Five Years Later- The Springfield, MA Tornado

Five years ago today a strong and borderline violent tornado tore through Western Massachusetts.  It was the strongest and deadliest storm to hit MA since 1995.  Portions of downtown Springfield were in ruins as were several towns further east.  Three people died and nearly 300 were injured.  The tornado caused around $160 million in damages.

Synoptic Set Up
WPC Surface Analysis 8 AM June 1, 2011 
A superb severe weather set up was present by 8 AM on June 1, 2011.  A strong surface cyclone in Ontario sent a warm front into surging into Northern New England.  In its wake a surge of warm tropical air with dew points into the 70's.   Meanwhile in the wake of the cyclone very dry air was dropping into the Midwest.    Surface winds were out of the south but at 14-18K ft they were more westerly creating strong wind shear.
NWS SPC reanalysis June 1, 2011 8 AM 500 mb heights, obs, temps

The Storm Prediction Center recognized the threat and had most of New England in a severe weather risk area.
SPC Day 1 outlook issued 2 AM June 1, 2011
Already by 9 AM an initial wave of severe thunderstorms erupted in South Central/Eastern MA & N RI.  I remember working outside and running for cover as these storms moved into the Blackstone Valley.  These were among the strongest thunderstorms I had ever witnessed and it was early in the morning.  I knew then that the atmosphere was primed for severe weather.  A rather severe squall line ripped through the Merrimack Valley.
GIS Radar Data Map  NEXRAD data June 1, 2011 840 AM (image NOAA)
Early Afternoon Developments
By 12-1 PM temperatures soared into the low 90's with dew points around 70.  Being in New England this is very rare.  The cold front was on the move and already in Central PA/NY
WPC Surface Analysis 2 PM June 1, 2011
The Storm Prediction center took note of these conditions at 1230 PM and issued this discussion
SPC Mesodiscussion
Broyes text for mcd 1048
This is as ominous as it gets for Southern New England.  Given a few false alarms over the past few years involving tornado threats I was somewhat skeptical.  I had seen all the ingredients for a severe weather outbreak seemingly come together without as much as a tornado warning.  So I went to Twin River right as the Storm Prediction Center issued a tornado watch at 2 PM
Tornado Watch 411 June 1, 2011 
The Tornado
SPC MCD June 1, 2011 415 PM

The best guess indicated the tornado touched down in Westfield, MA around 413 PM and continued into West Springfield at 417 PM.  As it entered Springfield the storm rapidly strengthened.  TV cameras in Springfield captured amazing video of the tornado crossing the Connecticut River and I-91 around 435 PM

Here is what the storm looked like on radar at this time.
NWS Boston radar reflectivity and velocity 5 PM June 1, 2011 (Joe DellaCarpini, NWS Boston)
The damage in Springfield was severe in the downtown area.  Parts of Springfield College were destroyed.  See photos of damage here.  There was no quit in the tornado as it moved into Southwest Worcester County after destroying many structures in Monson and flattening the Route 20 campground in Brimfield, MA.  The tornado reached its maximum width with moving through these communities.  The tornado damaged homes and structures in Sturbridge and Southbridge, MA before lifting off the ground near Webster/Oxford, MA.  The severe thunderstorm continued down Route 20 into Southern Worcester County.  I would say the Blackstone Valley should be grateful this storm ran out of energy when it did.
NWS Boston photos of 2011 tornado
June 1, 2011 will not go down as an all time US tornado like the April 27 storms or the Joplin storm of the same year.  However it is a reminder that Southern New England can and does get destructive tornadoes.  Next week I will review Massachusetts greatest tornado which happened to take place in Worcester.   The lightning show that night was something special as thunderstorms continued after sunset despite the loss of the sun.  Many people stayed in to watch the Bruins battle the Canucks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.  Meteorologists learned a lot that day that we will use to be prepared for the next June 1, 2011 type event.

-Zack Green


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