30 Year Anniversary of the Cranston/Providence Tornado

Like Don't move Unlike

The strongest tornado on record in Rhode Island hit a densely populated area of the state on this date back in 1986. That tornado was one of three to hit Rhode Island in a two-day span.

The most powerful of the three hit in the late afternoon of August 7, 1986. Around 5:15PM, a tornado emerged from a strong supercell thunderstorm and moved through Cranston and Providence. Buildings were damaged and trees were toppled across the two cities. Power was knocked out for thousands. At least 20 people were injured, although no one seriously.

An eyewitness described what he saw in the sky. “I was going to go in anyway, ’cause I could see that swirl in the air up there.”

Another eyewitness describes what he saw: “We came around the corner and just looked up… next thing we know, the wind flipped it (the truck) right over.”

A house on Hillwood Street in Cranston was literally blown off its foundation. From the outside of the house, you could see down into the basement. Donna Santos, who lived in the house, spoke to a WPRI-TV reporter back in 1986:

“I thought I was going to die…that’s all I thought..I have a little 3 year old daughter.”

That house was torn down…another house sits on the land today.

Some of the worst damage occurred on Stewart Street at the site of the Fulford Manufacturing Building in Providence. This is behind what is now Crossroads Rhode Island (the old YMCA building). Eyewitnesses say the twister hit the building and ripped off the top of the century-old brick structure. Machinery on the inside was exposed and bricks were scattered everywhere. Today, there is a parking lot where the building once stood. The company relocated to East Providence.

The tornado continued northward toward Orms Street where it dissipated. The entire path was estimated to be 4 miles. It was considered an F-2 on the Fujita Tornado Scale with winds between 113 and 157mph.

According to the National Weather Service, an F1 tornado touched down in Cumberland approximately an hour before the Cranston/Providence tornado. That twister knocked down trees and power lines. No one was injured.

The next day, another twister touched down in the Ocean State, this time in northern Rhode Island. In Burrillville and North Smithfield, trees and debris were scattered everywhere. This tornado was an F1 with winds up to 112mph.

An Eyewitness described it: “This was short-lived. Gone as soon as you were able to recognize what was going on.”

Tornadoes are rare in Rhode Island and are usually weak. During those two days in August of 1986, however, many people saw first-hand the destructive nature of these storms.

By: T.J. Del Santo August 7, 2016
Photo: By Tony’s Pinpoint Weather Blog “Tree on top of a car immediately following a tornado which ripped through Cranston and Providence, RI in 1986.”

the author

Kyrie Wagner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *