Remembering the Dallas Tornadoes
of April 2, 1957
Classic Severe Weather Scenario
Tuesday, April 2, 1957 was a warm spring day across North Texas . Temperatures climbed into the lower 70s in Dallas during the afternoon, with dewpoints in the upper 60s to near 70 degrees. A strong 100-115 m.p.h. upper level jet split over the region, with the southern portion darting from west to east across North Texas, and the northern branch moving over southwest Oklahoma . At mid levels, a trough centered over the southwestern United States provided ample mid level wind shear across the Southern Plains.
Many of the supercell thunderstorms on April 2, including the parent storm of the Dallas tornadoes, developed near a warm front extending from just north of Mineral Wells east to Dallas to Monroe , Louisiana . A surface cold front extended along an inverted surface trough from near Del Rio northward to Childress.
Twisters Touch Down
At 3 p.m., the first tornado touched down along present-day I-20 in southern Dallas County . The twister moved north along Polk Street past the current location of I-30. Continuing north, the tornado moved one mile east of Hampton Street , down a hill and into a neighborhood destroying many homes. The tornado moved northwest of downtown Dallas , going across the Trinity River levee and into an industrial complex. The initial tornado finally entered the rope, or dying, stage in the parking lot of Love Field, and fully dissipated after crossing Bachman Lake .
A second tornado developed just one mile east of the rope tornado. This tornado moved from northwest Dallas into Collin County , destroying farm homes. It is unknown where the second tornado dissipated.
The initial Dallas tornado killed 10 people and injured 200 during its 45-minute life span. It also resulted in $4 million in damages, which equates to over $28.6 million in 2006 dollars. The tornado was rated F3 on the Fujita scale.
Status of the Science
Today, forecasters at your National Weather Service in Fort Worth analyze data from weather observations and study weather patterns to forecast severe weather episodes days in advance. Technology such as weather radar and satellite imagery, as well as storm spotters in the field, help forecasters pinpoint the severe weather threat area when the skies darken.
However, in the 1950s severe weather forecasting was very different. A series of devastating tornadoes ripped through America ï¿½s heartland during the decade causing significant loss of life and millions of dollars in property damage. North Texas was no exception to these outbreaks. On May 11, 1953 an F5 tornado ripped through downtown Waco killing 114. That tornado was part of a larger outbreak of severe weather from May 9 through May 11 across the Central Plains. The Waco tornado ranks as one of the top 10 deadliest tornadoes in written American history.
The science of severe weather meteorology was in its infancy in the ï¿½50s, and unforecasted tornado outbreaks were resulting in public outrage. The SEvere Local Storms unit (SELS), the predecessor to the Storm Prediction Center , was developed in the 1950s through demand for better prediction and understanding of severe weather.
If the Dallas tornadoes of 1957 were to occur today, more significant damage would likely occur, with the possibility of catastrophic loss of life. These tornadoes are a reminder that major metropolitan areas are not immune their destructive forces. The May 3, 1999 tornado outbreak cut a swath of destruction through central Oklahoma , including the Oklahoma City metro area. The storms resulted in over 40 deaths, 675 injuries, and $1.2 billion in damages.
A deadly tornado can strike anywhere in North Texas, including the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex. The best defense to protect your family is to stay updated with forecasts, watches, and warnings via NOAA All-Hazards radio or commercial television and radio outlets. Have a severe weather plan in place at your home, office, and school, and practice it regularly.
Photos of the Dallas tornado,
courtesy of the NOAA photo library