Remembering A Dark Moment In South County
On May 29th 1995, we were observing the Memorial Day holiday (one day prior to the traditional Decoration Day) as the weather forecast was unpredictable in nature. The day began on an extremely hot and humid note with temperatures in the upper 80's and extremely high dew points that fueled the fire for an excessive bout of heavy thunder storms that permeated the tri-state region during the afternoon hours.
A strong line of thunder storms was reported in the western Catskill mountains travelling eastward at an accelerated pace producing excessive amounts of wind and hail. New York's Hudson Valley experienced torrential rains and there were reports of a tornado that made it's way in to Columbia county into the early evening hours. The storm was graded an F-2 according to the Fujita scale that measures storms of this capacity.
A little after 7 pm, the storm travelled eastward at the New York-Massachusetts border as the tornado was elevated to F-4 status upon reaching the Great Barrington area touching down at the Walter J Koladza airport that left a path of destruction as the grandstand of the city's fair grounds on route 7 became unrecognizable. Over 100 homes and businesses fell victim to Mother Nature's wrath causing a total of about $25 million in damages.
The tragic loss of life also was reported on this dark day as 3 people passed away after their vehicle was picked up by the strong winds on route 23 in the Great Barrington-Monterey line. 2 students and a staffer at The Eagleton School were returning to campus at the height of the Memorial Day tornado that occurred 24 years ago. Their memory will always remain eternal and everlasting. About 25 people were also injured as the twister finally came to rest in the Monterey area causing a swath of destruction for over 11 miles within two states of our tri-state region.(New York and Massachusetts)
Local residents who lived in the area back in 1995 can still remember the fury and intense conditions that were experienced by this powerful storm. On a personal note, I was only 20 miles south of the storm's peak and was in the process of returning to my then residence of Lakeville, Connecticut after spending the afternoon at Dodd Stadium in Norwich prior to when the tornado touched ground in the early evening hours. When I watched the late news on TV and heard the story of this tremendous devastation in our vicinity, a numb feeling came across me knowing how close I was to a natural disaster of this magnitude. My heart was heavy as prayers immediately went to those who lost their lives and suffered injuries from this weather related tragedy.
Statistics show at least one or two tornadoes strike the Bay State in a given year. The Great Barrington twister was one of the strongest, parallel to a 1953 F-4 tornado that touched ground in the city of Worcester. There were 94 fatalities from that storm and excessive damage of homes and property throughout Central Massachusetts. A total of 34 killer tornadoes have been documented throughout New England's recorded history with the most recent occurring back in June of 2011 when 3 people were killed in downtown Springfield.
(Portions of this article, particularly statistical information, courtesy of Wikipedia)