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100th Anniversary of the Destructive Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak

In a time of darkness and uncertainty, communities in northeastern Indiana came together to pick up the pieces. Exactly 100 years ago Saturday, lives were forever changed.

Posted: Mar 27, 2020 10:20 PM
Updated: Mar 29, 2020 9:48 AM

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT) - “It got darker and darker. Everything went dark, it was totally destroyed,” said Sandra Gordon.

Palm Sunday, March 28, 1920.

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“There wasn’t any radio broadcast at all. Nobody had radios at that time,” said Michael Skipper.

Farms in ruins, towns leveled to their foundations, lives forever changed.

“It was a beautiful Sunday, Palm Sunday day and everybody seemed to enjoy being out in it. They saw the big black cloud and they were in the barn. Grandma kept calling ‘Thema, Sam, get in the house,” said Sandra Gordon.

An F4 tornado demolished anything in its 100-mile path from Wells County, Indiana to Lucas County, Ohio.

“It was actually three tornadoes in one. One dissipated while the next one developed,” Skipper said.

The National Weather Service says around two dozen people died in its path, nearly half of those deaths occurred in Allen County.

The hardest towns hit were Edgerton and Townley.

“At the actual time they were dazed, just totally dazed and in so much shock,” Sandra Gordon

Edgerton was leveled. Splintered trees, foundations that once held houses, people’s livelihoods were gone in a matter of seconds. But off in the distance stood the town’s grain elevator. It was coined, ‘cyclone proof.’”

“Because of the weight at the bottom, it stayed, But the crown or the top of it, was totally destroyed,” said Sandra Gordon.

There was debris as far as the eye could see.

It looked like a war zone and the town needed help.

“There was communication. They had a difficult time bringing anyone out because the roads were so filled with timbers and telephone lines and all different kinds of things like that,” Gordon said.

News of the destruction spread quickly.

People flocked to the devastated area. Some gazed at the mess but many lent a helping hand.

“Fort Wayne had sent a group of firemen down of approximately fifty and then they began to clean things up,” Gordon added.

Edgerton began to pick up the pieces.

But not all communities would be as fortunate. Townley, Indiana is still on the map today, but its residents abandoned it.

“They did not bother to rebuild anything because they had no railroad. Therefore, they had no way of getting the grain out,” said Sandra Gordon.

These tornadoes caused widespread devastation across parts of the Midwest.

Palm Sunday 1920 was locally known as the worst storm in history at the time.

This was due to the lack of warning residents received.

“The Weather Service of that time was really prohibited from actually issuing a tornado warning. Completely different as it is right now,” said Michael Skipper.

Tornado warnings that we know today were not officially adopted until 1965.

This was in response to the great amount of confusion during another deadly Palm Sunday tornado outbreak that same year.

Now, there are many ways to gain access to life-saving weather information.

This, in turn, has saved countless lives across the United States.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 752108

Reported Deaths: 13816
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1033831790
Lake558431013
Allen41736693
St. Joseph37007565
Hamilton36617417
Elkhart29425461
Tippecanoe22938228
Vanderburgh22565400
Porter19369327
Johnson18486389
Hendricks17696317
Clark13233195
Madison13176344
Vigo12631253
LaPorte12429221
Monroe12226176
Delaware10970198
Howard10349224
Kosciusko9643121
Hancock8578147
Bartholomew8174157
Warrick7864156
Floyd7815180
Grant7248179
Wayne7164201
Boone6979103
Morgan6768141
Dubois6224118
Marshall6214116
Cass6024110
Henry5903110
Dearborn589878
Noble581688
Jackson509476
Shelby502396
Lawrence4753122
Gibson445595
Clinton443555
Harrison441775
DeKalb440385
Montgomery439890
Whitley406744
Huntington403381
Steuben400859
Miami395769
Jasper389155
Knox377691
Putnam373461
Wabash362383
Ripley347370
Adams345555
Jefferson336186
White332753
Daviess3035100
Wells295481
Decatur289892
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey274335
LaGrange273272
Scott270356
Clay267148
Washington246336
Randolph245183
Jennings235349
Spencer234531
Starke228159
Fountain222048
Sullivan214843
Owen212358
Fulton204043
Jay201032
Carroll193820
Orange188255
Perry187237
Rush175926
Vermillion175344
Franklin170435
Tipton166646
Parke149616
Pike138334
Blackford136232
Pulaski120847
Newton114936
Brown104443
Benton102614
Crawford102516
Martin91815
Warren84115
Switzerland8158
Union72810
Ohio57911
Unassigned0424

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1109697

Reported Deaths: 20213
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1289521469
Cuyahoga1158802216
Hamilton814201251
Montgomery525861049
Summit484551006
Lucas43384824
Butler39098606
Stark33355930
Lorain25689506
Warren24612305
Mahoning22388602
Lake21219389
Clermont20138253
Delaware18892136
Licking16671225
Fairfield16589204
Trumbull16560483
Medina15618273
Greene15292248
Clark14244306
Wood13296200
Portage13254216
Allen11919239
Richland11611211
Miami10857225
Wayne9153225
Columbiana9039230
Muskingum8909135
Pickaway8664122
Tuscarawas8654251
Marion8649139
Erie8058165
Ashtabula7171179
Hancock6999133
Ross6948163
Geauga6850151
Scioto6540106
Belmont6159174
Union585049
Lawrence5741102
Jefferson5683159
Huron5554122
Sandusky5444126
Darke5420129
Seneca5350128
Washington5321109
Athens524460
Auglaize502487
Mercer487785
Shelby477095
Knox4573112
Madison444566
Ashland435997
Putnam4336104
Defiance432399
Fulton432274
Crawford4046110
Brown402761
Logan387678
Preble3859105
Clinton379266
Ottawa373581
Highland360266
Williams348578
Champaign344959
Guernsey325254
Jackson318454
Perry297350
Morrow291940
Fayette285750
Hardin275765
Henry273867
Holmes2703101
Coshocton269360
Van Wert247264
Adams243156
Pike242835
Gallia240850
Wyandot234756
Hocking220663
Carroll197548
Paulding176642
Meigs148540
Monroe136345
Noble136239
Harrison114138
Morgan110124
Vinton85717
Unassigned03
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
80° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 81°
Angola
Cloudy
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 80°
Huntington
Cloudy
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 80°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
80° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 81°
Van Wert
Partly Cloudy
83° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 83°
Daily rounds of showers and thunderstorms will increase the flood threat across northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio.
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