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1967: The year that Madera was shook

Madera County Historical Society

This twister dropped out of the skies on Madera in April 1967. No lives were lost, but considerable damage was done.


The other day I was standing in Purl’s office talking with Sheryl Berry when a gentleman came in and asked me in what year that famous tornado ripped through Madera. As I was forming the year “1962” in my mind, Sheryl blurted out, “1967,” saving me from looking like a dunce.

I quickly explained I had been thinking about the snowstorm of 1962 and then listened to Sheryl share how she remembered the correct year. Some very good friends of ours were married in that year, so she never forgot when it happened.

This of course drove me to my computer, not so much to see if Sheryl was right, but to refresh my memory about something that very few Maderans who were living at the time ever forgot. The story went something like this. Like Sheryl said, it all happened in April 1967, and made that date something to remember.

Heavy spring rains in 1967 had created such havoc that they prompted state legislators to call for the town and county to be designated a disaster area. Damage in the millions of dollars hit Madera County farmers, and 10,000 acres of farmland lay under water. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the tornado struck.

Ernst Sagouspe was standing in his doorway at 4:45 on Friday afternoon, April 21, 1967. He was talking with a Fuller Brush salesman when the visitor asked if he might step inside because a tornado was coming that way. Sagouspe looked out in time to see his garbage can flying 500 feet in the air. Later he found it one-quarter of a mile from his house.

The slow-moving twister whirled northwest for more than an hour, collapsing a farm worker’s house, side-swiping a school, twisting trees off their trunks, ripping off a roof, and driving a 2 by 4 board three feet into the ground.

The funnel lifted up less than a quarter-mile from the southwest edge of the city, while hundreds of persons watched it from street corners. Some city residents directly underneath it heard the characteristic “swoosh” which sounded more like a freight train than anything else.

The tornado apparently originated near Avenue 8, between Road 22 and Road 23. It shook insulation out of the ceilings and drove leaves and tree blossoms through locked metal windows.

It twisted off and shredded a 16 year-old mulberry tree, moved an automobile across a lawn into a field, and took shingles off of roofs.

After breaking windows and shutters at La Vina School, the twister swung down on the Creamer Brothers Ranch on Road 25 north of Avenue 12, where it slammed through a corral then blasted apart a pre-fabricated worker’s home and carried debris for a mile through a neighbor’s vineyard.

Mrs. Harry Cupit was sitting on her living room couch writing a letter when her kitchen windows began to rattle and then were shattered. She dropped her writing pad and just waited for the worst. Immediately the west wall of the house crashed in upon her, but she was spared injury because the couch was thrown on top of her, sheltering her from the debris.

A mobile home which was located on the south side of the house was wrenched from its foundation and flung to the west side where its tongue pierced a bedroom wall. The roof of the house lifted off, and the walls fell flat, yet dishes and canned food remained lined up on open kitchen cupboard shelves.

Next the tornado whipped down on the vacant property of Charles Youngclaus at the corner of Road 25 1/2 and Avenue 13. There it drove a dump truck into another parked truck, lifted up a water tank and dashed it to the ground in a field 300 feet away.

The swirling winds finished their havoc across the road at the Will Gill and Sons feed yard where it twisted two full grown trees off their trunks, drove a limb through a shed wall, ripped off a storage building, and drove a board from the roof three feet into the ground. The path of destruction was approximately 30 feet wide on a straight course toward the city and ended only 1/4 mile from the western edge of town.

The Fresno Weather Bureau picked up and tracked the tornado on its radarscope. It was the first such phenomenon sighted in its 89 year history, although a twister had hit the Clovis area in 1964 and a black funnel cloud was photographed on the west side of Madera in 1957.

For some of the residents of Madera, the tornado of 1967 was no big deal. Many who expressed this sentiment came from areas in “tornado alley” where the Madera storm would have looked like child’s play. To most, however, the tornado proved that California was not immune to the unpredictable killers, which normally appeared in the Midwest during springtime.

After the storm had passed, many Maderans were very thankful that nobody lost their lives, and few who actually witnessed the funnel would ever forget the sight.

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