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The Longbranch Tornado, 100 years later: Jim Teske's Blog

In Syracuse weather history there have certainly been many memorable storms. In more recent memory there is the Labor Day storm but for others it is the Blizzard of ‘66 that sets the standard. However, before either of those storms there was the Longbranch Tornado of 1912. This Saturday will be the 100th anniversary of this storm that killed 5 people.
Photos of 1912 tornado damage

In Syracuse weather history there have certainly been many memorable storms.  In more recent memory there is the Labor Day storm but for others it is the Blizzard of ‘66 that sets the standard. However, before either of those storms there was the Longbranch Tornado of 1912.  This Saturday will be the 100th anniversary of this storm that killed 5 people.

The storm is called the Longbranch Tornado because much of the damage was caused near the present day Longbranch Park. Back then, Longbranch Park and the whole northwest end of Onondaga Lake was much different from what is there now.  Resorts, dance halls, hotels and amusement parks ringed that part of the lake. The amusement park at Longbranch was known for its roller coaster and carousel.  In fact, the park’s carousel is currently housed at the Destiny USA mall.

In the days before the widespread use of automobiles, trolleys would transport people from the city of Syracuse to Longbranch for a day of rest and recreation.  On Sunday, September 15, a big crowd was at the park to take advantage of one last warm day of the summer season.  The high that afternoon was an unseasonably warm 79 degrees.  Late in the afternoon the crowds at the park dwindled to a couple hundred.

Shortly after 5 p.m., a thunderstorm moved in from the west and a funnel cloud dropped to the ground. Trees snapped. People ran for cover. The winds were strong enough to lift one of the trolley cars off its tracks and deposited it at the foot of a nearby hill. The driver and one passenger were killed here.

The storm traveled northeast causing even more damage in the Pitcher Hill area of North Syracuse.  Unlike today, this area was dotted with farms. Farmhouses and barns were blown apart by the winds. By the time the storm traveled to the south shore of Oneida Lake it dissipated.  For some, the destruction was complete; they lost everything in the storm.

The clean-up from the storm would take weeks. The destruction actually became a tourist attraction. The weekend after the storm, thousands of Syracuse residents traveled to the storm zone to see where the tornado struck.  Some brought picnic lunches. Vendors sold food to the people curious to see the storm damage. In spite of the damage, Longbranch Park would rebuild and reopen staying open another 26 years before it shut down for good.

The storm traveled a total of 10 miles and caused $250,000 damage in 1912 dollars. In addition to the 3 deaths on the day of the storm, 2 more people died days later of their injuries. Years later the Longbranch Tornado was still memorable. Up until the the end of the 1980s it was the deadliest tornado in New York history.

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