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Today in history: Tempe was devastated by a tornado 51 years ago

The category F-1 tornado whipped up 100 mph gusts that tore roofs of homes, uprooted trees and ripped power poles from their foundations.
Credit: Arizona Republic

TEMPE, Ariz. — It’s been 51 years since a twister leveled a large swath of Tempe, leaving dozens injured and causing millions of dollars in property damage.

The violent weather event happened on August 30, 1971. The category F-1 tornado whipped up 100 mile per hour gusts that tore roofs of homes, uprooted trees and ripped power poles from their foundations.

A total of 41 people were injured as the twister rolled through five miles of the city and left devastation in its wake. Photos taken at the time showed a destroyed home near Southern Avenue and McClintock Drive.

No one was directly killed by the storm, but a man died of a heart attack during the chaos.

Maricopa County officials estimated the damage to be around $3 million at the time. That’s nearly $22 million in today’s money.

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An original report from the Arizona Republic highlighted the harrowing experience of a couple and their young daughter.

Doug and Margie Brown were watching TV and enjoying dinner with their 4-year-old daughter Michelle when the tornado rolled on top of their home.

“The next thing we knew, we were thrown across the room,” Margie said. “The wind started sucking us up like the eye of a tornado.”

“It’s the closest thing to death I’ve ever experienced.”

While powerful monsoon storms are a yearly occurrence, tornadoes are historically rare across the southwest.

There have been 269 tornadoes across the state between 1950 and 2020, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But few were more destructive than the one that leveled Tempe 51 years ago.

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Arizona Weather 

Arizona has seen its fair share of severe weather. Here is a compilation of videos from various storms across the Grand Canyon state.

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