Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Commemorating an Ugly Evening in the Twin Cities

I know it's hard to imagine, but May 6, 1965 actually happened.  It happened in the Twin Cities.  Six tornadoes, 13 deaths, nearly 700 injuries.  This is not a hazy memory for those who were alive and around at the time.  They all have stories.  (If you have a one, send me a note or leave a comment; I'd love to hear it!)

Image source: NWS Chanhassen: "...taken by Minnetonka resident H. B. Milligan of a tornado crossing to the west of the junction of Hwy 7 and 101 on May 6, 1965."

Four of the tornadoes that evening did EF-4 -equivalent damage, and three of them were on the ground simultaneously.  Inspect the timelines
below and see for yourself.  It was utter chaos.  You can go here and scroll down to the second bullet point to listen to the old WCCO radio recordings from that evening.  It's chilling to hear people reference familiar landmarks and intersections, like at the 4:00 mark on the on the first recording.  Crazy.

Image Source: NWS Chanhassen via Figure 22 here
Since that time, the population of the area has grown, filled in, diversified, and most importantly, forgotten. Sure, some people still recall the night specifically, and a lot of the local meteorologists and emergency planners have thought about it in some depth.  But our collective memory of it has faded, or at least become shrouded by things more recent, more personal, and more distracting.  And why not?  Look at what has happened in the world, in politics, in popular culture, in technology, since 1965. 

The truth, well known to those of us who wish collective forgetting weren't so easy, is that significant multi-tornado events are scattered throughout the historical record of the Twin Cities, occurring every couple-few decades. Since 1965 event, the Twin Cities Area has had five separate killer tornadoes (incidentally, three of them were in Minneapolis...more on that a different time) several additional non-killer EF-2 or greater tornadoes, and even one low-end multi-tornado event, but nothing resembling that night in 1965.  

The temptation, of course, is to say that, given the history, we must be overdue. But there is no such thing.  The passage of time without a big tornado outbreak does not make one more likely this year than any other year.  But something like it will happen again, and when it does, I hope that we are ready and that we fare well.  And no matter what, it will spawn a new generation of stories and memories, and those too will fade like all the others, behind the shroud of more pressing, more personal, and more distracting things.

No comments:

Post a Comment