"Death Out Of Darkness" is a public safety documentary about the deadly tornadoes of the 11-April-1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak, which affected portions of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The film primarily focuses on the devastation across Northern and Central Indiana. Produced in 1966 by the Indiana State Police and WISH-TV in Indianapolis, narrated by Lt. Dave Levendoski. Video from visualarchivist on YouTube. There were 47 tornadoes in less than 12 hours. This was the 3rd deadliest tornado swarm in U.S. history. See Also: Ted Fujita

The Truth about “The Twins”






Submitted by Robert Hartig

The Truth about “The Twins”
© 2011 by Robert Hartig

Arguably the most famous tornado photograph ever taken is one shot on April 11, 1965, by Elkhart Truth photographer Paul “Pic” Huffman, depicting twin funnels straddling US 33 between Elkhart and Goshen, Indiana. Paul’s award-winning photo became the icon of the 20th century’s second worst tornado outbreak, the notorious Palm Sunday Outbreak. It has also been the subject of a longstanding controversy, no doubt as old as the newspaper accounts which first attended that photo.

Did “The Twins” (as the dual funnels in Huffman’s photo have been called) strike the Midway Trailer Court, or did they destroy the Sunnyside Division in Dunlap? According to Huffman, his remarkable series of photos—there are actually seven images in all, six of which I’ve seen—was taken at close range as the freakish-looking double tornado approached, demolished, and then exited the trailer court. Yet other eyewitnesses from that day insist that Paul’s and other newspaper accounts were wrong, and that The Twins actually struck Sunnyside, not the trailer court. Who is right?

I’m convinced that both sides of the issue are factual. One eyewitness story doesn’t have to be wrong in order for another to be right, and I’m going to furnish a credible explanation why.

What People Didn’t Know Back in 1965

Photos by Paul Huffman - Source
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The double funnel in Paul’s famous photo portrays in striking detail a phenomenon called multiple vortices. Simply put, the term means that a tornado can consist of more than one funnel. Today multiple vortices are an established fact, understood by tornado scientists and regularly observed by storm chasers. In 1965, however, no one knew about them. The spotty damage paths created by multiple vortices were attributed to tornadoes “skipping.” In reality, though, smaller funnels frequently form within larger funnels, generating complex wind motions, a broad variety of appearances, and erratic damage patterns. Multiple vortices are part of a dynamic, rapidly changing process. Some tornadoes change their shapes relatively slowly; others morph with amazing rapidity; but all tornadoes are constantly altering in appearance and intensity throughout their life cycle, and multiple vortices are an integral part of how tornadoes look and behave.

Often multiple vortices are obscured by dust and debris. In the case of Paul Huffman’s series of photographs, however, the transition from a single, narrow funnel to two large funnels is graphically portrayed—so clearly, in fact, that famed tornado scientist Dr. Theodore Fujita used Huffman’s photos as his basis for a groundbreaking analysis that corroborated his theory of what he called “suction spots.”

Multiple vortices are fairly common. As a storm chaser who has to date witnessed around 25 tornadoes, I have observed the phenomenon often. My belief is that every tornado displays multiple vortices to some degree, but even chasers who might take issue with me will agree that Ted Fujita’s suction spots are by no means a rare occurrence. Today you can find all kinds of video and photographic documentation of multiple vortices in myriad shapes and behaviors.

But not in 1965. No one knew about multiple vortices in those days. Moreover, very few photos of tornadoes existed compared to the abundance of images available today. So when Paul’s photograph appeared in the papers, people naturally concluded that he had captured an utterly one-of-a-kind occurrence.

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Here’s what I believe happened: Paul Huffman photographed twin funnels demolishing the Midway Trailer Court, exactly as he described in his firsthand writeup in The Elkhart Truth. Then 45 minutes later, other equally credible eyewitnesses watched a similar double funnel sweep through Dunlap two-and-a-half miles up the road.

Because observers of the second tornado knew what they saw, and because they were unaware how frequently multiple vortices occur, they were certain that reports based on Paul’s account had gotten it wrong. But that wasn’t the case. There were simply two different “Twins”–the one that Paul photographed, and another one that hit Sunnyside afterwards. Anyone who is familiar with multiple vortices—and who isn’t biased by a personal, proprietary stake in Paul’s photo—will agree that this explanation makes a lot of sense. The alternative is to insist that either one party or the other was misinformed or else flat-out lying, and to me that conclusion does not make sense. It is neither realistic nor necessary.

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Paul Huffman and his wife, Elizabeth, were not misinformed and they certainly didn’t fabricate their experience. They are highly credible witnesses. Paul, after all, is the guy who took the photo. He knew what he saw and had no motive to lie about it. As a news photographer and local resident—his home was very near Dunlap—he was intimately acquainted with the area and with Elkhart County in general. He knew exactly where he was when he pulled his car over just southeast of Kundred’s farm, stepped out into that millrace of wind, and photographed the tornado passing at close range. At least one landmark from a couple of his photos, still extant today, bears out his location. The details in Paul’s photographs and the apparent proximity of the tornado indicate that the tornado crossed US 33 within a half-mile of Paul, not two-and-ahalf to three miles up the road in Dunlap. The Dunlap tornado would have appeared much smaller through Paul’s 50 mm lens, and the debris would have not have been distinguishable with the clarity and definition seen in the photographs. There are several other very good reasons to believe that Paul’s account is trustworthy, not the least being his penchant as a journalist for sound reporting.

That being said, the fact that a number of people have insisted, some vehemently, that The Twins hit Dunlap suggests to me that a twin funnel did hit Dunlap. It’s no problem for me to believe this. A tornado as large and powerful as the Dunlap tornado almost certainly had multiple vortices. Frankly, I’d be surprised if it didn’t. Such vortices are often associated with exactly the kind of intense damage that occurred in the Sunnyside neighborhood.

I have seen only one halfway decent photograph of the Dunlap tornado, shot from the ruined trailer park. Taken roughly 45 minutes after Paul took his photo series, right around sundown, the photo is dimmer and the tornado is not nearly as distinct. In that image, you can see just one large funnel. Given how constantly and swiftly tornadoes morph, my guess is that the tornado became visibly multi-vortex as it moved into Dunlap, similar to the way that the Midway tornado went multi-vortex as it approached the trailer park.

In Conclusion

So there you have it: what I believe is the truth about The Twins. Both sides of the issue know what they saw and both have told the truth about it, and the only person who’s wrong is the person who insists the other guy is wrong.

Of course, there’s no way I can prove my theory conclusively, and with nearly 50 years gone by, I doubt anyone ever can. So if, having read this article, you’re of the opinion that what I’ve written is hogwash, have it your way. But I doubt there’s a more commonsense answer to the controversy over The Twins than the one I’ve provided. Hopefully, some of you who for years have felt frustrated over this issue can now let it go. You saw what you saw, and there’s no reason for anyone to doubt you. Paul also saw what he saw, and there’s no reason to doubt him either. It’s not an either/or thing; it’s a both/and.

Multiple vortices. They occur often, but no one knew about them back in 1965. Today they’re common knowledge. Multiple vortices are what hit Midway, and they’re what hit Dunlap, and they’re what no doubt hit quite a few other places that day. That’s my theory, anyway, and I think it’s a good one. So for heaven’s sake, people, give it a rest. It’s a non-issue. Put it away now and get some sleep.

Postlude

I wrote this article after exchanging a few emails with Jenni. I had planned to save my thoughts on The Twins controversy for a book I’m writing on the Palm Sunday Tornadoes. But when Jenni invited me to share my ideas here, I decided to do so. There’s no telling how long it will take me to complete the book, and meanwhile, why not address this longstanding issue now and maybe help a few people find closure in a matter that has, for some, remained a point of frustration. I don’t know how widespread the issue is that I’ve addressed. I’ve simply encountered it enough that I know it exists, and I don’t think it needs to. The answer isn’t a matter of insisting that one viewpoint is right and another one is wrong, but of introducing a different viewpoint altogether, based on knowledge that didn’t exist in 1965.

My perspectives are those of a storm chaser who has a pretty good grasp on what makes tornadoes tick. I’ve been fascinated by tornadoes since I was a boy, and over the last 15 years that fascination has grown, slowly but steadily, into an active interest that has taken me all across the American heartland. My avocation as a storm chaser has taught me much and rewarded me with some unforgettable experiences.

The 1965 Palm Sunday Outbreak influenced me profoundly as a boy living in Niles, Michigan. Although I didn’t experience the tornadoes firsthand, the event has been a shaping force in my life. That’s one reason I’ve decided to write a book about it. It is a story that needs to be told, while there are still people left to tell it, in the light of both yesterday and today.

I applaud Jenni for developing this site. Her passion for the Palm Sunday event is one I relate to completely. She has had the vision to do what I probably should have done but didn’t! I look forward to seeing this site grow and develop as you share your personal experiences of the 20th century’s second worst tornado disaster.

If you enjoyed this article, then I hope youl’ll visit my own blog on storm chasing and jazz saxophone, Stormhorn, at http://stormhorn.com.

Blessings,
Bob Hartig

12 comments :

  1. Dear Bob,
    What a theory! I wish I had eye witness information to back you up but I was busy ducking for cover. Having considered the possibility of a set of twins that day makes the most sense so far. All I remember is someone yelling, "Here comes another one", as they rushed us away in an ambulance. So if there were witnesses who claim to have seen twin tornadoes 45 minutes apart, and adamantly cling to their existence after 50 years, then I'd agree with them too. Great information, Bob.
    Thank you, Jenni, for providing this website for us.
    God bless you, Pat from Midway

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  2. Hi there, Pat! I figured you'd show up here. You going to share your story? It's well worth telling. Not many people have experienced what you did.

    Looking forward to reconnecting with you this spring!

    Bob

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  3. Hello Pat, it's a pleasure to meet you! I'd love very much to include your story here as well, that is if you would like to share it.
    Jenni

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  4. The railroad signals in the photo could be of help in pinpointing the exact location. A good railroad historian might be able to determine where that close range photo was taken in relation to a crossover point by examining the number of sets of signal lights.

    I have been curious about this for a long time, and I tend to believe that Paul Huffman did take this near the Midway Mobile home park. But as mentioned, it is indeed probable that both tornadoes had multiple vortices.

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  5. Could you please say what the landmark is that is in Paul's pictures that still exists today to verify the location. My brother has no doubt that it is exactly where Paul said it was, but we were wanting to know what the landmark is. Thank you

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  6. Again, the best landmark is the railroad signals in the photo. It's discussed in the following railfan message board:
    http://railroadfan.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=8&p=181267

    I concur that this is taken at Milepost 414 along the current NS Chicago Line. The person who pinpoints the spot at the old County Road 28 crossing along U.S. 33 is correct.

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  7. Deb, if you search the neighborhood southeast of the new overpass that crosses over much of the old Midway Trailer Park grounds, you can find the house that appears in photo F of the 6-panel sequence shown above. Patrick Murphy, a meteorologist at KIWX, first informed me of it. I verified it it for myself. That was a couple of years ago, and I recall that I had to do a bit of poking around to find the place, but it's there if you care to look.

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  8. Interesting. How perfect as I was just looking for some more information to confirm exactly which tornado was depicted in the picture. Everyone does seem to be in agreement it was the first tornado.

    Fascinating how many "double" tornadoes there were that day. These two as well as the two pillars of light later on that evening. I don't think I have seen a single video like that in the past decade that shows such large, symmetrical vortices. I wish I could time travel just to watch old tornado outbreaks.

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  9. I was born in Goshen in 1970, and I lived there until 1989. As a kid, my best friend lived on C.R. 28 between U.S. 33 and what was then C.R. 17. (That's maybe a couple thousand feet from the RR crossing on 28, which your commenters suggest is the crossing that appears in Huffman's photos.) From my buddy's back yard you could see the screen of the Midway Drive-in Theater, which closed when I was still quite young.

    I remember, at about the age of 12 (give or take a year or so), walking west down 28 from my buddy's house to a stand of trees on the roadside to play "war" or something along those lines. Once we entered the trees, it was like some sort of fantasy world. Among the live trees were many dead ones -- obviously long dead -- complete with root balls, and the ground was pockmarked with pits where the roots had been torn up. Many of the trees, both living and dead, had trunks and limbs that were twisted and corkscrewed in bizarre ways. We couldn't have designed a more ideal site to play war. I'd never seen anything quite like it, and I don't think I have since. I was very into JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy at the time, the scene reminded me of something from Mirkwood forest.

    The surreal quality of the site made enough of an impression that I remember it quite well ~30 years later, and I described it in detail to my parents when I got home. They told me that one of the Palm Sunday tornadoes had hit that area, and that probably explained the twisted and uprooted trees. Although the tornadoes occurred five years before I was born, I knew that they'd killed many people. Knowing that made the site seem rather macabre (not a word I'd have used at that age, of course), and I don't think we ever went back to play there.

    As I said, this was probably thirty years ago. What's more, I haven't spent any significant time in Goshen since 1989, and the roads in that part Elkhart County have changed a bit since then. So trying to pinpoint the stand of trees on Google Maps has been a little frustrating. It may have been on the northwest corner of where C.R. 17 -- the old road -- intersects with C.R. 28. If so, it might still be there. Or it may have stood about where the new C.R. 17 intersects with C.R. 28, in which case the trees were likely cut down to build the road, if not before.

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  10. Correction: now that I think about it, the Midway Drive-in didn't actually close until much later than I first remembered. I went there at least once with my buddies when I was a teen. I think we were there mainly to drink beer. . .

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  11. Jackie McLain MeyersApril 3, 2013 at 6:34 PM

    What an interesting read. My family and I survived our Dunlap homes destruction that eery evening. We always believed it was a twin also.

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  12. Mr.Robert I just have a few things to say about the Palm Sunday Storms. My mom was pregnant with me and she told me about what happen that day now mind you i grew up hearing about these very bad storms we would remember. every year and have a moment. of silence. Dad and Mom were living. of Hammond Avenue. which now is called CR45. well they told us kids there were two sets of tornadoes. that came thru at that time and that it got very dark very quick.She and my Aunt were on the porch when the winds kicked up and were very strong. they. both knew that it was gonna be bad. She had said that after every thing had calmed down her and my Aunt had come up from the basement. and had to head back down again with in 35 to45 mlnutes because two more tornadoes were moving thru again.However she had told the secound set of storms were the ones that hit Dunlap and Midway Mobile. Home. Park. I hope this helps you out some what.I have not met anyone that says there were not two sets every one i have ever talked to says they know there were 2sets being twins but however they had said that SunnySide was hit by. the twins that hit Midway.I was informed that one of the twins jumped the tracks and tore Sunny Side up.I do know those storms killed to many people that and those that were there in 65 do seem to agee up on that. Have A Bessed Day Mr.Robert.

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