Tornadoes are one of nature's most devastating and frightening phenomena, and the American Great Plains are nicknamed "tornado alley" for a reason. Throughout American history, the American Midwest has been struck by some brutal tornadoes that have made their mark on American culture and history.
Here are the 10 most destructive tornadoes in U.S. history:
- The Tri-State Tornado of 1925: The March 18, 1925, Tri-State tornado is considered to be the worst tornado in U.S. history. This destructive storm first struck southeast Missouri and made its way northeast to Illinois and Indiana, crossing through three states. The F-5 Tri-State tornado had a ground speed of 62 mph and was a quarter to three-quarters of a mile wide. Over the course of three hours, the tornado traveled 219 miles and killed about 690 people and injured another 2,000 people. Damages were estimated at $18 million.
- The Lubbock, Texas Tornado of 1970: This May 11, 1970 twister devastated the west Texas town of Lubbock, home to Texas Tech University. While much of the campus was spared, downtown Lubbock was reduced to rubble, injuring 200 or more and killing at least 20 people. Looting and flooding after the storm created problems for property owners long after the storm had passed and the damage totaled well into the millions of dollars.
- The Waco Tornado of 1953: This famous twister destroyed most of downtown Waco, even brick buildings that were thought to be very sturdy and reliable. The tornado struck at the end of working hours and killed 114 people. 600 more were injured. The twister famously crushed a full size vehicle down to a height of only 18 inches and caused over $41.2 million in property damage.
- The Gainesville Tornado of 1936: On April 6, 1936, Gainesville, Georgia was struck by one of the most destructive tornadoes in American history. Approximately 203 people were killed when this F4 twister smashed into downtown Gainesville, destroying a factory while workers were still in the building. A 32-minute film later memorialized this terrible disaster, and a huge national response followed. Gainesville was completely rebuilt at the behest of Franklin Roosevelt, complete with a new city hall and other prominent downtown buildings that remain to this day.
- The Natchez, Mississippi Tornado of 1840: This terrible tornado is one of the deadliest on record, killing 317 people. The twister caught the town completely off guard, as there was no early warning system of weather monitoring program in place to warn the citizens of what was coming. The tornado shadowed a riverbank and obliterated everything in its path. Natchez now features a memorial to the fallen on that dark day.
- The Tupelo, Mississippi Tornado of 1936: The same terrible storm that spawned the Gainesville tornado of 1936 also gave rise to another twister that destroyed another small town in America's heartland. The Tupelo tornado is estimated to have been an F5, the most destructive tornado that can be produced by nature. Of the 216 people killed on April 5, 1936, the majority were found in a single pond around which a major housing development was situated.
- The St. Louis/East St. Louis Tornado of 1896: 137 people were killed when this twister touched down near downtown St. Louis in 1896. The tornado caused over $10 million in damages. It reached the peak of its intensity as it crossed the Mississippi River, and some 35 people were killed when shortly after crossing the river the tornado devastated a railroad yard.
- The Glazier-Higgins-Woodward Tornadoes of 1947: On April 9, 1947, a massive tornado outbreak struck Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma and killed 232 people across all three states. This storm was actually several tornadoes that merged and blew debris from one state to another as it plowed through America's heartland. The consolidated tornado was said to be two miles wide as it ripped through Texas, causing $1.5 million in property damage.
- The Purvis Tornado of 1908: This storm cut a wide path of destruction through Louisiana and Mississippi in 1908, killing 60 and injuring some 500 more. A tragic wrinkle in this tornado's history occurred when workers on a railroad yard hid from the storm in boxcars. The tornado lifted the boxcars off of the tracks and threw them 150 feet from where they had been resting. The four workers were killed in the incident.
- The New Richmond Tornado of 1899: Tornadoes can strike anywhere along the plains, including the northern most regions of the country in states like Wisconsin. On June 12, 1899, a storm strong enough to blow a 300-pound safe across several city blocks struck New Richmond, Wisconsin, completely leveling the unprepared city. What had begun as a sunny day seemed to change almost instantly, with the twister blowing in only 30 minutes after the first sign of clouds. Approximately 117 people were killed and 125 were injured.
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