[3 Parts] "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
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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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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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.
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.
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.