Hey Mount Olive, Remember That Tornado?

By Steve Sears

Some residents on the Flanders side of town said it sounded ‘like an express train’ had entered the town.

Then Mayor Charles Spangler sought both federal and state aid for the destructed area. Walter Nicklesberg, a Trenton-based meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau, confirmed it indeed was a tornado, as eyewitnesses reported seeing a two-funnel cloud touch down on the western side of Route 206.

Yes, it happened, as hard as it might be to believe. In 1973, a twister made an unwelcome visit to Mount Olive.

There have been other major weather events. With its high elevations, the township has through the years of course seen significant snowstorms. For example, in January 2016, when a major blizzard was forecast and estimates of snowfall ranging anywhere from 12” – 30” were predicted, 19” fell to earth in town, and a March 2017 storm left 20” ready for shoveling. 

No doubt, however, the Sunday, January 31 into Tuesday, February 2, 2021 storm may qualify as perhaps the highest snowfall total in modern history. A reported amount of up to 30” of snow blanketed various parts of Mount Olive’s 33 square miles.

“I think this last storm is probably the one with the most (snow),” says township historian and Historical Society President, Thea Dunkle. “I mean, we did have that Halloween storm,” she says, referring back to an early snowstorm preceding October’s last day some time back. There were so many leaves still on the trees, and weight from the snow accompanied by winds caused the trees to pull a lot of wires down. “So that storm wrecked more havoc than this one did,” she says.

The area also was hit by a few major snowstorms in 1996, and of course hurricanes like Floyd, Irene, and Superstorm Sandy have challenged the township with high winds and flooding. Dunkle also recalls when an east coast earthquake from Washington, DC stretched up north and “moved” the area. “We felt it all in this area and that was down in Washington, DC. So, that was kind of interesting.”

“We’ve had a couple of bad ones (weather events), but that tornado was probably the worst, in ’73.”

Indeed, however catastrophic and serious the before mentioned weather systems may have been, nothing compares to the 1973 Memorial Day tornado that entered the area en route from Long Valley at around 9:00 p.m. 

It was certainly different.

The tornado touched down next to Route 206, its first victim a Citgo gas station, as it knocked over a truck and tore the station’s sign from its frame, sending it flying over 500’ into the interior of a store across the highway at Sutton Park Shopping Center. The tornado then crossed the highway, roared through the center, knocking out windows, and destroying the south end roof of the complex, two newly installed air units ripped away and sent airborne in the process. The dual funnel next reached the Clover Hill housing development, severely damaging 19 houses, 12 of those eventually being condemned. The funnel traveled through Brownstone Place and Knollwood Road, destroying roofs and walls of homes, tearing wires from poles and trees from the ground, and then moved on to nearby fields. Ironia Road was its next path, the tornado passing near the Flanders Valley Airport, toppling cars, and then climbing the neighboring hill and heading out of town, always to be a memory.

A few days later, it was learned that Mount Olive was not alone in being a tornado’s victim. An estimated 160 had been reported throughout the country during that Memorial Day weekend 48 years ago.

For the Garden State, Flanders was hit the hardest.

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