A storm rolled through Denton on Sunday, April 30, 1961. By 10:15 p.m., raging winds wreaked havoc on nearly every structure in the city of 26,844 residents. Two people died, and at least 19 others were injured. City officials estimated the damage at $2 million, equivalent to $18 million in today’s dollars.

Aubrey got an inch and a half of rain. Butch Reding fractured his collarbone when wind pushed his car into a ditch. A Lewisville man and his 4-month-old baby died, and the baby’s mother was seriously injured when a car landed on their car.

The storm heavily damaged central, northwest and west Denton. The Britain Lumber Co. and Whitson Foods on Fort Worth Drive were demolished, and Schmitz Furniture on East McKinney Street needed extensive repairs. The Piggly Wiggly grocery and Kornblatt building on Austin Street both sustained heavy damage. Plate glass windows shattered around Denton’s Square. A Russell’s Department Store window mannequin appeared to take cover.

Texas Woman’s University business manager Ed Williams reported heavy damage to the aquatics center, greenhouse and windows throughout campus. A copper roof flew off the library, along with President John Guinn’s roof.

At North Texas State College, present-day University of North Texas, wind stripped roofs from Kendall and West Hall dormitories, blowing 60 windows out of West Hall. Marble chips from the Quadrangle dormitory roof pelted cars like bullets. The temporary ROTC building landed in the middle of Highland Street.

President James Carl Matthews’ aluminum strip roof flew off, depositing debris over several blocks. Women living in Terrill Hall saw sunlight coming from the elevator shaft after the top flew off. Slate roofing from the Administration Building became projectiles, and the outdoor pool filled with debris. Injured students living at Oak Street and Chilton Halls were taken to Flow Hospital.

Minister Roy Godi sustained a broken collarbone after winds sent him sailing through the air as he installed tent stakes for a revival. He told the Denton Record-Chronicle he thought he would never come down. At 1121 Ector St., Mrs. H.B. Allen watched in horror as her roof blew off and landed across the street.

Residents were hospitalized with injuries at 719 and 721 Bolivar St., 204 and 924 Oak St., 228 Woodland St. and Denton Manor.

Power lines were down in half of the city. The city of Garland sent crews to help restore power, starting with the police department and Flow Hospital. Half the phones were out of service. Repair work was impeded by the sightseers who jammed the Courthouse Square.

Denton experienced several tornadoes in 1961, a particularly bad weather year. The April 30 storm was likely straight-line wind, which can be as devastating as a tornado. Tornadoes throw debris in all directions because they rotate, but straight-line wind is a sudden downdraft that pushes trees and buildings in the same direction.

Weather events can occur any month when severe thunderstorms with warm, moist, unstable air occur ahead of cold fronts. The most likely time for wind or tornadoes is April or May in North Texas, but extreme storms also happen in September or October.

City officials called the April 1961 storm Denton’s worst in modern history. After the storm, the newspaper was full of ads about storm shelters.

ANNETTA RAMSAY, Ph.D., has lived and worked in Denton for many years.

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