Filed Under Disasters

The 1953 Tornado

On June 8, 1953, the west side of Cleveland was struck by a large F4 tornado that ripped through the city, causing mass destruction. The stormfront that produced this tornado had originated in Michigan, where it struck Flint, killing 116 people and injuring 844 before working its way south into Ohio. The long-track tornado that eventually hit Cleveland first touched down around the village of Deshler (midway between Toledo and Lima). The storm made its way east-northeast, hitting Cygnet, where it reportedly killed eight people and injured a further forty-eight. By evening, Cleveland was in harm's way.

At 8:23 p.m. the rain began to fall, and at 8:50 the thunder started. Five minutes later the Cleveland Weather Bureau issued a tornado warning. The thunderstorm grew in strength with high winds and heavy rain, and at 9:45 the tornado was observed on the ground at the north edge of the Cleveland-Hopkins Airport. Not long after, a second funnel was spotted just north of the Solon Airport as well.

The primary tornado then traveled northeast through the city's west side, running roughly parallel to Lorain Avenue. The worst-hit areas were between West 117th and West 130th Streets south of Lorain where an untold number of houses were utterly destroyed. Similarly hard-hit was the area around Franklin Circle. Crossing the river, the tornado plowed through downtown, where the Plain Dealer reported that "Euclid Avenue was strewn with broken glass from shattered doors and store fronts." The tornado then dissipated over Lake Erie. The all-clear signal was finally issued at 11:45.

The city and its people responded immediately by setting up emergency shelters and aid stations as the hospital filled to capacity. With no electricity, nurses and doctors had to work by flashlight and candlelight, administering what care they could. The National Guard was called up to assist and emergency sessions of the local and state governments were convened. All told, there were 17 dead, including a 13-month-old baby and five others found in the debris of a house on West 28th Street. In addition, there were over 400 wounded, as well as hundreds more who were left homeless. The tornado had caused an estimated fifty-million dollars in damage.

The outbreak that spawned the Cleveland tornado killed a combined total of 139 people in Michigan and Ohio. On June 9, a series of large tornadoes, likely from from the same stormfront as Cleveland’s, hit Massachusetts. These tornadoes resulted in 94 people dead and nearly 1,300 hurt.

Audio

Damage to St. Stephen Church Fr. Michael Franz, pastor of St. Stephen Church, describes the storm damage incurred in 1953. Roof and window damage led to restoration and the installation of newly acquired windows from another Cleveland German church. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Damaged House
Damaged House This photo shows a house on the West Side whose roof and second story were ripped apart. Source: National Weather Service, Cleveland Creator: Al Schaeffer Date: 1953
Tornado at Airport
Tornado at Airport This is perhaps the only publicly accessible photo captured of the tornado, shown here touching down near Cleveland-Hopkins Airport. Source: Lakewood Observer Creator: Dick Goddard Date: June 8, 1953
Tornado Map
Tornado Map This map shows the direction the storm system took from Michigan into Ohio, and displays the locations where tornadoes were spotted. Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer Date: June 9, 1953
Approximate Path
Approximate Path This map's red outlines mark the general path of the 1953 tornado as it entered Cleveland. Note the path in comparison to Lorain Avenue (white line). This map is for general educational purposes only. It is drawn on 1951 satellite imagery. Source: Cleveland Public Library
Damage in West Park
Damage in West Park The devastation caused by the tornado left hundreds of Cleveland residents homeless. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Edward Dork Date: 1953

Location

West Side | The tornado path ran from Cleveland-Hopkins Airport to Lake Erie at E. 40th Street. The story is mapped in the area of heaviest damage.

Metadata

Matthew Steenbergh, “The 1953 Tornado,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 23, 2024, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/1026.