The Top 10 Deadliest Tornadoes

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10. The Waco Tornado: May 11, 1953
Deaths: 114 ? Injuries: 597 ? F-Scale F5

The 1953 Waco tornado outbreak was a tornado outbreak that affected portions of the central United States from May 9–11, 1953, killing 144 people. It is most known for the F5 tornado that struck Waco, Texas on May 11, 1953, killing 114 people.

The Waco Tornado struck at 4:36 p.m. The tornado, over two blocks wide, hit the downtown area. Many people on the streets crowded into local businesses for shelter. However, few of the buildings were constructed sturdily enough to withstand the winds, and they collapsed almost immediately.

The best-known example was the six-story R.T. Dennis furniture store, which crumbled to the ground and killed 30 people inside. Newer buildings with steel reinforcement, including the 22-story Amicable office building (now called the ALICO Building) just across the street, weathered the storm.


9. The Flint–Worcester Tornadoes: June 8, 1953
Deaths: 115 ? Injuries: 844 ? F-Scale F5

The Flint–Worcester Tornadoes were two tornadoes, one occurring in Flint, Michigan on June 8, 1953, the other in Worcester, Massachusetts on June 9, 1953. These tornadoes are among the deadliest in United States  history and were caused by the same storm system that moved eastward across the nation.

The tornadoes are also related together in the public mind because, for a brief period following the Worcester tornado, it was debated in the U.S. Congress whether recent atomic bomb testing in the upper atmosphere had caused the tornadoes. Congressman James E. Van Zandt  (R-Penn.) was among several members of Congress who expressed their belief that the June 4th bomb testing created the tornadoes, which occurred far outside the traditional tornado alley. They demanded a response from the government.

Meteorologists quickly dispelled such an assertion, and Congressman Van Zandt later retracted his statement.  The Flint-Worcester Tornadoes were the most infamous storms produced by a larger outbreak of severe weather that began in Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin, before moving across the Great Lakes states, and then into New York and New England. Other F3 and F4 tornadoes struck other locations in Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire and Ohio.


8. The New Richmond Tornado: June 12, 1899
Deaths: 117 ? Injuries: 200 ? F-Scale F5

The 1899 New Richmond Tornado was an unprecedented disaster in the northern Great Plains. It nearly destroyed the village of New Richmond, Wisconsin on June 12, 1899, killing 117 and injuring 125 people. More than $300,000 ($7 million 2005 USD) in damage was reported.

All but the extreme west end of the town was obliterated by the tornado and subsequent fires. More than 500 buildings were destroyed, and the only significant surviving structures were the Catholic and Baptist churches. The town’s electrical plant and water facilities were destroyed, so fires ran rampant through the scattered debris. Many bodies found in the aftermath were burnt beyond recognition—it was impossible to tell if they died from the tornado or from being trapped and burned alive.

Twenty-six families experienced multiple deaths, and six reported 4 or more deaths in the family. After order was restored, authorities determined that a total of 117 people had been killed (114 in the village) and more than 200 injured. This is the 8th highest death toll for any single tornado in American history.

The town was so completely damaged it had to be essentially rebuilt. Damage claims exceeded $300,000 ($7 million in 2006 USD), however, it may have been as high as $600,000 ($14 million 2006 USD).


7. The Dixie Tornado Outbreak: April 24, 1908
Deaths: 143 ? Injuries: 770 ? F-Scale F4

The 1908 Dixie tornado outbreak was one of the worst tornado disasters in United States  history. The outbreak produced tornadoes in 13 states on April 23, April 24, and April 25, 1908, with the worst loss of life in the Southeastern United States.

Tornado activity began on April 23, with a number of tornadoes reported at various locations from South Dakota to Texas. A total of 13 deaths were produced by these storms, which included one F5 tornado (near Pender, Nebraska), an F4 storm that devastated the town of Deport, Texas, and two F3 storms that produced serious damage elsewhere in Iowa and Texas.  

The deadliest of the storms developed the following day, to the south and east. The worst of these left 143 people dead in its wake, making it one of the 10 deadliest American tornadoes. Many of these deaths occurred in Purvis, Mississippi, where the casualties were: 83 dead, 340 injured, and 1,935 homeless. In the rural Washington Parish community of Pine, Louisiana, 9 people died in this tornado. The parishes/counties affected by this string of tornadoes were: Livingston Parish, St. Helena Parish, Tangipahoa Parish, Washington Parish, Marion County, Lamar County, Forrest County, Perry County, and Wayne County.


6. The Glazier–Higgins–Woodward Tornadoes: April 9, 1947
Deaths: 181 ? Injuries: 970 ? F-Scale F5

The 1947 Glazier–Higgins–Woodward tornadoes were a system of related tornadoes that swept through Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas on April 9, 1947. The event was similar to the Tri-State Tornado  two decades before, in that it appeared to observers to be a single, very long-lived tornado. Later analysis suggests that it was a multiple-tornado outbreak. These tornadoes, although deadly, did not match the astounding death toll of the earlier event, nor did they match the record speed of that tornado, although at over 40 mph (64 km/h), they qualified as a fast tracking storm.


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5. The Gainesville Tornado: April 6, 1936
Deaths: 203 .. Injuries: 1600 .. F-Scale F4

After the Tupelo tornado, the storm system moved through Alabama overnight and finally reached Gainesville, Georgia at around 8:30 A.M.  This early morning tornado was a double tornado event. One tornado moved in from the Atlanta highway, while the other moved in from the Dawsonville highway. The two merged on Grove Street and destroyed everything in sight, causing wreckage pileups of up to 10 feet in some places.

The worst tornado-caused death toll in a single building in U.S. history was at the Cooper Pants Factory. The multiple story building, filled with young workers, collapsed and caught fire, killing 70 people. At the Pacolet Mill, 550 workers averted a tragedy by moving to the northeast side of the building. Many people sought refuge in Newnan’s department store; however, it collapsed, killing 20 people.  The final death toll could not be calculated because many of the buildings that were hit collapsed and caught fire.

A 203 person death toll was posted, with 40 missing. Letters from Gainesville, Georgia were blown 67 miles away to Anderson, South Carolina.  The Gainesville tornado was an F4 on the Fujita scale and was the fifth deadliest tornado in U.S. history. It caused $13 million in damage.


4. The Tupelo Tornado: April 5, 1936
Deaths: 216 ? Injuries: 700 ? F-Scale F5

The Tupelo tornado, the fourth deadliest tornado in United States history, slammed into Tupelo, Mississippi at around 8:30 P.M. It was an F5 on the Fujita scale, causing total destruction along its path. Fortunately, the tornado missed the downtown business district. The tornado moved through the residential areas of Tupelo, destroying many homes, and killing whole families who had little or no warning.

A very young Elvis Presley and his mother were two of the survivors.  When the death toll of 216 was announced, over 100 people had been hospitalized in three states. The final death toll was set at 233 (not necessarily including African-American deaths, who were frequently excluded from death tolls until the 1950s).


3. The St. Louis Tornado: May 27, 1896
Deaths: 255 ? Injuries: 1,000 ? F-Scale F4

The 1896 St. Louis – East St. Louis tornado is a historic tornado event that occurred on Wednesday, May 27, 1896, as part of a major tornado outbreak across the Central United States on the 27th, continuing across the Eastern United States on the 28th. One of the deadliest and most destructive tornadoes in U.S. history, this very large, long-track, and violent tornado was the most notable of an outbreak which produced other large, long-track, violent, killer tornadoes. It caused over $10,000,000 in damage (1896).


2. The Great Natchez Tornado: May 7, 1840
Deaths: 317 ? Injuries: 109 ? F-Scale Unknown

The Great Natchez Tornado hit Natchez, Mississippi on May 7, 1840. It is the second deadliest single tornado in United States history, killing 317 people (the only tornado in the United States to have killed more people was the Tri-State Tornado). It is also the only recorded massive tornado in the U.S.A. that killed more people than it injured: only 109 were injured. The Fujita scale  rating of this tornado is almost certainly an F5 but since there was no Fujita scale at the time, this tornado remains uncategorized.


1. The Tri-State Tornado: March 18, 1925
Deaths: 695 ? Injuries: 2027 ? F-Scale F5

The Tri-State Tornado of Wednesday, March 18, 1925, was the deadliest tornado in U.S. history. With 695 confirmed fatalities, the tornado killed more than twice as many as the second deadliest, the 1840 Great Natchez Tornado. The continuous ≥219 mile (≥352 km) track left by the tornado was the longest ever recorded in the world: the tornado crossed from southeastern Missouri, through Southern Illinois, then into southwestern Indiana. While not officially rated by NOAA, it is recognized by many as an F5 tornado, the maximal damage rating issued on the Fujita scale.

In all, at least 695 died and 2027 were injured, mostly in southern Illinois. Three states, thirteen counties, and more than nineteen communities, four of which were essentially effaced (several of these and others never recovered), were in the path of the record 3.5 hour duration tornado.

Total damage was estimated at $16.5 million; adjusted for wealth and inflation the toll is approximately $1.4 billion (1997 USD), surpassed in history only by two extremely destructive tornadoes in the City of St. Louis. These three events in terms of destruction, inferred by normalized monetary losses, are by far the most destructive (and expensive) tornadoes ever in the United States. Over 15,000 homes were destroyed by the Tri-State Tornado.


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