BOSTON (CBS) – Budding trees and blooming flowers are a beautiful sign of Spring’s arrival to New England. This is the time of year when many things change, including our weather.
Dry, sunny days may be followed by weeks of unsettled weather, and in between, extreme temperature swings set up a battle zone of potential severe storms – including the risk for tornadoes.
The deadliest and perhaps most infamous tornado in Massachusetts history came in 1953. This twister cut a devastating forty-mile path through Worcester County on June 9th, taking 94 lives in 84 minutes.
More recently in 2008, a New England-record 50-mile long tracked tornado, this time in east central New Hampshire, caused damage in eleven communities on July 24th, killing one person along the way.
And just three years ago on June 1st, the greater Springfield tornado touched down in the western part of the state. It was the strongest of the four tornadoes that developed that day in Massachusetts.
To put that in perspective, New England averages eight tornadoes per year, two to three of those in the commonwealth.
The twister will be remembered not only for its intensity, an EF3 with estimated wind speeds of 160 mph and its width, one-half mile at times, but for the continuous path of damage it left behind.
From its initial touchdown in the Munger Hill section of Westfield, the tornado strengthened as it moved through West Springfield, crossing the Connecticut River into Springfield itself, continuing east through Wilbraham and directly into Monson, Brimfield, Southbridge and eventually Charlton before lifting off the ground.
It was a 39-mile path of destruction, a half-mile wide in some sport. The scars still visible on our landscape today.
One of the first responders on the scene in West Springfield that day was Deputy Fire Chief Steven Manchino. He said it’s the biggest event he’s ever seen in his career.
“Gas being strewn from buildings that were torn apart, limbs on top of cars, limbs on top of houses and trees themselves, these large trees that are no longer visible in this area,” he told WBZ-TV.
Two people were killed in West Springfield that day.
“You figure with the amount of people, the population density here that more lives weren’t lost. It’s surprising to say the least,” Manchino said.
Farther east in Monson, memories of that day are still fresh in the minds of residents.
Adrianne Balcom said she saw the tornado come over a hill and had no time to think.
“I only saw out the kitchen window a very small part and I jumped back into the bathtub. It was so scary and it missed my apartment by 20 feet. It went right through the parking lot where I lived,” she said.
“You didn’t hear a bird chirping or calling for a week.”
Several buildings and homes were damaged or destroyed as the tornado ripped right through Main Street.
Most of the homes have been rebuilt, but one of the final pieces to the puzzle is being worked on right now, the town hall, which was an integral space in the fabric of downtown.
Town planner Dan LaRoche says it’s been great to see the efforts and the energy of residents.
New offices and the police facility will be completed this fall.
“(It) helps the town move on as far as the re-building process and recovering itself emotionally,” he said.
Evan Brassard, Town Administrator in Monson, says it’s been difficult for people to adjust to the new normal.
“As soon as you come over the hill there’s no forest anymore, there’s no trees – it’s not the quintessential downtown Massachusetts look,” he said.
Despite the change in landscape, he says the community has really come together and their preparedness for severe weather has also increased.
“Before the tornado struck, we didn’t have a community notification system. Since then, that was a really big priority.”
Now, residents can sign up for notifications and alerts by phone, text and/or email when dangerous weather is on the way.
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