waco tx

1953 tornado in Waco TX

The Waco Tornado was a tornado measuring F5 on the Fujita scale that struck Waco, Texas on May 11, 1953.

According to local legend, tornadoes could not touch down in Waco. Most storms in the area travel from west to east and split around the Waco area. The 1953 storm, however, traveled against the prevailing winds, and the tornado approached Waco from the south-southwest.

On the afternoon of May 11, the tornado formed three miles north of Lorena and leveled a home there. It moved up the I-35 corridor and at 4:32 p.m. entered the city limits of Waco moving at 30 mph.

At 4:36 p.m. the funnel cloud, over two blocks wide, hit the center of downtown. Many people on the streets crowded into local businesses for shelter. However few of the buildings were constructed sturdily enough to withstand the winds, and they collapsed almost immediately. The best-known example was the six-story R.T. Dennis furniture store, which crumbled to the ground and killed 30 people inside. Newer buildings with steel reinforcement, including the 22-story Amicable office building (now the ALICO building) just across the street, weathered the storm.

Five people were killed in two cars crushed in the street, one of which was crushed by a traffic light to only 18 inches in height. The Dr Pepper bottling plant, today the Dr Pepper Museum, was severely damaged.

Bricks from the collapsed structures piled up in the street to a depth of five feet. Some survivors were trapped under rubble for 14 hours, and several days were needed to remove the bodies from the rubble. Over 250 homes and 2000 cars were damaged or destroyed.

114 people were killed in the Waco area, with 597 injured and up to $50 million in property damage. Over half the dead - 61 - were in a single city block bounded by 4th and 5th streets and Austin and Franklin avenues.

The Waco Tornado remains tied with the 1902 Goliad Tornado as the deadliest in Texas history and the tenth-deadliest in US history. No deadlier tornado has struck the US since then, making it the worst storm of the last 50 years and counting. The storm was one of the primary factors spurring development of a nationwide severe weather warning system.

The tornado had long-lasting effects on the Waco economy. Waco's population was approximately 85,000 in 1953 but failed to grow substantially in subsequent years while nearby cities like Austin boomed tremendously in size.