Long viewed as the unofficial start to summer, Memorial Day is a time for parades to honor those who gave their lives for our nation, as well as cookouts, time with family and, in some regions, the first pool parties of the summer. It’s natural to wish for good weather over Memorial Day weekend; after all, no one likes to see it rain on their parade.
For residents of Great Barrington, Mass., a town of 7,500 located in the Berkshire Mountains, a little rain was the least of their concerns when a deadly F4 tornado tore through town just before sunset on May 29, 1995.
The tornado was birthed by a series of scattered thunderstorms that began at around 3:30 that afternoon over the Western Catskill Mountains in New York state. During the next few hours, the storms moved eastward, eventually forming a supercell as it crossed Hudson River Valley. A small F1 tornado touched down in Columbia County, New York, at 6:40 p.m. before the storm crossed the New York/Massachusetts border.
The Great Barrington Tornado of 1995, also known as the Memorial Day Tornado of 1995, touched down at 7:06 p.m. near Great Barrington’s Walter J. Koladza Airport. Despite its destructive force, the tornado lasted only 10 minutes, traveling seven miles to the neighboring town of Monterey before dissipating. Winds from the tornado were estimated at between 158 and 260 miles per hour, making it one of the most powerful tornadoes to ever touch down in the Northeastern United States.
More than 100 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, including the grandstand at the Great Barrington Fairgrounds. The tornado claimed three lives – two students and a faculty member from Great Barrington College who were driving back to campus together – and injured 24 others.
So, this Memorial Day, while you’re giving thanks for the sacrifices of America’s fallen heroes, take some time to be thankful for the weather, too, even if it does rain!