Over the decades
the history of the 1957
To construct an
accurate narrative of events it has been necessary to go back to
contemporaneous sources. Current published material, and the Internet and
Google, will not do the trick. The sources I have found to be the most useful
Although what follows is by no means an exhaustive record of all instances of damage and injury, all deaths are accounted for. I have taken pains to pinpoint various locations of the funnel by noting specific street addresses or intersections wherever possible. The "Minute" titles approximately relate events being described to the official storm timeline from the Weather Bureau's report, with "Minute 0" representing the first signs of disturbance on the ground. The timeline was assembled substantially from Dallas Power and Light Company records of precise times when transmission lines were severed.
Footnotes are indicated by numbered links enclosed in parentheses and contain important material. Capital letters enclosed in square brackets are links to an extract from a 1981 Dallas County map with the corresponding locations marked (the map will open in a new browser tab).
PRELUDE My mother tells me that at about on
At about this same time(1) three or four miles to the
southwest a Dallas County Sheriff's deputy sat at the intersection of Camp
Wisdom Rd. and Cockrell Hill Rd. [A], on the
northeastern edge of
MINUTE 0 The mesocyclone passed him to the
east, then, poised above the intersection of
MINUTE 5 The mesocyclone, now having taken form as an incipient tornado visible below the cloud base and making tentative advances toward the ground, established itself on what would be a six to seven mile northward path along Polk. More early reports from police officers and others began coming in.
MINUTE 6 With the tornado's arrival in the
vicinity of U.S. Highway 67's intersection with
MINUTE 7 Tradition, as much as actual reports, has the tornado (likely still mostly a wide, spinning vortex; a true condensation funnel may not yet have been clearly visible) initially reaching the ground near the intersection of Polk and O'Bannon Dr.(4) [D] Two blocks to the west my sister and I, only moments home from the grocery store trip, chased east down Grayson St. after a fire engine, siren screaming, hurrying south on Edgefield Dr. [E] I was thinking that, at age nine, I was going to see a real fire for the first time. The black, swirling debris high in the air over my head seemed good enough evidence for this. My mother stepped out of our house at the intersection of Grayson and Perryton Dr. and, noting whirling dirt and debris at ground level on the east side of Edgefield, sized up the situation quickly. She shouted to us saying that it was a tornado and to come back, and as we beat a hasty retreat I too could see a large amount of dust being blown up on Grayson in the block east of Edgefield.
The Sheriff's deputy
continued to follow the developing tornado, observing it cross back and forth
from one side of Polk to the other(5). A well-developed, visible condensation funnel made its
appearance just south of
10 The tornado
seems to have played it coy as it progressed northward, only periodically
dropping down to take a bite out of a roof here or some trees there. At 1002
DeWitt Cir, a block east of Polk's intersection with
An acquaintance of my mother's watched the tornado from the doorway of a nearby church, later complaining that it had given her a headache. This is not as unlikely as it may sound, as rapid and significant changes in atmospheric pressure were observed by others (a Weather Bureau employee twice heard a rubber duck spontaneously squeak as the funnel passed within half a block of his house).
The tornado was now gaining considerable strength. A couple of blocks to the northeast of Illinois and Polk, on Tyler St just north of Wilbur, a house was moved off of its foundation, the first example of this category of damage. There were to be many others, but most of them would see homes blown to pieces.
13 A few more
blocks further north matters turned deadly. At
The tornado, now
disappearing below the roofs and treetops from my vantage point, caused severe
damage to a home at 1039 S. Edgefield [H], then back to
the east to homes at the intersection of Burlington Blvd. and Polk [I], and a little further north to more houses at 515, 507 and
315 S. Willomet St. [J] (see photograph below).
MINUTE 14 Reports then put it just to the northwest at the intersection of Edgefield and
persistent deputy, still trailing the tornado as it passed from Oak Cliff into
MINUTE 16 As it made its way from Kessler Park into West Dallas, finally diverging slightly to the west from its previous persistent northward track up Polk, an employee at a metals company on west Commerce St.(6), who had stepped to the door for a break, found himself suddenly suspended upside down, grasping for anything solid to hold on to. He survived. The deputy, now driving north on Hampton Rd., watched the funnel move into West Dallas and was struck by the massive amount of destruction that it began producing. Indeed the most extensive property damage of the entire storm was inflicted along a relatively narrow corridor that stretched from near the Texas and Pacific level grade crossing at Vilbig St.(7) north for about a mile and a half to the point where Navarro St. ended at Canada Dr. and the Trinity River's west levee (8) (also check the "Photo Sequence 2" link on the home page).
20 A warehouse
was demolished at
An apartment building at
After days of soaking
rains, the mostly dirt and gravel streets in this poorer section of the city
were a morass. Significant numbers of victims were about to descend on
MINUTE 27 Having done its worst in property damage, the tornado next prepared to do its worst in killing. It sliced north by a little west across the rain-swollen Trinity, reaching what the Weather Bureau later estimated was its maximum intensity and becoming for a short time a mesocyclonic version of a waterspout [P]. As it moved toward what then was known as the Industrial District, the deputy reported seeing a second funnel develop and quickly merge with the first(10).
The tornado roared into the modest
A mother and her infant daughter died at nearby 5506 Pickfair Cir. The woman's son was reported to have been seriously injured. A two year-old from 5716 Riverside also was killed(11). The toll now stood at nine. What is perhaps the most famous and dramatic film footage of the tornado was made at this time.
29 One more
victim, a sixty-five year-old woman from
It may have been waning in strength by this point, its tragic journey nearly at an end. There are reports of a police officer driving through the funnel somewhere along Harry Hines with no ill effects. As it began "roping out," the funnel's point of contact with the cloud base started to migrate significantly to the east of its point of contact with the ground.
MINUTE 30 It still carried enough energy, however, to cause damage at 2335 Burbank, and in the 2600 block of Love Field Dr. and the 7300 block of Hines Pl.; and to demolish a building at 2311 Burbank [T]. There is a single report of an aircraft being destroyed on the ground at Love Field(12). A recreation center at 2619 Love Field Dr. had most of its windows blown out, though none of the children inside were injured. There are reports of it tearing up natural gas lines on Love Field Dr. On the nearby Missouri Kansas Texas railroad line, a boxcar was flipped on to its side(13) [U]. The roof collapsed at the Johnson & Johnson plant at 9000 Denton Dr. shortly after employees had been evacuated. There was a bit less damage done at 2224 Burbank: a 2 x 4 was shot through a wall into the living room and that was it.
sheriff's deputy, whose odyssey had so closely paralleled that of the tornado,
was on Harry Hines -- for a short time in pouring rain -- not far behind as the
funnel passed over Bachman Lake and near to 2934 Shorecrest Dr. [V] He skirted the lake northwest of Love Field and followed
the rapidly weakening tornado north three or four miles along
DIMINUENDO The city was just beginning to comprehend the magnitude of the event, to be measured in shattered buildings, traumatic injuries flooding hospitals, and, of course, the dead -- so many of them children. The deputy's adventures, however, were not over. He spotted another funnel -- spawned, as it turned out, from the same supercell almost immediately upon the tornado's demise -- further north, in far south Collin County, and tracked it for a while as it headed off toward the Red River before he eventually returned to Duncanville where he had first eyed that threatening cloud.
Some reports erroneously place the time of first sighting at close to 3:00 p.m.
This appears to be a vestige of the confusion created by the flawed
April 2, 1997 Dallas Morning News article mentioned elsewhere on this
site. The 1960 Weather Bureau [now National Weather Service] technical
report on the storm referenced on the Links page marks the time of the first
good photograph of the mesocyclone at 4:26p.m. CST, which corresponds with
"Minute 0" to within 30 sec - 1 min. Back
(2) Police and other emergency personnel had been put on special alert for potential severe weather. For several days preceding April 2 the area (there was no "DFW Metroplex" in those days) had experienced copious amounts of rainfall. Local reservoirs were approaching record levels. Tornadoes had occurred further to the west. The April 2, 1957 issue of the Dallas Morning News noted that a cold front was pushing east, and that a significant spring snowfall was predicted for the Panhandle. Newspaper reports even suggested that the continuing bad weather might disrupt a special election scheduled for Tuesday to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat. The National Weather Bureau in Kansas City had issued a severe weather watch for Tuesday for an area stretching from just west of Fort Worth to West Texas. Dallas was about thirty miles to the east of this area. Back
(3) There are only a few recorded reports describing the storm's appearance or activity -- and just 2 or 3 photographs of it -- during the first ten to twelve minutes of its life. [On this site the term "storm" generally refers to the tornado specifically, but here I intend it to have the broader meaning of "supercell/mesocyclone/vortices/tornadoes."] The April 3, 1957, issue of the Dallas Morning News cites police sources as saying that the tornado split into two funnels near Ledbetter and 67, one proceeding north along Polk and the other moving off to the northeast. As noted later, the storm did spawn multiple vortices at various times; but there was only one funnel, once it touched the ground, identifiable to onlookers as the tornado [but see also next note]. Back
(4) Purists will note that the definition of a tornado is any single instance of a supercell mesocyclone reaching the ground. Thus the tornado technically was multiple tornadoes. However, throughout this site I speak of it in the singular [see also previous note]. The funnel (as opposed to the damage path) was estimated to have had a maximum width of about 125 ft. The April 3, 1957 issue of the Dallas Morning News claims that the funnel first touched down in Cedar Hill, several miles to the south of the Polk and O'Bannon location. This is almost certainly not correct, although Cedar Hill possibly was the location where the rotating cloud mass originated. [One of the things meteorologists discovered while studying the tornado was that damage can occur when there is no condensation funnel visible to onlookers as touching the ground. There was another tornado in the area the next day, April 3. It developed south of Dallas, perhaps near Cedar Hill, and moved from southeast to northwest before dying out over the now defunct Amon Carter Field, south of the present DFW International Airport. It produced no damage or casualties.] Back
(5) I have spoken with someone who lived along this part of Polk in 1957 who says that, after the storm, damage was present on only the east side of the road and not on the west. Back
(6) Some reports, including Dallas television station WFAA's November, 2005 "Wild Weather Week," have the funnel barely skirting downtown Dallas. Actually it was never closer to the west end than about two miles. [The WFAA report contains some clips gleaned from film footage of the tornado and its aftermath. In the accompanying animation the track is erroneous in several places, and appears to completely bypass Arlington Park to the north. I emailed Troy Dungan about this, but got only a canned response. Live WFAA radio reports on April 2 featured reporters mentioning how close the tornado appeared to them to come to downtown, which may represent the original source of this error.] Back
(7) It was at about this point that photographers at numerous locations around the city begin to collect the bulk of their historic documentation of the storm. A short piece from the
(10) My mother recalls seeing secondary vortices form only to quickly dissipate. Back
(11) Not all of the victims perished immediately. The last to go apparently was this two year-old, who died at April 3 in
(12) A military surplus P-51D owned by a Jacksboro,
(13) One witness reported at some point seeing a boxcar tumbling end over end. A rail car on a C. R. I. & P. spur at Riverside and Record Crossing (in the same Arlington Park neighborhood where six people were killed), loaded with bricks, was moved some distance by the tornado, a feat which, according to the Weather Bureau technical report, an engineer calculated had required winds of ~217mph (which is in the F4 category). Back
Last updated 29 April, 2015