1953 Waco Texas Tornado

On May 11th, 1953, a tornado struck downtown Waco, Texas at 4:36 p.m. The tornado was over two city blocks wide. With employees preparing to leave work for the day, they now found themselves crowding into the inner offices of downtown businesses for shelter. Unfortunately, most of the structures in downtown Waco weren't sturdy enough for the impact of the tornado now in their midst. The 22-story ALICO Building was newer and made with steel reinforcements and survived intact.

There were 114 people who died in the Waco area that day and almost 600 were injured. Five of the dead were killed in two cars that were crushed in the street. One of the cars was crushed to only 18 inches tall. Sixty-one of the dead were within one city block between 4th and 5th Streets and Franklin and Austin Avenues.

Bricks and debris from the collapsed structures was piled in the street up to five feet deep. There were survivors who were buried under the rubble for 14 hours and it took several days to uncover some of the dead from the debris.

Further statistics on the damage:

  • $41.2 million in property damage
  • 196 businesses and factories were destroyed
  • 217 businesses sustained major damage
  • 179 businesses sustained minor damage
  • 150 homes were destroyed
  • 250 homes sustained major damage
  • 450 homes sustained lesser damage
  • Over 2000 cars were damaged or destroyed

The 1953 Waco Tornado remains tied with the 1902 Goliad Tornado as the deadliest in Texas history and the tenth-deadliest in US history. This storm was one of the primary factors spurring development of a nationwide severe weather warning system.

Tornado Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Tornado Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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Some General Facts About Texas Tornadoes

Most tornadoes in the United States occur along a belt through the Great Plains from Iowa to Texas. They are most frequent in Texas during months of April, May, and June. However, we've had tornado weather in every month of the year.

Some interesting statistics found in the Handbook of Texas Online:

  • Between 1916 and 1963, 1,505 tornadoes caused 865 deaths and considerable economic loss in Texas
  • In 1957, 145 tornadoes were observed touching the ground in Texas
  • In 1967, 232 tornadoes were recorded in Texas
  • In 1972, 144 tornadoes were observed in Texas
  • In April 1847 a tornado hit White Deer, Higgins, and Glazier, cutting a trail 1½ miles wide, and traveled a total of 221 miles across parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
  • Plainview is reputed to have more tornadoes than any other place in the United States

Because of the nature of tornadoes with their twisting funnel tail and incredible strength, it can create an erratic path of destruction. Reports of inexplicable oddities always seem to follow a tornado. Things like:

  • live chickens plucked of its feathers
  • straws driven into posts
  • corn cobs imbedded in tree trunks
  • houses fully intact but shifted from their foundations
  • whole large roofs displaced a few inches
  • heavy equipment carried great distances
  • cattle being lodged in trees
  • water being sucked from rivers or ponds
  • a fifty-pound fish being sucked from water and dumped onto dry land

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Comments 25 comments

johnb0127 profile image

johnb0127 7 years ago from TX

I my goodness. I love weather and storms and all, but when there are 600 people getting injured and over 100 people dying, that is not funny. I hope to become a Skywarn member soon so that I can chase these monsters and hopefully learn more about them to warn citizens of danger. Thanks for the great hub! Gotta love Texas weather!!!

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

Hey John...I was going to go look up some of your weather-related hubs and post a link here. Glad you stopped by to remind me. Texas weather is awesome, isn't it?

johnb0127 profile image

johnb0127 7 years ago from TX

Hey, thanks KCC! I will do the same to with your hub. I have a couple hubs on tornadoes which do good, which ones do you want the link on?

wordscribe41 7 years ago

I lived in Oklahoma for about 10 years and saw plenty of these monsters. One literally came right over our house, the police drove down the street saying: "There is a tornado directly overhead. Please take cover in your basement!" So, we did... Until my mom found the MOTHER of all spiders and made us leave the basement. Great hub.

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

LOL....we don't see many basements in Texas. You'd think we'd have more of them, and storm shelters, but we don't. I guess we never learn. Thanks for stopping by wordscribe!

John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 7 years ago from Tennessee

I live in South Louisiana and have way too much first hand experience with hurricanes ... but I will still take them any day over a tornado. At least with hurricanes, we get a few days warning ... with a tornado, it is usually over before you get the warning.

Good story.

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

I agree, John! Warning helps!

You know, I've lived in central Texas all my life and I have never actually seen a tornado. I have seen damage caused by heavy winds and sometimes a funnel cloud was suspected. But, as common as they are, I still haven't seen one. Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the story.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain

The power that is unleashed in tornados is awesome, and the damage terrible. I hope that you never do suffer at the hands of one of these terrifying tornados.

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

Me too, Maggs! The destruction is devastating. In 2006, I remember us having a tornado watch a week before Christmas. I guess should explain what a tornado watch is. It's our national weather systems' term for the weather conditions being favorable for producing a tornado. Often one has been spotted in a nearby county and they will be that count on a Tornado WARNING, and all the surrounding counties on a Tornado WATCH. So, what I'm saying is, the conditions were favorable for a tornado just before Christmas in 2006. We had to get in the basement at work. That's a very unusual time to get one.

emohealer profile image

emohealer 7 years ago from South Carolina

Tornados are very interesting, your list of oddities left in their wake was surprising. The damage however is devastating. Unlike hurricanes where there is more advance notice. When the air gets real still and the temperature gets warm quick, take cover, this is the best warning sign, from "being there". From knowing the warning signs I have avoided 3 near misses this year alone. In nearby Phenix City AL., one went through, a couple of months ago, we lost the bowling alley, but no lives fortunately even as it traveled into Columbus, Ga from there. Clean up is still in progress and predicted to take many more months. Thanks for sharing these interesing tornado facts and the events surrounding one of the most devastating tornados ever

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

Thank you so much emohealer! My dad used to tell me stories about going downtown to the see the damage. It was just a couple of years before he married my mama. He said it was horrible.

dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

I can't even imagine one of these happening where I live (in the northeast). I have experienced hurricanes but tornadoes are another story. This is one of the reasons why I wouldn't want to live in Texas (sorry Big Country). Although I might be able to handle Arizona or Lake Tahoe:) Amazing how much we advanced in technology and still can't even come close to stopping any natural disasters. Thanks, KCC Big Country.

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

It's not that bad, Dohn. You began to learn when conditions seem right for one. You take precautions, you listen for alerts. Then hope like heck they don't drop down where you are. :)

Jaspal profile image

Jaspal 7 years ago from New Delhi, India

This was a really educative hub for me. I have read reports of tornadoes in newspapers and magazines, never been witness to one. The inexplicable oddities listed by you are really amazing!

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

Thanks Jaspal. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about them.

yo 5 years ago


wacko 5 years ago

clearly the best website about wacko tornadoes and tornadoes.AWSOME videos

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 5 years ago from Central Texas Author

Thanks, Yo and Wacko!

Finbar Kuehl 4 years ago

I was 10 years Old and was in downtown Waco, just before the Tornado hit @ 1636. Lived at Axtell,Tx. 10 miles East of Waco. My Mother was driving our 1950 Chevy. My Brother and Sister was also in the car. On the way home, Mother pulled over, because of the intense rain, then we proceeded to the farm. We were just ahead of the main shaft of the tornado.

LeeLover 4 years ago

Thx this helped for my essay :D

KwlKwat 4 years ago

Thx so much helped for skwel work and note to self don't live in Texas

Kcc big country 4 years ago

Lol.... Texas is still a great place to live!

bigg cee dubya 4 years ago

i was 5 years old and on elm stret that day my mom put me behind her so i would not get hit by flying glass

CHUY 23 months ago

this tornado was pretty dang bad .

Shelly Crouch Reese 12 months ago

I was around 3 yrs. old when the Waco Tornado occurred. I may not have remembered that actual tornado, but there after, our family had an emergency plan in place. McGregor Fire Department would drive down each street, syrines full-blast and intercom announcing to take cover! Mother always placed us in the bathtub with a mattress covering us in the bathroom that was not on an exterior wall. Thank God we never experienced another tornado in the years that I lived there, but 62 years later it is still remembered and the devastation it brought to our Community!

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