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Dallas Tornado of 1957: 57 years ago

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April 2, 1957 is the day when one of the most “famous” tornadoes in Texas history (up to that time) took form. Around 4:25p.m., a tornadic vortex spun out of a well-developed wall cloud which hovered over southwestern sections of Dallas.

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It rained earlier in the day, so the sky was free of the haze which accompanies many twisters and it was easy to spot as it menaced "Big D”. This tornado moved just about straight north at a leisurely pace, with a path that varied from 100 to 300 yards wide. On the modern scale, it would be rated an EF-3, with winds of about 160mph.The damage path began in what was southwestern Dallas in 1957: near Highway 67 and Ledbetter Drive. It more or less moved right up Polk for several miles; the first human casualties came as the storm passed over DeWitt Circle and caused injuries to two persons caught outdoors.

At this point the funnel was still skipping up and down as it moved along, sparing some buildings and wrecking others. By the time it reached Edgefield and Jefferson, it began to seriously lay waste to hundreds of buildings. Some larger commercial structures including a movie theater were destroyed along Clinton.

Lumbering northward, it sliced a trail through West Dallas; places like Vilbig Street, between Singleton Boulevard and the Trinity River. Three people died in that neighborhood. Here, there is an account of a typical and sad tornado oddity: two children, who were home by themselves when the tornado hit, were thrown from their house and on to the street. Even though neither had visible marks, they were dead, most likely from internal trauma. The greatest winds were likely taking place as the tornado neared the south side of the Trinity within this area.

Reports from excited live radio broadcasters at the time said the funnel “got very close” to downtown, but actually it was never closer than some two miles west of Dallas’ heart of commerce. After crossing the Trinity, the Dallas tornado missed Parkland hospital by less than a half mile; ironically, it was about this time that three of the 10 deaths took place in an apartment complex on Riverside Drive.

By the time it approached Love Field it had begun to weaken and swerve a bit to the west: unusual for a tornado.

It was Parkland's doctors and nurses who would see to the200 wounded. The end of the tornado's 15-mile, 34-minute trail of wreckage came just north of Love Field at Bachman Lake, which runs along Northwest Highway.

This particular tornado is widely known (and even visually recognized by weather buffs) not so much because of its immensity or high death count; the Dallas Tornado of 1957 became unique because of the great number of images captured, both moving and still; and the thousands of eyewitnesses who saw it that day. There were hundreds of photographs snapped of the tornado and over 2000 feet of movie film. These, along with detailed weather measurements before, during, and after the event, allowed a thorough investigation into the structure and evolution of tornadic thunderstorms for the first time.

Final tally: 10 killed, 200 injured, property damage estimated at $4 million. In 2014 dollars, given the tremendous increase in housing and construction costs, that would be a hundred million plus.

Sources for this story include the National Weather Service, The Tornado Project, and the Storm Prediction Center (SPC).

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