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The 20 Worst Tornadoes in U.S. History (According to Deaths)

Tornado

Tornadoes are one of the worst natural disasters to hit our planet. The devastating effects of the aftermath cannot be compared to anything. The United States is one of the countries where deadly tornadoes have struck. The 20 worst tornadoes in U.S history are as follows.

20. The Snyder, Oklahoma Tornado on 10th May 1905 (97 dead)

In 1905, Oklahoma was struck by one of the worst tornadoes ever to hit the United States. The tornado wrecked the Southwestern part of the city and destroyed the town of Snyder. The total death toll recorded at the time of the tornado is 97, but the actual number of casualties has never been known because some people went missing, and their bodies have never been found. To date, this remains to be the second deadliest tornado in Oklahoma’s history. The main means of communication were telephones and telegraphs, which were destroyed, slowing the recovery process.

19. Poplar Bluff, Missouri Tornado on 9th May 1927 (100 dead)

One mid-afternoon in 1927, a catastrophic storm descended on Poplar Bluff, Missouri. It was an F5 tornado swiping across the city and destroying over forty-five blocks. The downtown area was part of the storm’s path where all the buildings were completely or severely damaged. The tornado resulted in over 100 fatalities, and over 300 people sustained painful injuries. In the downtown area, the tornado destroyed property worth $2.5 million.

18. Shinnston Tornado, West Virginia on 23rd June 1944 (100 dead)

The night of the Shinnston Tornado remains a dark day in North Central West Virginia. The most destructive tornado struck, leaving 100 people dead. The tornado is referred to as Shinnston Tornado because most casualties were part of the Shinnston Community. The tornado affected every family in Shinnston through death and loss of property worth millions.

17. Omaha Tornado, Nebraska on 23rd May 1913 (103 dead)

In 1913, Easter started early for residents of Nebraska. The day began like any other lovely day with spring-like weather. There were occasional sunny moments and light showers. The weather would later change and brew one of the worst tornadoes in the history of the United States. According to History Nebraska, Omaha Tornado lasted for 35 minutes and covered 40 miles. In such a short time, 103 people in Omaha alone died, 800 homes were destroyed, and 2000 homes were wrecked. The total monetary loss is estimated at over $8.7 million.

16. Mattoon Charleston, Illinois Tornado on 26th May 1917 (108 dead)

It is considered Illinois 3rd worst tornado killing 108 people and approximately 638 injured. Most of the deaths and casualties occurred in the Mattoon Charleston area. What started as a single tornado with a path of 293 miles would later split into four or eight tornadoes that ravaged the area. The estimated property damage is about $1.28 million.

15. Springfield/Marshfield, Missouri Tornado on 18th April 1880 (110 dead)

A massive F4 tornado from northeast Springfield swept through Marshfield, Missouri. It is regarded as one of the worst natural disasters to hit such a small town. At that time, Marshfield was a small community with 1100 people and 15 buildings which were destroyed. The storm caught everyone off guard because everything happened within a short time. Approximately 110 people died.

14. Goliad, Texas Tornado on 18th May 1902 (114 dead)

At exactly 3:35 pm, one of the most catastrophic tornadoes struck Goliad town. The tornado killed 114 people and injured 230. Goliad Tornado is considered one of the most vicious tornados in the history of Texas. The African American Methodist church members were not spared; 50 of them were killed when their church was completely destroyed. It was a powerful and devastating tornado, and those who survived to say it sounded like a loaded cargo train. Due to the limiting time factor, they buried the dead in mass graves.

13. Waco, Texas Tornado on 11th May 1953 (114 dead)

On 11th May 1953, a destructive tornado destroyed Waco and changed its face forever. The Waco tornado killed 114 people and injured 600 residents. So many businesses and homes were damaged beyond repair. This tornado left a dark scar on the Waco Community. Despite the warning by the New Orleans Weather department, Wacoans continued with their normal routines and activities. They argued that Waco is located at a higher altitude, and they cannot be affected. The ignorance increased the death toll. The few who headed the warning were safe.

12. The Camanche, Iowa Tornado on 3rd June 1860 (115 dead)

Iowa has a long history of being struck by dangerous and deadly tornadoes, but none compares to the Camanche tornado, which was extremely catastrophic. The tornado killed 115 people in Iowa and injured more than 329. Some of the injured people later died, raising the total number of deaths to over 200. According to Tswails, the total amount of damages is estimated to be $945,000. Camanche, as it was popularly known, started in Iowa and traveled as far as northern Illinois, where it eventually subsided at around 9 pm. It lasted for around 6 hours, but the damage it caused can still be felt to date.

11. Flint-Beecher, Michigan Tornado on 8th June 1953 (116 dead)

The Flint Beecher tornado is considered the worst tornado to hit the state of Michigan. The tornado resulted in 116 deaths and 844 injuries. According to Tornado Talk, it was an F5 tornado but the last one to have over 100 fatalities. So many families lost their loved ones, with the worst case being the death of Vanessa Gensel and her four young children, who were all below the age of seven.

10. New Richmond, St. Croix Wisconsin Tornado on 12th June 1899 (117 dead)

An F5 tornado from Lake St. Croix hit the northeast part of New Richmond. The tornado started as a waterspout and later transitioned into a violent tornado. As the intensity increased, it swept and leveled farms. At about 4:30 pm, the natural disaster reached New Richmond and scattered the crowd of 1000 people who had gathered to watch a circus. Little did they know they would meet their death from what they thought was entertainment. A total of 200 people were injured, and the other 117 lost their lives. Property worth $300,000 was destroyed and reduced to pieces.

9. Amite, Louisiana and Purvis Mississippi on 24th April 1908 (143 dead)

A series of tornadoes triggered the Amite Tornado. The total death toll from these tornados was 300 deaths, and Amite was responsible for 143 deaths and over 700 injuries. The tornados started as thunderstorms, with the worst being Amite. It was named Amite because it resulted in the greatest deaths and property damage. The small town of Purvis, Mississippi, was leveled by the tornado, and only seven out of 150 houses were left standing. Amite started with a two-mile width which was reduced to half a mile. When a tornado’s width decreases, the intensity and destructive capacity increase.

8. The Joplin, Missouri Tornado on 22nd May 2011 (158 dead)

On Sunday evening, an EF-5 multiple vortex tornado struck Joplin, Missouri. The tornado had a maximum width of 1.6kms, hitting the southern part of Joplin city. This tornado was unique because it increased rapidly as it tracked eastwards across the city. After the tornado had subsided, it killed 158 people, injured 1150, and caused damages worth $2.8 million. The tornado destroyed 500 businesses and over 7500 homes. A report from Joplin says close to 9200 people were displaced.

7. Woodward, Oklahoma Tornado of 9th April 1947 (181 dead)

This is the worst tornado to strike the state of Oklahoma. It started in Texas as a single tornado split into six tornados with a storm path of 220 miles. The storm later reached Woodward, moved northeastwards, continued for an additional 100 miles, and ended in Oklahoma. It had a maximum width of 1.8 miles. From such a massive tornado, you expect catastrophic effects. According to Weather, this particular tornado damaged property of over $5 million. At least 181 lives were lost on that fateful night. Some bodies were destroyed so that family members could not recognize their loved ones.

6. The Double Tornado in Gainesville, Georgia on 4th June 1936 (203 dead)

On the morning of 4th June 1936, a rare double tornado from the western and southwestern parts merged in Gainesville, Georgia. It is one of the deadliest tornadoes in the United States, with 203 deaths and 1600 injuries. The city of Gainesville was severely damaged, and 750 homes were destroyed. Property worth $ 12.5 million was completely reduced to debris. Aside from the destruction, the city experienced a ravaging fire which reduced one of the most important factories, Cooper Pants Factory, to ashes. Employees in the factory tried to hide in the basement, but unfortunately, the building collapsed and claimed more lives.

5. Tornado in Tupelo, Mississippi on 4th May 1936 (216 dead)

The Northwestern part of Mississippi was struck by an F5 tornado resulting in the death of over two hundred people. The infamous tornado started as an F3, killing one person. It continued to sweep across the city, and by the time it reached Mississippi, it was a full-blown F5 storm moving at 50 miles per hour. Tupelo Tornado destroyed hundreds of structures, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses. News reports estimate the total death toll to be 216, with 700 injuries. Tupelo sustained massive injuries as a result of the tornado. However, the tornado destroyed property worth over $3 million.

4. St. Louis and East St. Louis Tornado Missouri on 27th May 1896. (255 dead)

St. Louis, Missouri, was hit by two F4 tornadoes that struck simultaneously. The first tornado moved in the southeastern direction destroying farms in the nearby community. It went as far as Irvington, which is 60 miles from St. Louis. According to Devastating Disasters, the second tornado was more powerful and led to the death of 255 people and 300 seriously injured. The death toll was much higher because some people who lived near the Missouri river were killed, and their bodies washed downstream. However, people were caught off guard, and by the time the storm subsided, bodies were found scattered in homes, hospitals, salons, and factories.

3. Dixie Tornado 23rd April 1908 (314 dead)

The Dixie Tornado affected Texas and Georgia and moved northwards to Oklahoma and Tennessee. It is called the Dixie Outbreak because a simple thunderstorm produced 31 tornadoes which swept across 13 states. By the end of the outbreak, 314 people were dead. A big percentage of the deaths resulted from three violent tornadoes rated as category four tornadoes. However, people in the rural areas were most affected, and African Americans accounted for most of the casualties.

2. The Great Natchez, Mississippi Tornado of 5th June 1840 (317 dead)

This is the second worst tornado ever recorded in the history of the United States. It is the only tornado that killed many people and left few injuries. Three hundred seventeen people lost their lives, and 109 were injured in Natchez city. According to Natchez Ms, several bodies of those who died were buried at Natchez City Cemetery. The tornado started as lightning which could be seen through the clouds at night. However, at that time, there was no National Weather Service, and by the time the tornado struck, it had resulted in great deaths and injuries because there was no warning.

1. Let’s end this list with the worst disaster Tri-State Tornado of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana in March 1925 (695 dead)

It is the worst Tornado to be recorded in the history of the United States. No tornado has ever resulted in such a high number of deaths and destruction as the Tri-State Tornado. Three states, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, were affected. Due to unlimited exposure, weather reports were prohibited from terming the storm as a tornado to avoid causing panic and anxiety among citizens. People were misguided by the weather reports thinking it was a normal storm. Unaware of what awaited them, the tornado-ravaged for three and a half hours. However, by the end of what seemed like an eternity, 695 people and property, which could not be estimated, were destroyed.

Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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