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1946 Windsor tornado

A tornado is the stuff of nightmares. Amid heavy rain and hail, huge thunderclouds roll in and the skies turn greenish-black. And then a rope-like funnel cloud punches down, smashing everything in its path. Tornadoes can be the most violent storms on earth, and Canada averages 80 of them each year. From scientists and storm chasers obsessed with their destructive power to the victims left in a twister's wake, we look at Canada's deadliest tornadoes of the past century.

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Southern Ontario is in pandemonium. On June 17, 1946, a killer tornado roars across the Detroit River, smashing homes in Windsor, Ont. At the time of this CBC Radio news report, power is still out and there's "an epidemic of looting." But nurses, truck drivers and boy scouts are all pitching in to help police. This report also features an eyewitness interview with one Mrs. A.L. Wheeler, a war bride who came to Canada three weeks ago, only to experience the country's third-deadliest tornado. 
• This 1946 tornado in southwestern Ontario is usually referred to as the "Windsor to Tecumseh" tornado, describing the twister's path of worst destruction. Tecumseh, Ont., is seven kilometres east of Windsor. The affected area was significantly larger, with damage extending across 56 km of both Ontario and Michigan.

• The Windsor to Tecumseh tornado was the third-deadliest tornado in Canadian history. Seventeen people were killed and hundreds more were injured. Some 400 homes were damaged or destroyed, orchards were uprooted and 150 farm buildings were smashed. The damage was conservatively estimated at $1.5 million.
• In 1974 another devastating tornado tore through Windsor. It was the fifth deadliest in Canadian history.

• The 1946 Windsor to Tecumseh tornado is estimated to have been an F3 or F4 tornado, with a funnel as high as 150 metres. The following day's Windsor Star reported that eyewitnesses "all told the same story - a story of utter destruction - a story of buildings being smashed to the ground as if by a giant unseen triphammer - a story of bodies strewn about like driftwood left on the shore by an angry sea."

• The Windsor Star newspaper from that day actually carries the front page banner of the Detroit News. Beneath it was the following note: "Crippled by the terrible disaster which struck Windsor last night, the Windsor Star is enabled today to bring news of the holocaust to its readers through the kindly co-operation of the Detroit News. This edition has been especially [prepared] for the regular readers of the Star and contains the news and pictures of the disaster gathered by the combined staffs of the News and the Star."

• By province, Ontario has the highest number of reported tornadoes in Canada, with 189 recorded between 1950 and 1997. However, this may in part reflect southern Ontario's high population density. Almost any tornado that forms is likely to be witnessed and reported.
• The combined Prairie provinces experience about 60 per cent of all tornadoes that occur in Canada. Together, Ontario and the Prairies are home to more than 90 per cent of all tornadoes in Canada.

• War brides such as the woman interviewed in this clip were British and European women who married Canadian servicemen in the Second World War. You can read more about them in the CBC Archives topic Love and War: Canadian War Brides.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: June 18, 1946
Guest(s): Mrs. Oaks, Mrs. A.L. Wheeler
Reporter: Val Clare
Duration: 4:39
Photo: Malcolm Geast, Environment Canada

Last updated: June 19, 2014

Page consulted on June 19, 2014

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