Tornadoes can and did happen in Berkshires
GREAT BARRINGTON -- Charles Flynn of Egremont sensed the thunderstorms that barreled through the Berkshires on Wednesday afternoon might have been the kind that spawned the the killer tornado that ripped through South Berkshire in the mid-1990s.
While high winds, heavy rain, and hail pounded Pittsfield, Lenox, Lee and other parts of the county, the storm saved its worst for the Springfield area. The "supercell" morphed into the deadliest and most destructive tornado Western Massachusetts has seen since the May 29, 1995, Memorial Day twister that killed three people in Great Barrington. Berkshire County's other deadly tornado touched down in Aug. 28, 1973, and claimed four lives, injured 33 and demolished a truck stop in West Stockbridge.
Flynn found Wednesday's severe weather eerily similar to what he experienced 16 years ago.
"[Wednesday] was a sultry day, just like the one in 1995," Flynn said. "You had a feeling back then something might happen, but not sure what. [Wednesday's] weather on the radar didn't look like your run-of-the-mill storms either."
Flynn among the South County residents on Thursday who cited how the Springfield tornado reminded them of the powerful 1995 twister that slammed into Egremont, Great Barrington and Monterey. The storm killed two students and a staff member of the private Eagleton School as they were returning to the Great Barrington campus on Route 23, near the Monterey town line. The tornadic winds lifted the car they were riding tossed it 1,000 feet into a wooded area, near the school.
"We had dozens of homes damaged in 1995 and the Barrington Fairgrounds was flattened, but it was nothing compared to what I saw on television that happened in Monson," said Tom Jaworski of Great Barrington. Monson was one of the hardest hit communities, along with West Springfield, Westfield, Brimfield and Springfield.
Jaworski is better known as Tom Jay during his years as a radio news broadcaster at WSBS-AM in Great Barrington. The night of 1995 tornado, he reported live from the twister's path on the damage and how many residents barely survived Mother Nature's fury, just as they did in the Springfield area.
"We were very fortunate and they were damn fortunate," he said.
One major difference between the 1995 tornado and Wednesday's twister: One struck rural towns while the other hit the state's third largest metropolis.
"Our tornado impacted the natural beauty of the South Berkshires," said Great Barrington Deputy Fire Chief Edward McCormick. "In [Wednesday's] case, many commercial and residential buildings were in the tornado's path."
McCormick was the Great Barrington emergency management director in 1995 who helped coordinate the cleanup effort in the weeks following the Memorial Day storm. He was also among the 65 Berkshire County firefighters who assisted the Springfield area Wednesday night and Thursday morning with the initial emergency response to the natural disaster.
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