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Killer Tornado Biggest In 16 Years For Massachusetts

The National Weather Service (NWS) has confirmed that an EF-3 strength tornado hit Massachusetts on Wednesday (June 1). The twister was both the strongest and the deadliest in the state in 16 years.

"The damage out there was just unbelievable," said Eleanor Vallier-Talbot, a NWS meteorologist with nearly three decades of experience, who surveyed the damage. "I never thought in my 26 years I'd see damage like that up here."

The tornado had winds of up to 165 mph (266 kph) on the tornado damage scale as it passed through Springfield. The death toll from Wednesday is at least three, which puts it among the state's highest for a tornado outbreak, and adds to what has already been a historically violent tornado season .

Tornadoes in Massachusetts are rare, but not unheard of even bigger twisters will occasionally strike the state. The last time a deadly tornado struck Massachusetts was May 29, 1995, according to the National Climatic Data Center. That tornado, an EF-4 on the tornado damage scale, killed three people in the town of North Egremont. Until Wednesday, the state had not seen seen a tornado stronger than an EF-2 or a tornado-related death since that outbreak in 1995.

Wednesday's damage was so wide-spread, and so many communities were affected, that Vallier-Talbot spent 10 hours on the road yesterday, driving from town to town to survey the damage.

"It isn't one of those, snap your fingers, overnight things," Vallier-Talbot told OurAmazingPlanet. "It was extremely rare for up here."

The survey team even had to return to the hard-hit town of Monson today because many of the buildings there are quite old, so the survey team needed to be extra careful when using the modern tornado damage scale to rate the destruction, Vallier-Talbot said. The team is also conducting an aerial survey of the damage today, and will study the path of destruction to determine how many tornadoes touched down.

Preliminarily, 18 tornadoes were reported across the state, although that number will certainly be lowered as experts rule out duplicate reports. The state averages about two to three tornadoes per year.

Reach OurAmazingPlanet staff writer Brett Israel at Follow him on Twitter @btisrael.

Brett Israel
Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.