Santa Clara County F2 Tornadoes – January 11, 1951

Two tornadoes occurred on this day in 1951, both were later rated F2 and both caused damage, some of it extensive in Santa Clara County, CA.  One hit in the Sunnyvale area and another in San Jose. 

The knowledge of two tornadoes on this day comes from the following sources:  Thomas Grazulis in his book Significant Tornadoes (1680-1991), entries in the January 1951 Climatological Data National Summary (CDNS), through newspaper articles and other accounts.

The SPC/NCDC databases only include one tornado event on this day.  It is listed as an F2 in Santa Clara County. The path length is 5.7 miles and the max width 10 yards.  When you plot the lat/lon, as I have below, you can see that the path is NW of Sunnyvale and San Jose.  I am assuming the tornado being documented in the database is the one in Sunnyvale.

Below, I have documented to the best of my ability details on BOTH tornadoes.  Using locations/landmarks from Significant Tornadoes, the CDNS, those found in newspaper articles, and a personal account found on the Sunnyvale Public Library Website, I have created maps for both tornadoes.  I also include track and damage details from those sources and newspaper clips of damage photos.  

Tornado 1:  Sunnyvale, CA (Santa Clara County)

  • The CDNS says the tornado first struck the Los Altos residential area.  Was unable to find that in several google searches.
  • The next point of reference mentioned in the reports was an orchard near El Camino Real.  I have highlighted a section of that road in green near the business district.
  • The area highlighted in blue is between Mary Ave and Charles Street.  The Times San Mateo posted an aerial photo of damage and denoted this area in part of the image.  
  • PT 1 is 200 Florence Street.  Chiyo Winters wrote a personal account of this tornado and it resides on the Sunnyvale Library website.  He was a child when the tornado hit and this is where he lived.  He mentions damage near his home when he left to go to school.
  • PT 2 is the corner of Washington and Charles.  The Times San Meteo had a picture of damage to a home here.  Chiyo Winters also mentions damage to a home here.  "One house in the northeast corner of Charles and Washington had two of its walls blown out. You could see into their bedroom, living room, and dining room. All the corrugated pieces of iron were wrapped around the orchard trees."
  • The area highlighted in red is the approximate location of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation.  Extensive damage occurred here based on newspaper reports and was mentioned in CDNS report.  I found the location based on this plant history document found here.

This is just a small sampling of some of the damage points.  

From the entry by Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes on this event:  Beginning time was 0817, there were 30 injuries and no fatalities, the width was 200 yards, the path length was 3 miles and the rating was F2.

"Moved NE, with touchdowns in the Los Gatos residential area and Sunnyvale.  Businesses and the railroad depot were destroyed on the edge of Sunnyvale, and a home was shifted.  About 150 homes were damaged in Sunnyvale, with 24 of them either unroofed or torn from their foundations."

Image extracted from the January 1951 Climatological Data National Summary

Found on Newspapers.com

Home of John Hernandez near Charles and Washington Streets.

Tornado 2:  San Jose, CA (Santa Clara County)

  • The CDNS summary states the tornado struck in the vicinity of Delmas Ave and San Fernando Street (PT 1 on the map) and then moved toward City Hall (PT 2 on the map)
  • Per Grazulis and newspaper reports, the tornado passed near City Hall
  • Numerous newspapers report the damage encompassed a 12 block area

From the entry by Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes on this event:  Beginning time was 0845, there were no injuries or fatalities, the width was 100 yards, the path length was 2 miles and the rating was F2.

"Hit in San Jose, passing near City Hall.  A home was unroofed, and had some walls torn off.  Hundreds of roofs and trees were damaged."

Image extracted from the January 1951 Climatological Data National Summary

 

Sources:

The Storm Prediction Center

NCDC Storm Events Database

Climatological National Summary - January 1951

Sunnyvale Public Library

Plant History of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation

newspapers.com

Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 957.