North St. Louis Tornadoes Past and Present

by Michael R. Allen

The map of the 1927 tornado produced by the Engineer's Club and the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Click for large version.

On September 29, 1927, a massive tornado made its way across the city on a northeasterly track. The path of destruction widened in a part of north St. Louis stretching from Fountain Park to Hyde Park.  The worst damage was just west of Grand Avenue between Delmar Boulevard and St. Louis Avenue, but every place in the path was wrecked badly. The Report on the St. Louis Tornado of September 27, 1927 by the Joint Committee of the Engineers’ Club and St. Louis Chapter, American Institute of Architects displayed the staggering destruction of the built environment, chronicled the human loss and called for upgrades in construction techniques. A subsequent major tornado in 1959 spared north St. Louis but left major damage in the Dogtown and Central West End neighborhoods.

Compared to the 1927 and 1959 tornadoes, as well as the famous 1896 “Cyclone,” the tornado that struck the city on December 31, 2010 was mercifully weak. Still, the track of the officially-declared EF1 tornado is longer than the damage suggests. The National Weather Service has published track maps of the recent St. Louis area tornadoes that shows the north St. Louis tornado to have left a 2.1-mile track starting around Lewis Place and moving northeast toward Fairground Park before lifting. The tornado touched down at 12:08 a.m. and lasted for three minutes.

The paths of the 1927 and 2010 tornadoes compared. The Lewis Place gate at Taylor Avenue is marked with a red asterisk.

The track of the 2010 tornado is notably similar to the 1927 track. Although the tracks and damage areas do not overlap, they follow a similar shape. The origin of the 2010 tornado is slightly west of the outer path of tornado damage in September 1927, although it is still farther from the actual tornado track.  Another difference is that the 1927 tornado did not lift until it reached the river.

While the city was spared a major disaster on New Year’s, it endured a tornado that caused severe property damage and left at least a dozen households homeless.  History shows worse could have happened, but also that north St. Louis has been hit by a tornado before.  Disaster preparedness, urged in 1927 by leading engineers and architects, remains a crucial matter for the city.

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This entry was posted in Hyde Park, Lewis Place, North St. Louis, Severe Weather, The Ville. Bookmark the permalink.
  • samizdat

    Hmm, I wonder. Could the 1927 tornado have contributed to the decline of the north side of the City? Not immediately, or all at once, but over time. Two years and one month later the Ponzi scheme on Wall St. collapsed. Certainly, any money or incentive to continue rebuilding would have evaporated at the time, and would have only gotten worse as the first Great Depression dragged on. Just a thought which came to mind, and I have no evidence to suggest it, but hey, that’s how my brain works. Or doesn’t, depending…

  • Chris

    I’m no meteorologist, but I’m wondering if the topography of St. Louis affects where tornadoes go.

  • http://www.stlelsewhere.blogspot.com Daron

    old maps without highways are beautiful. Detonty, Detonty. The Garden District used to be one district.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/wayne.brasler Wayne Brasler

    The 1927 tornado was actually two tornadoes. The first hit the Manchester factory district, the second came to ground in Forest Park at Kinghighway and Laclede. A meterologist saw it come to ground and wrote about it. So much incorrect has been written about this storm, including it not having a discernible funnel cloud. No, it was black and twisting, came from high clouds and mightily roared. My father saw it crossing Grand Boulevard at Sportsman’s Park and said at that point it was gray mass carrying with it everything imaginable–chairs, tables, desks, part of roofs, and he said the roar was tremendous. The most notable fact was that, as in the 1896 disaster, the public got no warning in any way. So when the funnel smashed into Central High School right after lunch period students, faculty and staff were not in places of safety. The death scene, my mother said, was horrific. The Central faculty, staff and student body had just moved back into their building after two years at Yeatman High. They had to move back, and Central had to be demolished, except one wall was retained as part of its successor, the factory-like Hadley Technical High School.