent findings was the need for radar repeater scopes in offices that had no on-site radar. For instance, the South Bend office had no radar. Therefore, they had to keep in contact with the Chicago radar operator via the phone. The Chicago radar man would keep his eye on South Bend’s area, and occasionally call the South Bend office when the WSR-57 showed particularly strong storms in northwest Indiana. If South Bend had their own scope to look at, fed off of Chicago’s radar, it would help the South Bend staff to identify storms in their own area much quicker, and would remove a large amount of Chicago’s workload and responsibilities.
Another radar problem was the incompleteness of the WSR-57 network. Only two offices in the tornado ravaged area had WSR-57s: Chicago and Detroit. The only other radars were at Madison, Muskegon, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Flint, Cleveland, and Columbus, all of which were aging WSR-1s or WSR-3s. Some of the pre-WSR-57 radars in the United States were in disrepair, were unable to be fixed due to the inability to find parts for them, and were being cannibalized to keep other radars going. While it was apparent that the Weather Bureau could not financially afford to place a WSR-57 in every office, it was strongly suggested that a more dense web of network radars was needed.
When the outbreak was at its peak, phone service was sometimes disrupted, as was the case at South Bend. It was considered essential that emergency back-up FM radio communications be used when the phone lines were down.
Some offices, such as the Fort Wayne office, lost power, and, therefore, all contact with the outside world other than through the telephone. It was seen that an emergency back-up power source was desirable.
The bureau was distressed by the public’s lack of knowledge of how to interpret weather bulletins. It was felt by bureau officials that surveys should be regularly conducted by behavioral scientists to learn how the public perceives the products issued by the Weather Bureau. Even though a certain product may be perfectly sound meteorologically, it does no good if the public does not react in the proper way. It was felt that surveys would help the Weather Bureau tailor the forecasts and warnings so as to generate the desired response.
Weather Bureau Survey Team, Report of Palm Sunday Tornadoes of 1965.
Grazulis, Tom P, Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991.
U. S. Department of Commerce, Weather Bureau, South Bend, Indiana, Local Climatological Data April 1965
U. S. Department of Commerce, Weather Bureau, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Local Climatological Data April 1965
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