Remembering the 1953 Waco Tornado

Created on May 10, 2024 at 09:00 AM

People gathered in the aftermath of 1953 Waco Tornado Supposedly, according to native Wí:ko:ʔ folklore, tornadoes weren’t possible in this area due to the geology of the land. Whether the legend was true or not, on Monday, May 11, 1953, that belief was shattered. What is now categorized as an EF-5 tornado ripped through the city, leaving a trail of destruction that claimed 114 lives, injured nearly 1,100, and forever altered Waco’s landscape.

Before the Storm

Ironically, the morning’s weather forecast from the Waco News-Tribune and the Weather Bureau for North Central Texas provided no hint of the impending disaster, predicting mild temperatures and clear to partly cloudy skies. While the afternoon forecasts from the Waco Times-Herald and Weather Bureau predicted scattered thunderstorms, the warnings fell short of the devastation that unfolded.

Earlier in the afternoon, a tornado hit San Angelo, Texas, a city more than 200 miles west of Waco, killing 13 people. Two state troopers first saw the tornado and were able to notify their City Hall and the local schools. Fortunately, lives were saved from the early warning. Less than two hours later, Waco residents did not receive the same advanced warning for another, much deadlier tornado.

Downtown Waco square in the aftermath of 1953 tornado

Path of Destruction

While at least two people saw the tornado south of Waco, they were unable to get word to warn others. Some people who were working or visiting the downtown area became increasingly concerned about the weather. Others in multi-story buildings noticed the ominous storm approaching. Unfortunately, the heavy rain prevented people from seeing the approaching tornado. 

The tornado touched down around Stanford Farmhouse near Lorena at 4:10 p.m., carving a path through Hewitt and South Waco before striking the heart of downtown. By 4:40 p.m., the storm reached Waco’s business district, leaving the clock on First National Bank frozen in time. The tornado rampaged through East Waco and was last seen leaving the city limits 35 minutes after it touched down. It reportedly “disappeared” near Axtell after leaving a 23-mile trail of destruction.

ALICO building standing tall in aftermath of 1953 tornado. Over 300 homes, buildings, and other structures were destroyed or damaged — most notably the R.T. Dennis building at N 4th St. and Austin Ave. where many people died.  Other nearby buildings around the old square and on Bridge Street were also heavily damaged.

A City Rebuilds

The tornado's impact left empty lots for years, permanently altering the city's landscape and serving as a major catalyst in the decline of downtown. Many years would pass, and many revitalization attempts would come and go to revive the downtown area. 

While the 1953 tornado remains a devastating chapter in Waco's history, the city has not only recovered but thrived. The psychological scars and memories, however, linger for those who lived through the disaster and lost loved ones.

Firsthand Accounts of the Tornado

Want to hear firsthand accounts of the devastating 1953 Waco Tornado? MyWacoTV has even more content dedicated to this historic event. Watch the "Remembering the 1953 Waco Tornado" series for interviews with survivors who lived through the disaster. Learn about their experiences and the impact the tornado had on Waco.



Moore, Harry Estill.  Tornadoes over Texas: a study of Waco and San Angelo in Disaster.  University of Texas Press, 1958.

US Department of Commerce, NOAA. “Waco Tornado - May 11, 1953.” Waco

Tornado - May 11, 1953, NOAA’s National Weather Service, 12 May 2021,

Weems, John Edward.  The tornado.  Doubleday, 1977.

Weems, John Edward.  “Waco’s big blow”.  The Baylor Line, April 1987, pp. 21-24, 48.