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Weather History: May 15: Record temps, storms, wind, tornadoes, snow & tropics

Meteorological events that happened on May 15th:

Today is the official start of the Eastern Pacific tropical season.


The Northern Atlantic Coast States were in the midst of their greatest May snowstorm on record. The hills around Newbury, VT were covered with two to three feet of snow.


A tornado with F5 intensity struck Sherman, TX killing 73 people; 60 of them in downtown. Tornado victims were found as far as 400 yards away from their original location. A trunk lid was carried 35 miles by the twister.


A violent F4 tornado moved through Amarillo, TX. The tornado tracked through the Amarillo Airport and damaged or destroyed 45 aircraft. Seven people were killed and 82 were injured. Damage was set at $4.8 million dollars.


On this date through the 24th, Hurricane Able does loop-the-loop north of the Bahamas and reaches Category 3 strength off Cape Hatteras, NC.


An F4 tornado killed 20 people at Silverton, TX. A 5,000 pound gasoline storage tank was reportedly carried 1.5 miles and dropped into a lake. Local residents said the tornado "looked like red sand, boiling and rumbling".


The NIMBUS II satellite was launched on this date. NIMBUS I had malfunctioned and was never operational. The arrival on the scene of the NIMBUS satellites eliminated the threat of tropical cyclones striking without warning ever again. Polar orbiting satellites, the NIMBUS series gave meteorologists worldwide coverage at least once per day.


A tornado outbreak occurred across Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa and Arkansas. Charles City, IA was devastated by an F5 tornado with 13 people killed, 337 homes destroyed and $30 million dollars damage. The tornado continued to the northeast hitting Elma and it caused another $1.5 million in damages. From there the tornado turned to the north and dissipated south of Chester, 4 miles south of the Minnesota border. Nearly 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Another F5 tornado moved north-northeast from southwest of Oelwein to Maynard and east of Randalia in Fayette County, IA. Homes were leveled and swept away in both Oelwein and Maynard. The warning sirens sounded for only 15 seconds before power failed in Oelwein. Nearly 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed along the path, and 34 people had to be hospitalized. Almost 1,000 families were affected. Damage was $21 million. In addition to these F5 tornadoes, an F2 tornado touched down 6 miles south of Cresco, IA. Two weak F1 tornadoes touched down in Dodge County, Minnesota and F1 tornadoes occurred in Fillmore and Chickasaw Counties in Minnesota.

During a 55 minute span, six tornadoes moved through De Witt County, Illinois. The primary damage zone occurred in the northern part of the county from Waynesville to Farmer City, with the most severe damage in Wapella. Four people were killed and 56 injured in the Wapella and Waynesville areas. This outbreak was one of 3 which moved across central Illinois that day. A tornado causing F3 damage was responsible for 4 deaths and 60 injuries in St. Clair County in Illinois. Besides the tornadoes, a large area of 7 to 10 inches of rain fell in parts of DeWitt, Macon, Piatt, and Champaign Counties.

An F4 tornado tracked through Jackson, Craighead, and Mississippi Counties in Arkansas, killing 35 people and injuring 361. 164 homes in Jonesboro were destroyed.

A tornado touched down southwest of Anchorage AK. It was the second of just three tornadoes reported in Alaska since 1950.


The worst ice jam flooding on record took place along the Kuskokwim River and Yukon River in Alaska. It was the first time since 1890 the two rivers "flowed as one". The towns of Oscarville and Napaskiak were completely inundated.


Heavy thunderstorms over a week long period triggered severe landslides on the Indonesian island of Java. 500 people were killed and 3,300 were left homeless.


Marion, NC received 6 inches of rain in just one hour.


Unseasonably warm weather returned to the north central U.S. Several cities reported record high temperatures for the date, including Jamestown, ND with a reading of 96°.

The monsoon made an early visit to the southwest. Thunderstorms produced 5 inches of rain south of Bicknell, UT and 0.20 inches at Mt. Laguna, CA.


Thunderstorms in Oklahoma produced wind gusts to 80 mph in Oklahoma County, and baseball size hail at Pawnee. Hail piled up to a depth of 18 inches was reported south of Pawnee. Hail damage in Oklahoma was estimated at close to $25 million dollars. Thunderstorms in the Upper Midwest produced golf ball size hail around Cleveland, OH, and wind gusts to 83 mph at Angola, IN.


Thunderstorms developing along and north of a stationary front produced severe weather in the south central U.S. Thunderstorms spawned 11 tornadoes and 145 reports of large hail or damaging winds. Softball size hail caused $2.1 million dollars damage at Sherman, TX.


Thunderstorms produced severe weather from the Central Plains to Indiana and western Kentucky. Thunderstorms spawned 15 tornadoes and 165 reports of large hail or damaging winds. A tornado killed one person, injured a dozen others, and caused $4 million dollars damage at Stillwater, OK. The storm heavily damaged two apartment complexes, and severely damaged or destroyed 83 homes. Another tornado injured 8 people at Foyil, OK. Thunderstorms in Oklahoma also produced wind gusts to 92 mph at Oologah Lake, and softball size hail at Canton and north of Oakwood.


A series of slow moving thunderstorms moved over Bennett County in South Dakota. Not only did 5 to 6 inches of rain fall in the Martin and Tuthill area, but marble to golf ball size hail fell for an extended period of time. So much hail fell that it actually piled into drifts as high as 6 feet.

A flash flood threatened 16 children and 3 adults on a field trip in Little Grand Canyon, in southern Illinois' Shawnee National Forest. While trying to escape the rising waters, a teacher and three children fell into a creek and were swept downstream about a mile. They were later rescued by helicopter.

There were 16 tornadoes on the ground for short periods of time, all within 10 miles of Garden City, KS. No damage was reported. In west central Kansas five small tornadoes formed in Wichita and western Scott counties within a few minutes of each other.

These tornadoes were fairly weak.

At least five tornadoes struck the western and northwestern parts of Texas. The strongest tornado was sighted near Laverne, which was rated as an F3. The tornado was 800 to 900 yards wide, and its path was 11.5 miles long. Three injuries resulted in the Laverne area. This storm also produced hail the size of grapefruits.

Beckley, WV tied their May record high with a reading of 85°.


Strong to severe thunderstorms moved across southwest Kansas during the evening hours. A tornado developed near Charleston with three minor injuries reported when a modular home was destroyed. There was other damage to several barns, sheds,

trees, fences, and five pivot sprinklers. About 5 miles north of Charleston and Ingalls strong thunderstorm winds gusting to over 100 mph snapped off 150 power poles and 40 pivot sprinklers were damaged or destroyed, along with trees and fences.

Lodgepole and Grant Grove, MT received 5 inches of snow.


Thunderstorms produced very heavy rainfall and localized flash flooding in the foothills of central Boulder County in Colorado. Rainfall ranged from 1.5 to 2.5 inches in less than two hours. Water ranging in depth from 6 to 9 inches covered state highway 119 in Boulder Canyon.


Check out my colleague Weather Examiners:

Baltimore, MD area weather with Tony Pann at

Orlando, FL area weather with Dr. Steve Oliver at

Houston, TX area weather & the weekly Weather America Newsletter with Larry Cosgrove at

NOAA Headlines Examiner with Dr. Steve Oliver and IPR at

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