One of the most unforgettable weather days happened 26 years ago today when a series of deadly and destructive tornadoes hit Connecticut on the afternoon of July 10, 1989. I was the early morning forecaster at the Western Connecticut State University weathercenter in Danbury back then. Although I predicted strong to severe thunderstorms for the region that afternoon, I never imagined the magnitude of the tornadoes which would strike Connecticut later that day.
I remember the storms began early that morning in upstate New York. A tornado hit Ogdensburg just before daybreak, injuring one person. One inch hail and wind gusts of over 50 miles an hour were a telltale sign that the approaching frontal boundary meant business. Many reports of wind damage in New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts occurred before noon.
Unfortunately, the timing of the storm had it moving into western Connecticut by the afternoon hours, when the atmosphere is most volatile due to the heating of the Sun. By midafternoon, as the atmosphere continued to heat up and the front moved eastward, the tornadoes developed. The first tornado, which may actually have been three distinctly separate tornadoes, started in the Northwest community of Cornwall, and leveled the Cathedral Pines forest.
The tornado continued south-southeast through Milton, leveling hundreds of trees and virtually destroying the village of Bantam before dissipating. A 12-year-old girl, who was on a campout with family and friends, was killed by falling trees in Black Rock State Park. Not much later, another tornado touched down in Watertown, passing through Oakville and northern Waterbury . That either damaged or destroyed over 150 homes and injured 70 people.
However, the most destructive tornado occurred in Hamden by late-afternoon. The path was only about five miles long, and it stopped just short of New Haven. The tornado destroyed almost 400 structures, and even cars were tossed into the air. Rows of houses and an industrial park were flattened as a result of the tornado. The storm was so strong that much of the area was without power for at least a week, and there were some trees still being cleared months later. The adjacent photo shows some of the damage in Hamden. This video was made for the Hamden Fire Department's Training Division the day after the tornado struck.
The powerful F-4 tornado which struck Hamden caused $100 million in damage and another $20 million in the Greater New Haven area. Forty people were injured in the tornado. After the tornado dissipated, a wind gust of 80 miles an hour was reported in New Haven. At about that time, another tornado struck Mount Carmel, tearing the roof off a condominium and injuring five people.
Of course, 26 years ago we didn't have the technology we do today, but I was still able to monitor the radar by the time I arrived home early in the afternoon. Remember, the Internet and access to instant local weather coverage didn't exist in those days. By the evening, the violent weather had ended, skies were clearing, and the damage had been done. It was certainly a day I'll never forget.