100th Anniversary of the First Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak

Bill’s Blog

Posted: Mar 28, 2020 / 12:29 PM EDT Updated: Mar 28, 2020 / 12:29 PM EDT

The pic. above is downtown Wilmette, Illiinois the day after the first Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak. Today is the 100th anniversary of that dreadful day. I lived in Wilmette from age 4 to age 18. I stood on the corner where this picture was taken dozens of times. That’s the city hall to the left in the picture. The tornado made headlines across this U.S.

GEORGE MIX, a watchman at a railroad crossing in Wilmette, was severely injured when the storm lifted his shanty and rolled it for more than three blocks, carrying him as a prisoner. JAMES IRVING and his son and daughter were blown into an abandoned basement 50 feet away when the storm destroyed a small portable house in which they were eating dinner.One half of the roof of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church at Wilmette was carried more than three blocks by the wind. The parsonage was not damaged. Tulsa Daily World, Tulsa, OK 29 Mar 1920

“Wilmette’s two main streets are a wreck today.” said one witness. “The cyclone took everything in its path. Horses, men, women and children were pushed or blown out of the way. There wasn’t a building which didn’t suffer. “The storm went past three churches. The roof of one church was blown in and the other two untouched. Beautiful trees in front of the churches were uprooted and swept for some distance.” The Fort Wayne News And Sentinel, Ft Wayne, IN 29 Mar 1920

The tornado was the first to strike Chicago since 1896, according to Henry J. Fox, weather forecaster for Chicago. The disturbance was a tornado, and not a cyclone, he said, asserting that the peculiar path was characteristic of a tornado. The path was just south of Chicago, ending in Evanston and Wilmette, adjoining Chicago on the shore of Lake Michigan. A swath 200 yardswide was torn through the main part of Wilmette and property damage was estimated at near a half a million (1920 dollars). Among the buildings damaged were the town hall and the Episcopal Church. The Idaho Daily Statesman, Boise, ID 29 Mar 1920

Tornado damage in Wilmette IL 3 29 10 – from Wilmette Public Library – pic. by H. Brooks
Tree damage – Wilmette IL 3 29 10 from Wilmette Library
Weather Map from 3 20 10 – Palm Sunday Tornadoes

This is the weather map from 100 years ago, on 3 20 10. You can see a deep low pressure center back toward Iowa, with warm, moist air flowing from the Gulf of Mexico up into Illinois and SW Michigan.

This tornado was rated F4 and had a nearly continues damage path of 53 miles (longer as a waterspout over Lake Michigan). The tornado resulted in 20 fatalities and 300 injuries in the Chicago area. The tornado was 200 yards wide as it went through downtown Wilmette and was moving at an estimated 60 mph.

This was one of 37 tornadoes that day, with 30 of them rated “significant”. There were 380 fatalities, including 201 in Georgia, 56 in Indiana and 55 in Ohio. There were also 1,215 injuries. There were 8 F4 rated tornadoes and significant tornadoes struck 8 states, including Michigan, which had 12 tornadoes (four of them with fatalities).

The most famous Palm Sunday tornado outbreak was on April 11, 1965. This was the first Palm Sunday tornado outbreak.