Each year, around 1000 tornadoes move through the US, but only about 2% of them reach either F4 or F5 status on the Fujita scale (now known as the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Most tornadoes are not strong, occurring in rural areas and doing little to no damage. Some tornadoes, however, are much stronger, and can cut their way through a major metropolitan area or through an entire small town. These usually strike without warning and the destruction can be remembered for years. Here is a look at the top 10 deadliest tornadoes in US history.
The most deadly and destructive tornado that has ever been seen in the United States was the Tri-State tornado which occurred on March 18th, 1925. It first formed around 1:00 p.m. and survived on the ground for more than three hours and set records for both path length and speed. Damage started in Reynolds County, Missouri, moved through five other Missouri counties, went through five counties in Illinois, and ended in Pike County, Indiana after moving through two other Indiana counties.
This tornado hit Waco, Texas on the 11th of May, 1953. That morning dawned hot and muggy across much of Texas and by 9:30 a.m. there were storms moving in and creating a strong outflow boundary. Tornadoes began occurring in other parts of Texas by mid-afternoon, and at approximately 4:10 p.m. the tornado touched down just southwest of Waco. From there, it began to move to the north-northeast. Read more...
On May 7th, 1840, the Natchez tornado struck Louisiana and Mississippi. Most of the deaths from that particular tornado likely occurred from people that were on the Mississippi River at the time. They had no warning and no time to get off of the river and seek shelter. Because there was no warning system at that time, tornadoes often killed many more people than they do today.
April 5th, 1936 was the day of the Tupelo, Mississippi tornado. It began in Yalobusha County near Coffeeville, leveled hundreds of buildings, and killed many people, including some entire families. In order to treat the wounded, a movie theater was used as a makeshift hospital. The popcorn machine was put into use because it reached temperatures high enough to sterilize the surgical instruments.
The tornado that struck Gainesville, Georgia on April 6th, 1936 was actually a pair of tornadoes. They headed east-northeast through downtown at the beginning of the workday and took separate paths into the city. The two tornadoes converged into an area of only four blocks that was completely destroyed.
The Woodward tornado was a deadly twister that occurred in Oklahoma on April 9, 1947. The storm that spawned that particular tornado actually began in Texas and worked its way through Oklahoma and into Kansas before dissipating. At least six tornadoes were produced and their path stretched 220 miles, with the Woodward tornado itself traveling across the ground for approximately 100 miles. That tornado was at times 1.8 miles wide and had a forward speed approaching 50 mph.
The devastation from this tornado occurred on April 24th, 1908 and cut a swath across both Louisiana and Mississippi. The tornado was reported to have been over two miles in width, and traveled for 155 miles before finally dissipating. Out of the 150 homes that the tornado passed by in Purvis County, only seven were still left standing. This tornado is sometime called the Dixie Tornado.
The tornado that hit New Richmond, Wisconsin on June 12th of 1899 actually started out as a waterspout that formed over Lake St. Croix. From there, it headed east in the direction of New Richmond and produced winds so strong that they carried a 3000-pound safe for an entire city block before dropping it again. The amount of flying debris was massive and, coupled with the wind, destroyed or damaged over 300 buildings.
The National Weather Service
The Flint and Beecher communities of Michigan were struck with this tornado on the 8th of June, 1953, at 8:30 p.m. Tornadoes that strike at night are often more devastating because it becomes difficult to see what is taking place and this prevents people from getting out of the tornadoes path as much as possible or moving to a cellar or bunker that would give them a higher chance of survival.
The tornado that came through St. Louis, Missouri on May 27th, 1896 originally formed only six miles west of the Eads Bridge. It swept away or damaged many of the homes and buildings that were built along the river but left the steel span bridge largely undamaged. The St. Louis tornado was part of a major outbreak that caused significant damage throughout several states. It passed through the main part of the city, laying waste to buildings and killing 137 people in a mile-wide path of destruction.