It was not any normal hot, humid and muggy early summer day. Something was different on June 1. As you walked outside, the unusual electric air raised the hair on your arms as the ominous clouds began to roll in.
Despite the electricity in the air and the wind starting to blow slightly in a circular fashion, no one on campus honestly could predict the events that were about to ensue.
At 4:30 p.m., sophomore and summer Campus Union employee Evan Knowlton was in his senior suite when he saw something in the sky from his third floor window.
“I looked out the window, and there was a tint to the sky and something was happening out in the distance,” Knowlton said. “I found a better window to look out of and was like ‘all right, that doesn’t look good.’ It [the tornado] was starting to form into a cone.”
Sitting in class in Allied Health, graduate student Meredith Johnson politely raised her hand when she saw this same dark, thick cloud.
“I stared at it for a little and saw things flying around. I thought they were birds at first, but something looked different,” Johnson said. “The more I looked at it, I saw the cloud was funneling and swirling around. It was then I realized that what I thought was birds were actually huge pieces of houses and debris.”
After a moment of disbelief, Johnson and her classmates were rushing down the stairs of Allied when the steel doors of the Campus Union burst open and gusts of wind roared through the main corridor echoed by a loud, ear-piercing howl.
For the next minute and a half, winds continued to whirl through the Union as the EF3 tornado began to tear apart the southwestern half of campus near Wilbraham Road and International Hall.
“I was very confused and then frightened when I saw a tree fall down outside,” remembered sophomore and Campus Union employee Alex Lucey. “It was pretty terrifying.”
With the whistling noise finally quieting down, a small “oh my God” could be heard from the café of the Union as students peered across Lake Massasoit to see homes on Island Pond Road slowly sliding into the water below. Nearly every tree was flattened, and homes were devastated.
Lucey, who was working at the Campus Union, and others who had made their way outside were stunned at what they found:
Pure destruction on Naismith Green.
“I was pretty much shocked,” Lucey said. “I couldn’t process how much devastation there was. I don’t know if it looked worse than it really was because I wasn’t used to seeing trees and leaves all over the green, but I could not believe it.”
It was nearly impossible to make it from the Campus Union to Marsh Memorial Chapel. Trees, debris and glass littered the green on a now paradoxically, sunny evening. Gone were the 150-year-old maples and oaks, snapped in half by the vicious wrath of Mother Nature.
The fire alarm from Alumni Hall could be heard in a distance, signaling repeatedly after being triggered by the fury of the storm. On the north side of Alumni, the historic weeping beech tree was destroyed and mangled, unrecognizable to the eye. The brunt of another tree’s valiant crash and fall was taken by the roof of a faculty member’s car.
Yet this was only the beginning. As students, faculty and staff began to explore the scene, a white glimmer could be seen in the distance hovering on the side of International Hall.
People began to gravitate towards the white object, and to the disbelief of many, a mattress could be seen dangling from an upper story window. The metal façade of International was severely damaged, portions literally torn off the building. The force of the 100-plus miles per hour winds had blown out nearly all of the nine-story building’s windows.
Door hinges were ripped off walls. Mattresses were blown off beds through high rise windows into the Massasoit and most furniture was ruined. The deck for International was destroyed, and pieces of the railroad track behind Inty would later be found in the lake by student volunteers.
The largest residence hall on campus took a direct hit. Withstanding three and one-half times the stress it was designed to take, International suffered the most damage on campus, joining Reed and Massasoit Halls with roof damage. The three residence halls are responsible for housing 570 students.
Minutes before the tornado touched further down Alden Street, junior lifeguard Ryan Irwin had just finished asking 35 local club swimmers to get out of the pool at the Wellness Center due to thunder and lightning when his radio went off.
“Earlier in the day, someone told me there was a tornado warning, and of course, ‘there are never tornados in New England,’ so I assumed nothing would happen,” Irwin said.
Yet once his radio went off with instructions to move everyone to the basement, Irwin knew something “big” was going on.
It was much bigger than anyone at the time could have imagined.
For the rest of that June 1 night, there would be more tornado warnings and watches as another tornado touched down in the Western Mass. region, bringing more destruction and devastation to the neighboring towns and communities.
According to MassLive, the tornado, with speeds up to 160 miles per hour, tore a 6.2 mile, quarter-mile path of destruction affecting an estimated 40 percent of the city’s population in the first 48 hours and damaged more than 600 structures, 558 which were family homes. In just public property alone, 5,598 trees had to be removed.
More than 350 people had to take temporary shelter in MassMutual Center, and according to the Wall Street Journal, three people lost their lives during the storm.
The college was blessed to not suffer any loss of life or injury due to the tornado.
If the tornado had struck just a week or two later, or before June 1, many of those three residence halls would have been filled with students or summer camp participants. There would undeniably have been massive injuries and possibly a loss of lives on campus.
We are certainly thankful to not have suffered any injuries or deaths at Springfield College. The strength of SC can overcome the estimated $7-10 million price tag that came as a result of the tornado’s damage.
In a valiant effort by students, alumni, faculty, staff, administration and others outside the SC community, the college was able to open on time with all three of the affected residence halls safe and functioning at full capacity.
President Richard B. Flynn was able to spearhead a strong recovery effort in the days, weeks and months following the tornado. More importantly though, the president believes the tornado should not hinder what has been accomplished in the last year.
“Restoration and repair have been the recent focus, but they do not diminish the tremendous achievements of the past year,” Flynn said on the college’s website. “The College’s recent ten-year reaccreditation by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and the addition of the newly opened Stitzer YMCA Center and Springfield College Museum were bright moments in the past year. We look forward to the coming year and the many new achievements we know it will bring.”
Springfield College has planted new sod on Naismith Green and the green space in front of Massasoit and Reed due to the inability to remove every tiny piece of glass shards.
The Spirit of Renewal project is the college’s plan to replant new trees for future generations of the college after nearly all of the trees behind the three residence halls affected were snapped in half as well as others in Naismith Green and behind the Schoo-Bemis Science Center.
Justin Felisko may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A look back at Student Volunteerism in the days following the June 1 tornado: