Worst Tornado in U.S. History

 

March 18 is an infamous day in weather circles. It was on this date in 1925 that the deadliest tornado event in American history transpired.

The horrendous  "Tri-State Tornado" raced across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana that day.
It claimed 695 lives and caused seventeen million dollars property damage. That doesn’t sound like much in 2009 dollars, but whole towns were virtually obliterated as the twister moved at forward speeds of over 70mph, with winds of 250-300mph (EF-5).

In these days before weather radar or even very many radio sets, there was little if any warning of this speed demon storm’s approach.

It cut a swath of destruction 219 miles long and as much as a mile wide beginning about 1 PM and lasting until 4 PM. The legendary tornado flukes were well in evidence: it leveled a school in West Frankfort IL, picking up sixteen students and setting them down unharmed 150 yards away. Meanwhile, the town of Parrish, IL was 90% destroyed. It rolled across the countryside dealing destruction at terrific speed, even for a tornado.

In addition to the hundreds killed, 2,000 more were injured, many of them seriously. An incredible 15,000 homes were destroyed, a single-storm record which endures to this day.
One account of the day chronicled the aftermath of devastation and despair in the Indiana town of Griffin:

" When the cloud, bloated with debris and tons of river mud, had passed over a slight rise of land to the east of the village, it left behind a landscape that passed beyond the bounds of despair into unreality. The handful of unscathed citizens from Griffin and surrounding districts were confronted with destruction so complete that some could only guess where they had once lived. The search for family and friends had a special hellishness, as fires flickered over the ruins and the injured wandered about in a daze, mud so thoroughly embedded in their skin that identification was all but impossible."- “The Tri-State Tornado”, by Peter S. Felknor

Statistical highlights of this terrible twister:

1:01 p.m.: tornado touched down 3 miles NNW of Ellington, Missouri
4:30 p.m.: tornado dissipated about 3 miles SW of Petersburg, Indiana
219 mile path length (longest)
1 mile average path width
3 hours of continuous devastation (record)
62 mph average speed
73 mph record speed between Gorham & Murphysboro (fastest on record)
EF-5 tornado on the Fujita Scale, with winds perhaps in excess of 300 mph
28.87" lowest pressure measured on a barograph (pressure) trace at the Old Ben Coal Mine in West Frankfort, Illinois
695 deaths: a record for a single tornado
234 deaths in Murphysboro, IL: a record for a single community from such a disaster
33 deaths at the De Soto school: a record for such a storm (only bombings and gas explosions have taken higher school tolls)
2,027 injuries
15,000 homes destroyed: record
 
There is little doubt that more recent intense tornadoes such as the Moore, OK EF-5 of May 1999 or the Greensburg, KS EF-5 of May 2007 might have exceeded the death toll of the Tri-State terror, were it not for Doppler weather radar, and today’s advanced communication and spotter network.

So while we cannot say with 100% certainty such a tornado death toll will never happen, the odds are extremely remote unless we experience complete electrical failure over a very large area. Even then, amateur radio, NOAA weather radio, and emergency management would likely make a big difference.

Take Care,

Steve LaNore

Chief Meteorologist

KXII-TV


 

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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Darian Location: Kenai Alaska on Apr 12, 2011 at 10:03 AM
    Wow This helped clear up a lot on my research paper!! Thanks ya'll!!
  • by Chris Vaudirn Location: Kennewick on Feb 1, 2010 at 10:23 AM
    lived through the tornado of 1979 in Wichita Falls Texas. It was by far the worst natural disaster I have ever witnessed. I was young and it was hard but we lived on what they call tornado alley in Wichita Falls. Needless to say after years of tornadoes the one in 1979 was a wake up all. We moved and have been here ever since. Thank goodness we don't have near as many tornadoes here as other places do. My Grandmother was in Illinois in 1925 and lived just a few miles south of where the tornado hit. She used to tell stories about it and how close it came to her house. Funny enough, I just debated this same event at some length with other storm trackers I know. We decided that the degree of devastation was exactly due to lack of technology and the time. Also as a result chronologically, exact measurements of meteorological data is impossible, and can only be gleened from the destruction and witness accounts. Also, the continuous path I questioned, as their were no trackers to verify a
  • by little grits Location: n.c on Dec 1, 2009 at 09:08 AM
    boooooooooooooooooooooooo yyyyyyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
  • by jenniferblanco Location: fl on Sep 14, 2009 at 02:36 PM
    thanks this will help me alot in science. really thanks
  • by robert Location: sherman,tx on Mar 27, 2009 at 07:12 AM
    i witneesed the Moore,okla tornado and this thing was almost unbelievable of the power and devistation that can happen in a few minutes time, but even with todays advanced radars will there ever be enough advanced warning to exscape the rath of a tonado? people its hard for my mind to grasp the loss of a TRI-STATE tornado and the loss that ocurred. KXII i think done the next to the right thing last night in telling listeners to take cover way before the storm got to our area and we should all thank them for that "EARLY WARNING"
  • by Megan on Mar 25, 2009 at 08:30 PM
    I am soo glad for the computers and tech stuff hey have now so we can be a LOT safer
  • by leith on Mar 24, 2009 at 03:38 PM
    That true Brad but you have to admit that a long path for a twister.I think i might know you Brad but im not sure.
  • by StormTracker257 Location: Ardmore, Okla. on Mar 24, 2009 at 04:26 AM
    Funny enough, I just debated this same event at some length with other storm trackers I know. We decided that the degree of devastation was exactly due to lack of technology and the time. Also as a result chronologically, exact measurements of meteorological data is impossible, and can only be gleened from the destruction and witness accounts. Also, the continuous path I questioned, as their were no trackers to verify a mostly constant contact with the earth, or even a vehicle capable of keeping up with this storm in order to validate the continuous path and ground contact. I stood my ground, that the May 3rd, 1999 tornado in Moore and Oklahoma City remains the most powerful storm to ever strike the interior of the United States. I was there, and you had to see it to believe it. It is a most interesting topic in any case. Brad in Ardmore here, by the way Steve. Thanks for the fascinating sunbject. I look forward to more.
  • by Mary Location: Sherman on Mar 22, 2009 at 08:58 AM
    I lived through the tornado of 1979 in Wichita Falls Texas. It was by far the worst natural disaster I have ever witnessed. I was young and it was hard but we lived on what they call tornado alley in Wichita Falls. Needless to say after years of tornadoes the one in 1979 was a wake up all. We moved and have been here ever since. Thank goodness we don't have near as many tornadoes here as other places do. My Grandmother was in Illinois in 1925 and lived just a few miles south of where the tornado hit. She used to tell stories about it and how close it came to her house.
  • by leith Location: Denison on Mar 19, 2009 at 01:19 PM
    Wow that is all I can say. Well and that I hope mother nature never gives birth to another twister like that one in 1925. Thx for the information Steve LaNore.
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