Education
Does More Tragedy Happen In April?

Over the weekend, the thought crossed my mind, Well, it’s almost mid-April. Time for something terrible to happen. And I’m not a pessimist by nature. It’s just started to feel the last few years like mid-April is circled on the calendar with “Tragedy!” written across it in big red letters. But surely it’s not really that way–it just feels like it. Right?

That means it’s time to count. To compare how April events stack up next to the rest of the year. The hard part is criteria. History is vast. For my sanity, with some other GeekMoms’ help, I narrowed it down to this. Events must:

  • Have happened between the 15th and the 20th of the month.
  • Caused fatalities.
  • Be in the US.


We made an exception for “in the US” on the Titanic but counted only American deaths. (Not entirely consistent, but compromise.) I also excluded war deaths, which is largely excluded by the “in the US” part, but this notably cuts out the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle in US history, killing 23,000 on September 17. In fact, these criteria exclude quite a few notable historic events in those date ranges, including:

And of course, I almost certainly missed some things that are similar to others here, but I think it’s safe to assume I would miss them equally across the calendar, so we’ll call it a wash. (This is hardly deep scientific inquiry.)

Here’s a comparison of that date range in each month with the number of fatal, tragic events in blue and the number of deaths in red:

tragedybymonth

As it turns out… April does stand out a bit. I also learned I’m not sure I want to travel on July 17 again (see table below). That leaves the question of why.

There is at least one April event due to connection–the Oklahoma City bombing was in part a reaction to what happened at Waco two years earlier. The August events are clearly seasonal, weather-related. But other than that, there’s not a lot of pattern here, which makes it that much more interesting. Of course, proximity of anniversaries on the calendar is not really a sign of anything, and I truly expected my counting to show more evenness across the year. I’m not at all suggesting there are deep, mystical forces at work or some connection like a blue box always showing up for Christmas in London. It’s just interesting to see.

For reference, here’s the list of events I used:

Date Event Deaths
January 15 Boston Molasses Flood 15
January 16 TWA flight 3 crash 22
January 17 Cleveland Elementary (Stockton) massacre 6
January 17 Northridge earthquake 57
January 18 United flight 266 38
Total  138
Date Event Deaths
February 20 Great White nightclub fire 100
Total 100
Date Event Deaths
March 18 Tri-State Tornado, (deadliest in US history) 747
Total 747
Date Event Deaths
April 15 Abraham Lincoln died 1
April 15 Titanic sank 119
April 15 Great Mississippi Flood (1927, worst flood in US history) 250
April 15 Boston Marathon bombing 3
April 16 Virginia Tech shooting 32
April 18 1906 earthquake in San Francisco 3,425
April 19 End of the Branch Davidian siege 86
April 19 Oklahoma City bombing 168
April 20 Columbine school shooting 15
April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion 11
Total  4,110
Date Event Deaths
May 15 Cleveland Clinic fire 123
May 18 Mount St. Helens 1980 eruption 57
Total  180
Date Event Deaths
June 15 General Slocum fire 1,021
June 17 Union Station Massacre 60
Total 1,081
Date Event Deaths
July 17 Great Train Wreck of 1856 60
July 17 USMC R4Q NROTC crash 43
July 17 Kansas City Hyatt walkway collapse 114
July 17 TWA flight 800 230
July 18 Chappaquiddick 1
July 18 San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre 21
July 20 Aurora, CO movie theater shooting 12
Total  481
Date Event Deaths
August 17 Hurricane Camille 248
August 17 Yellowstone earthquake 28
August 18 Hurricane Alicia 22
August 19 Salem witch trials 5
August 19 Hurricane Diane 184
Total  487
Date Event Deaths
September 16 1920 Wall Street bombing 38
September 18 Okeechobee hurricane ~2,500
Total  ~2,538
Date Event Deaths
October 15 Staten Island Ferry crash 11
October 17 Loma Prieta earthquake 63
October 20 Oakland Hills firestorm 25
Total  99
Date Event Deaths
November 18 Aggie bonfire collapse 12
Total  12
Date Event Deaths
December 15 Silver Bridge collapse 46
Total  46

By day, Ruth Suehle helps upstream open source software communities and tells people how to build fun things with a Raspberry Pi. By night, she fights crimes against craftiness. No, that's not true. She just makes things, which means her husband and kids know to watch out for stray pins and to ask before eating anything made of fondant. (Follow her on Twitter at @suehle.)

21 Comments
Jessica

April 17, 2013 12:16 pm Reply

Chappaquiddick? Seriously?

Ruth

April 17, 2013 12:34 pm Reply

I included that from the perspective of “what if this happened in the Twitter age?” It may seem about a million times lower on the tragedy scale than most of these, but it’s still a notable (enough to still remembered by that one word by people who weren’t even alive yet!) event in which someone died, thus meeting the criteria.

Laura Grace Weldon

April 17, 2013 1:10 pm Reply

This is fascinating. Chilling, but fascinating.

Beth

April 17, 2013 2:14 pm Reply

the return of apollo 13 wasn’t a tragedy that was a triumph.
And you forgot Apollo 1 , Challenger and Columbia that happened between the end of jan and first of feb. Other than that it’s tax day , that does it heh.

    Ruth Suehle

    April 17, 2013 2:36 pm Reply

    Apollo 13 is listed as being an event that’s during the dates but doesn’t qualify otherwise–there were no fatalities. And the others didn’t occur between the 15-20th of the month.

      Beth

      April 17, 2013 2:45 pm Reply

      choosing just those dates does not prove that april is more tragedy in it , just proves that there were a lot for that week , you could say that the 15th april has more tragedy than the 15th of other months but not the entire month when you don’t take data for the entire month every month. That’s a lot of missing data trying to prove that april has more tragedy.

        Ruth Suehle

        April 17, 2013 10:19 pm Reply

        I did say more specifically “mid-April,” but really, we’re not trying to prove anything. Because even the hypothesis that mid-April somehow suffers more death that the middle of any other month is meaningless–there’s not going to be a cause–it doesn’t really matter. Like I said, it’s just interesting that the notion seemed to hold out. It actually started when on a whim I googled something like “do bad things happen in April.” It turns out to be an oddly common observation, and you’ll see you don’t get the same pages of results for “do bad things happen in [any other month].”

Tim

April 17, 2013 2:33 pm Reply

911?

    Ruth Suehle

    April 17, 2013 2:37 pm Reply

    The events compared are between the 15-20th of each month. 11 is not between 15 and 20.

      Patricia Vollmer
      Patricia Vollmer

      April 17, 2013 10:14 pm Reply

      Which is why I had to check myself before coming in with “Katrina?” in the month of August. I almost missed that 15th – 20th qualifier.

rockinlibrarian

April 17, 2013 11:13 pm Reply

My kids were born on the 14th (but it was the 15th in most of the world by then!) and 19th of April… does that count as tragic? ;)

I myself tend to go through a depressive emotional downturn at this time of year. Maybe there’s something in the weather that messes people up and therefore leads to more violence/dangerous negligence/carelessness/tendency-to-wander-into-natural-disasters?

adrienne

April 17, 2013 11:32 pm Reply

Only featuring events between the 15th and 20th of each month seems a bizarre requirement that only magnifies confirmation bias.

Alissa

April 19, 2013 1:46 pm Reply

Statistically, it would be even more weird if events were evenly distributed. Your sammple size isn’t nearly large enough to expect even distribution. Sorry to be a buzzkill. I recommend a cool book called “Innumerancy” to get a quick and easy statistics lesson.

    Ruth Suehle

    April 22, 2013 5:07 pm Reply

    Perhaps you (and several other commenters) failed to read parts like “This is hardly deep scientific inquiry” and “not a sign of anything” and futher notes that this is merely interesting observation and not a deep study or meaningful at all. Just something interesting, like when somebody notices that . So yeah, you kind of are being a buzzkill. Because this is fun. Not work.

Dave

April 26, 2013 11:25 am Reply

it is a interesting observation because i thought about this too. I find it interesting how tragedy happens during this time of the year. Specifically the middle part of April. Great job!

Debra

May 4, 2013 8:09 pm Reply

I found this article to be very inyeresting !! It does make me wonder if some lunar moons are a part of these occurrences? It seems like there should be pattterns to watch for? Windows or doorways from the universe that could benefit our decision making?

Suzanne

May 22, 2013 10:09 pm Reply

Tsk tsk tsk: You forgot about the Boston Marathon Bombing that happened on the 15th, you posted this two days later, shame on you. Better include the Armenian Genocide as well as some international events to further prove your point.

Jimmy CreekJumper

June 9, 2013 4:31 pm Reply

Missed one: April 17th 2013. West, Tx fertilizer plant explosion. 14 deaths.

Allison

January 15, 2014 1:28 am Reply

I realized this because my birthday is the 21st of April. I have heard that things happen around April 20th because that day is Hitler’s birthday. I do not know if this is a coincidence or not, but that is something to think about.

sam

April 18, 2014 5:05 am Reply

My brother asked me if I noticed that April seemed to have alot more tragedy than other months. I had not given any thought to it up until now. Great post. Very interesting!

Gary K

April 19, 2014 2:21 am Reply

I concur with your April tradegy theory and apparently the numbers don’t lie. I also believe that you missed Hitlers antics and war crimes in WWII. I would like to do further research. There have seemed to be several events this year that follow suit I.e Korean ship sinking, Malaysian flight cover up, Boston Marathon bombing last year and several heinous murders & crimes! A possible crazy theory of mine is that the evil and demonic forces & principalities are working overtime to denounce our faith in Christ with the Easter holiday coming soon.
Please continue your research.
Thank you Merci. Grazi Danke Arrigato Gracias Spasibo.

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