Modern weather-tracking equipment has resulted in better warning systems and a reduction in the number of deaths caused by tornadoes. Still, even advanced technology is no match for an unpredictable tornado.
In April 2011, an estimated 321 people were killed during the Dixie Alley tornado outbreak. And the May 2011 tornado of Joplin, Missouri tied a 1953 tornado in Flint, Michigan for the deadliest single tornado in U.S. history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Official records for these modern-day tornadoes may soon rank them in the list of deadliest tornado outbreaks in U.S. history, but until those records are finalized, these following events stand as the top 5 deadliest U.S. tornadoes.
#5 Gainesville, GA
April 6, 1936 – Two funnel clouds joined paths and destroyed a four-block-wide area in the city, creating wreckage piles 10-feet deep. The Cooper Pants Factory collapsed, killing 70 people, the largest number of people to die within a single building in a U.S. tornado. In all, over 200 people died.
#4 Tupelo, MS
April 5, 1936 – 216 people died in a tornado that broke away from a family of tornadoes and swept through Tupelo, leveling over 200 homes. It is possible that many more died. Because of racial discrimination at the time, newspapers sometimes did not report the number of black people injured who may have later succumbed to their injuries.
#3 St. Louis, MO
May 27, 1896 – At the turn on the 20th century, a tornado touched down in St. Louis and grew into a combination of tornado and downburst winds over a mile wide. The tornado crossed the Mississippi River, sweeping away trees and homes in its path. Loss of life was estimated at 255 deaths.
#2 Natchez, MS
May 6, 1840 – The long track of this tornado along the Mississippi River contributed to its high death toll, estimated at 48 on land and 269 on the river as the tornado caused the sinking of flatboats and steamers. Because this tornado occurred before the Civil War, it’s possible the death count was much higher; the deaths of slaves were not always recorded.
#1 The Tri-State Tornado
March 18, 1925 – The deadliest tornado in U.S. history was actually a series of tornadoes that cut through southern Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, killing over 600 people, most of them in Illinois. 234 died in the town of Murphysboro, Illinois alone, the largest number of tornado deaths within a single city. To this day, March 18, 1925 holds the record for the most single day tornado fatalities.
If a tornado is predicted for your area, follow the Storm Prediction Center’s tornado safety guidelines. Let the tragedies of these deadly tornadoes remind us to heed tornado warnings, take cover, and stay safe.
“2011 Tornado Information” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Tornado Project Online
“Historical Tornadoes” Storm Prediction Center (NOAA)
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