Thursday, January 28, 2010

Palm Sunday Tornado, 1965

The Palm Sunday Tornado outbreak of April 1965 will never be forgotten by many people. Especially our family. My husband's mother, Sue Elaine (Bullock) Bishop, died as a result of injuries she recieved in the twister that tore a pathway through Marion, Indiana on that Sunday afternoon, April 11, 1965. It wound and twisted it's way through the town, and touched down directly on top of the Bishop household on Monroe Pike. The house imploded, and Sue Bishop tried to cover her children with her own body to protect them. In doing so, she suffered injuries that later proved to be fatal. She died three days later in Methodist Hospital, in Indianapolis Indiana.
I have been trying to gather footage and pictures from the event and am going to share some of those with you. Some of the other information in this blog article are from various other sources on the internet, and those sources will be listed with whatever material is shared with you here.
The following are actual pictures of the Bishop home on Monroe Pike, and the surrounding area the morning after the twister struck:

The pictures below are from a book that was titled 'A Portrait of Disaster'. I photocopied it in the Marion Indiana Library many years ago.

The documents below are pdf versions of newspaper scans.

Palm Sunday Tornado


Palm Sunday Tornado -

Palm Sunday Tornado -

Twin funnels in Elkhart, Indiana on April 11, 1965. A double tornado was also sighted near Toledo during this tornado outbreak.
Photo courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/ Department of Commerce


The above two pictures are from the following website:
The author gives the source of these photos as follows:
Credit for the photos goes to Willis Haenes. Many thanks to Jim Stewart for providing the name of the photographer. Click on “Comments” below to read Jim’s message. The bottom photo appeared in a groundbreaking paper by Dr. Ted Fujita on the Palm Sunday Outbreak. According to a map by Fujita, the view is from Bremen, Indiana, looking west toward just north of LaPaz.
The following article is from a NOAA site:

At 4:35pm a squall line reached from near LaCrosse, Wisconsin through Rockford to Champaign Illinois. SELS issued another tornado forecast. It was valid over the northern half of Indiana, northwest Ohio, and southeast Michigan.
Done with its brief nap, the storm system woke up with renewed vigor shortly before 6pm. Massive thunderstorms had erupted over northwest Indiana, and the first Hoosier tornado of the day crashed to earth. It touched down in Starke County a few miles southwest of a hamlet known as, appropriately, Hamlet. It crossed US Route 30 and tore directly across Koontz Lake. One hundred vacation cottages were severely damaged. As one of the cottages was blown to pieces, the man inside was lifted into the air and thrown to his death 600 feet away.
The people of Lapaz and Lakeville had been very happy in recent weeks. Lakeville High School had grown old, and was in need of repairs and modernization. Instead of fixing the old building, however, the two communities decided to build a brand new high school for their students. Residents of the area often drove by the construction site, and the progress of the new school was a common topic of conversation. It became even more of a topic of conversation after April 11. The tornado that wreaked havoc at Koontz Lake was huge and grey by the time it reached US Route 31 between LaPaz and Lakeville. It completely flattened the high school. Weeks of hard, backbreaking work were undone in a few seconds.
The people of Wyatt, Indiana, had been watching the southwest sky grow darker and darker. By the time it finally changed its hue from black to green, they knew trouble was coming. They gathered their families, maybe a flashlight or a few candles, and hurried into their basements and storm cellars in a state of controlled urgency. The tornado that had just ripped down all of the new boards at Lakeville High School had been moving across open country, and was hungry for another town. Wyatt was that town. The funnel swirled directly down Main Street in Wyatt, and destroyed twenty homes. Wyatt�s already small population fell even further.
The South Bend weather office had issued a tornado warning for LaPorte, Starke, and Marshall counties two minutes before the Koontz Lake tornado touched down in central Starke County. The South Bend office had no radar, nor a remote radar feed. They were relying on phone conversations with radar operators in Chicago.
At 6pm the South Bend office received reports of tornadoes near Grovertown on US Route 30 in northeast Starke County, just north of Plymouth, and near Argos in southern Marshall County. The weather observer issued a Tornado Warning for Saint Joseph, Marshall, Elkhart, and Kosciusko counties.
At a quarter after six, as the incomplete Lakeville High School was splintering apart, another tornado touched down just fifteen miles to the east, near the Saint Joseph/Elkhart county line. It moved northeast to Wakarusa, where it took the life of a child.
The AP wire had been going crazy at the Elkhart Truth. Many weather bulletins had printed out that afternoon, and were collecting in a huge pile on the desk of Paul Huffman. Paul was sifting through the warnings when the editor told him to grab his camera and go out to document the extreme conditions. Paul was out of the door in a flash, and directed his car southeastward towards Goshen. Just before he left the newspaper, he learned from the South Bend weather office that a tornado had been reported northwest of Nappanee and was moving northeast. He knew that meant the tornado was heading for the northwest side of Goshen, so that�s where he positioned himself. He sat in his car and waited.
As the sky grew blacker and blacker to his southwest, Paul wondered if he had underestimated what he had gotten himself into. He nervously fidgeted with the camera in his lap as he stared out his car window. The rain that had been falling began to mix with large hailstones that bounced madly on Paul�s car and made a terrifying ding. Paul was shrinking back from the windshield in front of him when suddenly the hail and rain stopped. He was about to breathe a sigh of relief, when instead he gasped for air. Just off to his left was what he had been waiting for. It was a spinning mass of black cloud dragging itself along the earth. Bright sky was behind the funnel, and with no precipitation falling, Paul knew he would be able to get some great shots.
Mr. Huffman lifted the camera to his eye and began snapping pictures as quickly as he could. The funnel was moving to the right across his field of vision. As it approached the road about half a mile in front of him, it grew to such a massive size that it took up much of the frame. The tornado, in the midst of crossing the highway, decided to put on a spectacular show. Paul Huffman took one of the most celebrated tornado pictures of all-time as the monster before him morphed into a spectacular double funnel. One massive tornado just a couple of hundred feet behind another massive tornado, they charged northeast in tandem in front of Paul�s lens. As they continued off to the right they combined into a chaotic mass of boiling, black cloud raking over Elkhart County.
The small community of Dunlap, made up primarily of mobile homes and modest houses, lay just southeast of Elkhart on US Highway 33. The tornado Paul Huffman was photographing must have had some sort of vendetta against sleepy Dunlap, for it was on the edge of town when the tornado developed its incredible double funnel structure. The twins chewed through the southeast side of Dunlap, destroying eighty percent of the Midway Trailer Court and killing ten people. It tossed planes around upside down in the air and ripped their wings off as it skimmed by Goshen Airport. One of the airplane wings was later found near Centreville, Michigan, thirty-five miles away from Goshen, and nearly twenty-five miles beyond the end of the tornado�s path!
At 6:25pm one tornado had just finished destroying Lakeville High School in Saint Joseph County, a second tornado had just killed a child in Wakarusa in Elkhart County, and a third tornado had just dropped to earth a few miles south of Valparaiso in Porter County. This third tornado would go on to produce near-F4 damage to homes southwest of Wanatah, and would destroy homes near Kingsford Heights, while the other two tornadoes were simultaneously producing F4 damage in Wyatt and Dunlap.
Although he had no idea at the time, as Paul Huffman was watching the double funnel cross Route 33 in front of him, another monstrous twister was spinning to the ground nine miles behind him near Millersburg. This new tornado struck off to the northeast, devastating the Amish counrtryside of eastern Elkhart County and the northwest half of Lagrange County. As the storm passed south of Shipshewana it flattened the quiet communities of Shore and Rainbow Lake, doing near-F5 damage as it reduced large farm houses to nothing more than a foundation.
The South Bend weather office issued several products during the day�s eighteenth hour describing the locations of the tornadoes swarming through the area. Finally at 6:50pm the exasperated observer issued the following statement:
Reports of tornadoes and funnel clouds have become so numerous that it is impossible to keep track of them. Warnings should therefore exist throughout the central northern portion of Indiana. The problems have been intensified by telephones being out in many areas and it is impossible to notify many people.
While the South Bend observer was sending that statement, an F4 tornado started satisfying its appetite in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where it ruined the property and lives of many residents.
The unique intensity of the weather system in the Midwest that Palm Sunday was about to be demonstrated ten minutes later as an unusual event began to take shape in the northwest corner of Steuben County, near the community of Orland, Indiana. An intense tornado formed and quickly crossed the border into Michigan. It struck the village of East Gilead squarely, and then continued on to destroy homes along the shore of Coldwater Lake, filling the water with debris. When it reached the opposite shore of the lake, a second tornado formed just five miles to the southwest near Kinderhook. The two tornadoes took off together in the same direction along the same path, so that anybody hit by the first twister would get hit by the second one several minutes later. By the time the first tornado passed south of Hillsdale, its friend was about thirty minutes behind it. The duo roared across the countryside producing F4 damage in a swath over a mile wide.
In western Lenawee County, Michigan, about fifty people were attending Palm Sunday church services at the Manitou Beach Baptist Church. When they arrived at church, rumors of tornadoes peppered the conversations as the crowd gathered together outside the front doors of the building. At 7pm the service started, and the congregation filed in. Faint thunder was heard stirring in the distance. As the service progressed, the thunder became loud enough that it shook the church. The people began thinking more about the weather outside than what they were hearing from the pulpit. The thunder developed into a low, steady rumble. The church-goers noticed the rumble before they even realized it. They had been feeling the vibration in their feet before the sound actually reached their ears and alerted them to the fact that something was happening behind them. As the service was nearing its end, the rumbling sound that had been distracting the parishoners grew deafeningly loud. The stained glass windows shattered. People began screaming in their surprise and terror. Plaster rained down on them as mothers grabbed their children and everybody began pushing each other into the aisles. The shrieking wind blew the church doors open, forcing the people inside to bend over to nearly a ninety degree angle as they fought the wind, rain, hail, and debris in order to reach the stairs to the basement. Half of them never made it. The church folded and collapsed upon them, burying over two dozen people in the rubble.
Forty minutes later the second tornado roared through, but there was nothing left for it to destroy, other than some vacation cottages along the shore of Manitou Lake.
As the storm continued across Lenawee County, the twin tornadoes, combined with powerful downburst winds, created a damage path up to four miles wide from one end of the county to the other. The wind recorder at Tecumseh, in the northeast part of the county, recorded a wind gust of 151 mph when the south fringe of the first tornado passed by. Fifty-five minutes later the second tornado hit the airport directly and gave a wind gust of 75 mph. Ten minutes later, straight-line winds rushing into the backside of the thunderstorm gusted to 70 mph.
The horrific supercell finally took its two destroyers back up into the cloud in northern Monroe County, just west of Lake Erie and southwest of Detroit. The second, weaker tornado had fallen back to about an hour behind the first one. Together they traveled ninety miles, killed forty-four people, and injured 612.
Of the counties that these tornadoes hit, only Hillsdale was warned for. The Lansing weather office thought the storm would move to the northeast rather than the east, and as a result they warned for the counties to the north of the eventual track. The Lansing office had good reason to forecast a northeast movement, since every other tornado in the border area that day had indeed moved in a northeast direction; as was this pair of tornadoes, until it reached central Hillsdale County and made a turn to the right.
As the Manitou Beach Tornado was just crossing the Michigan/Indiana line, hail two inches in diameter -- about the size of a hen�s egg -- was battering Lafayette, Indiana. Another tornado formed a few miles southwest of the city. This tornado passed through mostly rural country, although it did produce F4 damage in northwest Clinton County between Cambria and Moran. This tornado was significant in that it did not form in the same area as the previous tornadoes in Michiana. It developed in a whole new supercell. A supercell that would grow, evolve, and become one of a new front of storms that would rake across central Indiana about a hundred miles south of the storms in the Michigan/Indiana border area.
Three minutes after the tornado began near Lafayette, the most powerful tornado ever to hit northern Indiana struck ground. It began several miles south of South Bend and set off to the northeast, heading directly for...Dunlap.
Paul Huffmans�s tornadoes crushed the Midway Trailer Court around 6:30pm. As the storm continued on beyond the town, the residents cautiously crept out from their damaged homes to survey the destruction and to assist their injured neighbors. Rescue crews arrived almost immediately from Elkhart and Goshen to tend to the hurt. A constant stream of ambulances, fire trucks, hearses, and volunteer�s cars filled the highway as they shuttled people to hospitals. The tornado had hit, and the people of the area had paid a terrible price to it, but at least it was done. The storm had moved on, and once you�re hit by a tornado it�s supposed to be over. After the tornado, the weather is supposed to calm down. So when the southwest sky began to fill with lightning before many of the tornado victims had even been found yet, the crowds at Dunlap groaned. They groaned not because they feared another tornado, but because they didn�t want to get rained on. But rain it did. The rain slashed down on rescuers and victims alike, chilling people to the bone and stinging their faces. Soon the rain began falling nearly sideways as the wind increased. At half past seven, the people in the unassuming community of Dunlap had their worst fears realized � again. A tornado even more powerful than the first one ripped into town. It leveled houses to the ground. It destroyed the Sunnyside and Kingston Heights subdivisions. Anything left standing after the first tornado was not only leveled, but swept clean from the surface of the earth.
Its need of destruction not yet satiated, the twister moved on and destroyed a truck stop at the corner of routes 20 and 15 where it took six more lives. The horror finally lifted back into the sky in the northwest corner of Lagrange County near Stone Lake. With this tornado, the storms along the state line had finally blown themselves out, and would produce no further major tornadoes.
It was not a good day for the poor observer at the South Bend weather office. At 7:13pm he issued this statement:
Broadcasting stations are urged to ask people to not call the Weather Bureau unless they have weather to report. We have had numerous poor joke calls and they tie up the lines.
At the time that statement was issued, three different areas of storms were producing tornadoes: one in central Michigan, one along the Indiana/Michigan border, and one in central Indiana.
The people of Crawfordsville had been watching the sky that evening with great apprehension. Fathers were pointing to the sky and telling their sons how to read the clouds. At twenty after seven a twister came to the ground on the southeast side of town, sending everybody rushing inside to safety. The tornado spared Crawfordsville, but had different plans for many other locations in Montgomery, Boone, and Hamilton counties. It produced F4 damage near Smartsdale as it leveled a home to its foundation, killing a person inside. The funnel grew to a mile in width as it moved northwest of Lebanon, and it destroyed over four dozen homes and killed eleven people, six of whom were from the same family. Two cars were thrown a hundred yards from the roadway resulting in four more deaths. The death and destruction then continued into the Arcadia area, forty-five miles east of Crawfordsville.
The news media had been making the Crystal Lake and Dunlap tornadoes famous that evening. At 7:30pm, when the second Dunlap tornado was crushing that town, another tornado was touching down near the Howard/Clinton County line, and would become just as well-known. Within seconds of reaching ground it blew into a community of nine hundred souls known as Russiaville. When it was done tearing up the town, ninety percent of its buildings had been damaged or destroyed. A few miles further along, the tornado became a mile-wide wedge that devastated a hundred homes in Alto, where the Maple Crest Apartments lost their entire second floor. The tornado continued to strengthen, and reached F4 intensity as it pummeled Greentown where eighty homes were destroyed and ten people killed. Debris from Greentown was spread out across the Indiana landscape.
The tornado continued to the east, paralleling the Norfolk and Southern Railroad. Fortunately the tornado was just far enough south so that it missed the towns that were strung out along the tracks.
The people in the VA Hospital in Marion had heard that a tornado was charging through Grant County, though they didn�t know for sure if it was going to hit Marion or not. They soon got their answer when the roof of the hospital was ripped off. Then the Panorama Shopping Center was blown down, and almost immediately was converged upon by looters. Thirty-one electric company transmission towers were toppled. An astounding 835 people had been injured by this tornado, 600 of them in Howard County. Twenty-five were killed.
The funnel lifted near Arcana. As the funnel lifted, the weather office at Fort Wayne issued a Tornado Warning for the counties of Grant, Blackford, Jay, southern Wabash, Huntington, Wells, and Adams. The parent thunderstorm proceeded on to the east, and after only about ten minutes decided to put down another tornado, along the same path.
The tornado steamed across farmland near Roll, and then struck Keystone with F4 strength, killing two people. It continued to the northeast and hit Linn Grove, causing two more fatalities. As it hit Linn Grove, the weather office in Fort Wayne issued the following statement:
The Weather Bureau radar at Baer Field shows a strong hook echo about five miles west of Berne Indiana and moving eastward. Residents in the Berne area should take immediate precautions for personal safety for a strong possibility of a tornado in the next 30 to 60 minutes.
In reality, the tornado skimmed the north side of Berne about six minutes after that statement was sent out. The Fort Wayne office had no idea that an F4 tornado had already been on the ground for twenty-five miles in Grant County, and for thirty-five miles before it finally reached Berne. Twenty-nine people had died and nearly nine hundred were injured when the Fort Wayne office sent out that message.
The twister set its sights on Ohio, and moved into the Buckeye State south of Willshire. Five homes were leveled flat to the ground, and a mother and her son were killed. The tornado then lifted. As the tornado dissipated, the Fort Wayne weather office sent this product:
The Weather Bureau radar at Baer Field shows the strong hook echo now just a mile or two south of Van Wert and weakening in intensity. Hold the line a minute for a definite report on tornado at Berne. The tornado touched down at Berne three miles west and one mile northeast. Several houses destroyed and ambulances are rushing to scene. Tornado hit between ten and fifteen minutes ago which would be between 8:50 and 8:55 PM EST.
In the days following the Marion and Linn Grove tornadoes, several witnesses would report having seen two tornadoes in tandem push through the area. The known existence of twin tornadoes at Dunlap and from Hillsdale to Monroe County Michigan lend credence to these reports.
While the weather was wreaking havoc in central Indiana, the storms in central Michigan continued to produce tornadoes. The Michigan tornadoes were weaker; mostly doing F2 damage. However they were still quite widespread and resulted in fifty-three fatalities that evening. Before 9pm Lansing, Michigan reported 63mph winds with 3/4-inch hail. Several minutes later half-inch hail fell on Ypsilanti and Detroit. Detroit Metropolitan Airport received an inch of rain in thirty minutes.
At 9:20pm, the Fort Wayne office issued the following unfortunate statement:
Attention WOMO Please use emergency action notification signal. Marion Indiana reported through Fort Wayne signal department at 9:07 PM EST that three tornadoes had struck the city of Marion with extensive damage. The Veterans Administration Hospital was one area hit. Request for ambulance assistance has been requested from Muncie and Anderson. The Fort Wayne Weather Bureau places these counties under alert for eastward movement that struck Marion. These counties are Wells Adams Blackford and Jay Counties. Residents in these counties should remain on the alert for the next 60 minutes.
The tornadoes Fort Wayne was warning for had actually hit Marion a full hour and twenty minutes earlier. Apparently the Fort Wayne weather observer thought that the report he received from Marion was saying that the tornadoes had just occurred. The Fort Wayne observer then sent a message to the Columbus Ohio weather office stating that a tornado had hit Marion at 9:07pm, and the Columbus weather office then issued its own statement with that same erroneous information. In reality the storm had hit Marion around 8pm. At the time of Fort Wayne�s warning, the line of storms on radar was well east of Marion, extending from Paulding and Van Wert counties into Adams and Jay counties.
At 9:30pm the Fort Wayne office lost power, and was out of service for an hour. By the time the office got its electricity back the storms were well east into Ohio.

Please see Palm Sunday Tornado 1965 part 2 for more information.


  1. Great site! I can tell that the tornadoes affected you powerfully, even though you never experienced them firsthand. You should come to the 45-year anniversary commemorative event in Dunlap, Indiana, just south of Elkhart. It will be held on Sunday, April 11, at my friend Debbie Watters tornado memorial park.


  2. Great blog post Nancy!

    I'm working on a website about the 1965 Palm Sunday Tornadoes. If you or anyone you know has any stories or photos that you would like to have shared on the website, my email address is:

    Thank you!
    Jenni Siri

    1965 Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak Website:


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