Stantonsburg-Rocky Mount, NC F3 Tornado – November 8, 1957

What I thought was going to be a rather straight-forward tornado event, has turned out to be a difficult one!  There have been 2-F3 tornadoes that have occurred on November 8 on record.  I chose one of these as the topic of this summary.  

It was an F3 that according to the SPC Database moved through parts of Wilson, Edgecombe and Bertie Counties in North Carolina.  As I started to explore the details of this event though, I began to notice some irregularities in the record.  So, it was time for me to put back on my Sherlock Holmes hat and try to deduce what happened.

I will lay out all of the data and show that we actually had 2 tornadoes move through this area not just one.  


Here are the SPC stats on the event:

Path length: 46.9 miles

Width:  150 yards

Fatalities:  0

Injuries:  5

Rating:  F3

County:  Wilson, Edgecombe, Bertie


Here is the Climatological Data National Summary (CDNS) Entry:

Full document found here

Note:  The CDNS gives the location as Wilson, Edgecombe and Bertie Counties.  There is NO mention of any towns.  So, it is very unclear based on their summary where all of the damage occurred.  You have to go to other sources to try to figure that out.

They list a path length of 40 miles, slightly shorter than SPC.

"American Red Cross reports only 1 major injury.  Following also reported by Red Cross: 10 homes, 23 farm buildings, 5 other buildings destroyed;  major damage to 8 homes, 21 farm buildings, 6 others; minor damage to 20 buildings, 34 families affected.  Greatest single item of damage was 1,250-pupil school destroyed in Wilson County. Tornado moved northeastward."


Here is some additional information from Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes:

  • Moved NE, passing along the SE edge of Rocky Mount.
  • He does not include Bertie County in the path.
  • His path length is only 20 miles.  
  • 3 homes were destroyed and 5 others had major damage on Hwy-64, 3 miles East of Rocky Mount. 
  • 10 homes and 23 farms were torn apart in northern Wilson County.
  • Grazulis does not list the school as part of the damage.

So, we already have discrepancies in the total path length and the counties to include in the path.  I started looking at newspaper articles and found damage reports near Rocky Mount (Edgecombe County) and in the Saratoga-Stantonsburg Community (Wilson County).  It is in this Wilson County community where we find the damaged school mentioned in CDNS.  It is called the Speight School.  I did not find any reports of damage in Bertie County.  That doesn't necessarily mean there wasn't any.  My search on newspapers.com did not yield any reports.  

We seem to be narrowing in on the areas that had damage.  I mapped the SPC coordinates to see if that included the communities that were mentioned in newspapers articles and by Grazulis.  Here is that map:

This doesn't really help capture how the tornado traveled.  The SPC path is nowhere near Rocky Mount.  The starting point is north of Saratoga/Stantonsburg.  The path barely clips Edgecombe County.  It goes into Martin County and that is not included by any source as being in the path.


There are 2 conclusions we can make here:

  1. There was one tornado that starts in Southern Wilson County near Stantonsburg and moved NNE to hit east of Rocky Mount.
  2. There were 2 tornadoes.  One that hit the Stantonsburg-Saratoga Area and one that hit east of Rocky Mount.

We may never know for sure but my leaning is toward 2 separate tornadoes.  I have read through several newspaper articles.  Based on their descriptions of what happened, the Stantonsburg tornado and Rocky Mount tornado were looked at as different events.  

Articles in the Rocky Mount Telegram from November 9, 1957 give the biggest clue to 2 separate tornadoes.  One articles states the Rocky Mount damage occurred at 610pm local time.  Another article talking about the Wilson County damages states the tornado there struck at 7pm.  There are NO indications that the tornado traveled south from Rocky Mount to Stantonsburg so I don't think this it is the same tornado.  CDNS says the tornado moved NE as does Grazulis.  This same newspaper says the tornado moved more north from Highway 43 to Highway 64 near Rocky Mount.

In the November 10, 1957 edition of the Rocky Mount Telegram, it includes an article entitled, "Nature Forces Still Tough."  It states, "Nature gave North Carolina a little roughing-up as the weekend started - a series of tornadoes, twisters and windstorms".  The news swirling at the time indicated more than one tornado in the state.  Officially, the CDNS recorded 3 wind events and 1 tornado for the state on November 8, 1957.  


Here are some of the details from newspaper reports.

Rocky Mount Area:

Details below from the November 9, 1957 edition of the Rocky Mount Telegram accessed via newspapers.com.

  • Hit at 610pm Local Time.
  • First struck 1.5 miles SE of Rocky Mount on Highway 43.
  • The home and adjoining buildings of a farm were demolished.  There were no injuries.
  • Moved north from here, through woodlands for 5 miles to Highway 64.
  • Mentions the path was about 1/2 mile wide.
  • 14 homes along Highway 64 partially or totally destroyed.
  • 4 injured.
  • Telephone and power lines, storage houses, barns, garages, and trees near the homes were leveled.
  • Tornado dissipated just beyond Highway 64.

 

Stantonsburg-Saratoga Area:

Details below from the November 9, 1957 edition of the Rocky Mount Telegram accessed via newspapers.com. Note:  They talk about the Speight School and mention it is near Saratoga.

  • The school was 3/4 demolished.
  • Farm houses and buildings were hard hit.

Details below from the November 9, 1957 edition of the Gastonia Gazette accessed via newspapers.com.

  • Sections of the roof and other parts of the building were scattered for a quarter of a mile.
  • Most of the equipment inside the school or damaged or destroyed.
  • In this same area, homes and barns were damaged.
  • Some livestock killed.

One of the most detailed accounts from Wilson County comes from the November 10, 1957 edition of the Rocky Mount Telegram accessed via newspapers.com.  I am adding a clip of the entire article.

Sun, Nov 10, 1957 – 4 · Rocky Mount Telegram (Rocky Mount, North Carolina, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Images via Newspapers

Clipped from the Wilson Daily Times, November 9, 1957 via newspaperarchive.com

Sources:

The Storm Prediction Center

NCDC Storm Events Database

November 1957 Climatological Data National Summary

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 1012.