July 10: Connecticut’s Worst Tornado Outbreak


Today in Connecticut history, the worst recorded tornado outbreak in state history tore through the state, as multiple twisters devastated a historic forest, left behind numerous swathes of destruction, killed two people, and injured hundreds more.

While local meteorologists had warned residents about the high potential for severe weather on July 10, 1989, no one anticipated the massive outbreak of funnel clouds that occurred over a wide swath of the state, cutting a line from the northwest corner of Connecticut southeast toward the greater New Haven area.  Near Cornwall, a tornado leveled a huge section of the Cathedral Pines, one of the last stands of old-growth forest in the United States, and continued eastward, destroying a church in the village of Bantam.  To the south, another twister damaged over 150 homes in the greater Waterbury area.  The most severe tornado — later determined to have an F4 rating on the Fujita scale — devastated the town of Hamden with winds exceeding 200mph,  wrecking over 350 homes and causing an estimated $100 million in damage.

Recovery efforts from the tornado outbreak took weeks.  President George H. W. Bush declared a state of emergency for the hardest-hit areas of the state, and the National Guard was quickly dispatched to help with cleanup efforts.  Connecticut Governor William O’Neill remarked that, in spite of the widespread devastation, “It [was] a miracle that more people weren’t injured or even killed.”  It was a small silver lining on the darkest and stormiest day Connecticut had ever seen.

Further Reading

Wayne Worcester, “‘Three Songs and it was Over’: The Connecticut Tornadoes of 1989,Yankee Magazine

Robert A. Hamilton, “Holding On In Devastation,” New York Times

Slideshow: Hamden Tornado, July 10, 1989,Hartford Courant