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Tornado Information: Worst Tornadoes in History

What is a Tornado?

A tornado is an atmospheric vortex that occurs in rain or thunderclouds. It looks like a cloudy funnel and can travel at high speeds, up to 300 miles per hour in some cases. Tornadoes are most common in North America, particularly in the United States, where some of the deadliest tornadoes have been recorded. Tornadoes can cause devastating damage to homes and businesses and cause tremendous losses of life. A tornado outbreak is declared when at least six tornadoes have touched down from a given storm system.

Most Items

First Aid Kit, Hard Red Case (326 Pieces)

First Aid Kit, Hard Red Case (326 Pieces)

Contains 326 pieces including: Antiseptic Towelettes, Sting Relief Pads, Burn Cream Ointments, Antacid Tablets, Aspirin Tablets, Non-Aspirin Tablets, Adhesive Bandages, Butterfly Closures Bandages, Gauze Rolls, Cotton Tip Applicators, Tweezers, Gloves, and more!

The 326-Piece First Aid Kit is a comprehensive solution for emergency medical situations, whether at home or in the workplace. It is produced by the leading manufacturer of first aid kits in the USA and is made from top-quality materials that meet safety standards. It contains all the necessary supplies for treating both adults and children, making it a versatile option for families and businesses alike.

Pros
  • Can be wall-mounted or folded.
  • Sturdy and strong packaging.
  • Contains first aid guides in English and Spanish.
Cons
  • Can be ruined if contents get saturated.
  • Some items may expire if not used quickly enough.

Worst Tornadoes in History Chart

Tornado OutbreakLocationYearTornadoes SpawnedDeaths
2011 Super OutbreakUS, Canada2011360324
1974 Super OutbreakUS, Canada1974148315
2020 Easter Tornado OubreakUS202014032
Tornado Outbreak of January 1999US19991289
UK Tornado OutbreakUnited Kingdom19811040

Consider purchasing the following items to help protect yourself, your property, and and your family during a tornado:

Tools

Coghlan's Emergency Camp Stove

9

  • Compact and lightweight emergency camping stove.
  • No liquids, priming, or wick required.
  • Includes 24 fuel tablets.
  • Uses any solid fuel such as Hexamine, Trioxane, or Sterno.
  • Essential gear for camping, backpacking, backcountry treks, and more.
Emergency Food

Augason Farms 30-Day 1-Person Emergency Food Supply

9.4

  • QSS-certified food supply.
  • Provides an average of 1,854 calories per day and 46g protein per day with 307 servings.
  • Comes in an 8.5-gallon watertight pail that is easy to transport.
  • Easy to prepare and ready in minutes.
  • Has a shelf life of up to 25 years.
Tools

Mebotem Manual Can Opener

9.4

  • Blades made of strong high hardness alloy high-carbon stainless steel for durability and long-lasting use.
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  • Oversized knob turns easily and can be used as a bottle/tin/beer opener.

What are the Different Types of Tornadoes

1. Supercell Tornadoes

Supercell tornadoes are a type of tornado that form from thunderstorms known as supercells. They are characterized by their strong and long-lived rotation and are often the most destructive of all tornadoes. Supercell tornadoes are typically accompanied by strong winds, intense lightning, large hail, and intense pressure drops. The wind speeds of these tornadoes can reach up to 300 miles per hour and can cause significant damage. They often follow a path of destruction and can travel for hundreds of miles. Supercell tornadoes usually occur in the Midwest, Great Plains, and southeastern United States, although they can occur in other parts of the world as well. Other characteristics of supercell tornadoes include vertical wall clouds, low-altitude rain shafts, and a visible funnel cloud. In addition, these tornadoes can be accompanied by a strong odor of ozone.

2. Waterspout Tornadoes

Water spout tornadoes are a special type of tornado that occur over bodies of water. They form when a column of warm, humid air is spun upward by a thunderstorm, forming a funnel of rotating air. These rotating columns of air can reach heights of up to one kilometre and can have wind speeds of up to 200 km/h. Water spouts are usually much weaker than land-based tornadoes and tend to dissipate after a few minutes. They can cause some damage to ships, boats, docks, and other water-based structures, but usually do not cause significant damage on land.

3. Traditional Tornado

4. Landspout Tornadoes

Landspout tornadoes are a type of tornado that is often weaker than other types of tornadoes, with wind speeds of less than 110 mph. They form when a column of warm air, known as a thermals, rises from the ground and causes a rotating updraft. These types of tornadoes are usually associated with large cumulus clouds. They typically don’t cause as much damage as supercell tornadoes due to their weaker wind speed and smaller diameter. Some of their key characteristics include:

  • Forming in a matter of minutes
  • Usually not associated with thunderstorms
  • Tend to be short-lived (seconds or minutes)
  • Move erratically and erratically
  • Often associated with a thin wall cloud and a funnel cloud
  • Usually occur in the afternoon in warm, moist air
  • Typically form in the Midwest in the United States
  • Can occur in any season, but peak in the spring and summer.
  • Often occur in groups, or “families” of tornadoes.

5. Gustnado Tornadoes

Gustnado tornadoes are an offshoot of tornadoes, and typically form in the wake of strong thunderstorms or downbursts. They appear as small vortices of wind, with a funnel-shaped cloud at their base. Characteristics of gustnado tornadoes include:

  • Wind speeds of up to 100 mph, significantly lower than the speeds of F5 tornadoes.
  • A much narrower path of damage than F5 tornadoes, usually less than 100 feet wide.
  • Debris such as dust and dirt that is picked up and thrown in a small area.
  • A relatively short-lived phenomenon, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
  • Formation in the wake of strong thunderstorms or downbursts, often in areas of high wind shear.
  • Potential to cause minor damage to property, such as broken windows and downed trees.

6. Super Outbreak Tornadoes

The 2011 super outbreak was the most devastating tornado outbreak in U.S. history and produced 362 tornadoes across the southeastern United States. There are several types of super outbreak tornadoes that can occur, each with its own unique characteristics.

The first type of super outbreak tornado is the EF-4 tornado. These tornadoes are classified by the Enhanced Fujita Scale and can produce winds of up to 200 miles per hour. These tornadoes are often the most destructive of all and cause the most amount of damage and casualties.

The second type of tornado is the EF-3 tornado. These tornadoes are still very dangerous and can cause great destruction and serious injury. They produce winds of up to 165 miles per hour and are classified as severe.

The third type of super outbreak tornado is the EF-2 tornado. These tornadoes produce winds of up to 110 miles per hour and are classified as moderate. They are responsible for considerable damage and can cause serious injury.

The fourth type of tornado is the EF-1 tornado. These tornadoes produce winds of up to 85 miles per hour and are classified as weak. They can still cause considerable damage to structures and can be very dangerous.

The fifth and final type of tornado is the EF-0 tornado. These tornadoes produce winds of up to 75 miles per hour and are classified as minor. They can cause some damage, but not the kind of destruction and injury that the other types of tornadoes can.

Overall, the 2011 super outbreak was the most devastating tornado outbreak in U.S. history and caused an estimated 324 deaths and more than 12 billion dollars in damage. It serves as a reminder of the dangers that these powerful storms can bring and the importance of being prepared for them.

7. Long-track Tornadoes

Long-track tornadoes are tornadoes which travel a significant distance, usually over 200 miles, in a single event. These tornadoes are often accompanied by severe downburst winds which widen the path of destruction and can cause extensive damage. The most notorious long-track tornado of all time is the infamous Tri-State Tornado of 1925, which plowed through Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois, leaving a path of destruction over 219 miles long and claiming 695 lives. The wind speeds of this tornado were estimated to be over 300 mph and it is considered to be an F5 tornado on the Fujita scale. Other notable long-track tornadoes include the 1947 Woodward, Oklahoma tornado, which was 1,000 yards wide and 80 miles long, and the Cedar Rapids tornado of 1968, which was two funnels 12 miles apart and ended up being one mile wide and 80 miles long.

8. Short-track Tornadoes

Short-track tornadoes are tornadoes that travel a relatively short distance, usually less than 15 miles, before dissipating. They are typically weaker in intensity than the more common long-track tornadoes, which can travel up to hundreds of miles, and can cause more localized, but still severe, damage. Short-track tornadoes tend to occur on the back edge of thunderstorms, and often have a rope-like appearance, as opposed to long-track tornadoes which are more likely to form in the center of supercells. Short-track tornadoes can still be destructive, however, as evidenced by the 2008 Super Tuesday tornado outbreak, which spawned multiple short-track tornadoes with winds up to 300 mph.

9. Multi-vortex Tornadoes

Multi-vortex tornadoes are tornadoes that contain two or more small rotating columns of air that swirl around the main column of the tornado. These rotating vortices can reach the ground and cause additional damage or even create tornadoes of their own. They are different from other tornadoes because of their increased speed and ferocity, as well as the additional damage they can cause. Multi-vortex tornadoes have been known to reach winds as high as 300 miles per hour, while regular tornadoes rarely exceed 100 miles per hour. Additionally, multi-vortex tornadoes can have multiple, additional funnels that extend outward from the main funnel. These funnels can cause additional damage to buildings, trees, and other objects. Lastly, multi-vortex tornadoes can last longer than regular tornadoes, sometimes lasting for several hours.

10. Hammerhead Tornadoes

Hammerhead tornadoes are a type of tornado that is distinctively different from other tornadoes because of its shape. Unlike the classic tornado shape, these tornadoes form a shape that looks like the head of a hammer. They have a distinct hook-like shape on the end and a large, round mid-section. These tornadoes are typically much more destructive than other types of tornadoes. They are rated F5 on the enhanced Fujita Scale, meaning they can cause severe destruction, including disintegrating steel-reinforced concrete. Hammerhead tornadoes typically occur after a severe thunderstorm, and are accompanied by large hailstones that can weigh up to 2.2 pounds. They can move at speeds of up to 300 miles per hour, making them particularly dangerous. Hammerhead tornadoes are most commonly found in North America, specifically in the US.

The 10 Worst Tornadoes in History

1. The Tri-State Tornado (Missouri, Illinois, Indiana) – 1925

The Tri-State Tornado was a devastating F5 tornado that occurred on March 18, 1925 and cut across three states, Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois, leaving a path of destruction 219 miles long. It is considered one of the worst tornadoes in history due to the extreme destruction it caused and the large number of fatalities and injuries it left in its wake. The tornado’s winds reached 300 mph, which put it at the top of the Fujita scale for tornado intensity. At least 695 people were killed and more than 2,000 were injured by the twister. Additionally, the tornado completely destroyed five towns in southern Illinois and 15,000 homes in all three states. What made this tornado even more remarkable was that it was continuous for 219 miles and lasted for three and a half hours, suggesting that it was one long-lasting supercell. Furthermore, the U.S. Weather Bureau at the time was prohibited from using words like “tornado” in their forecasts, leaving people unprepared and unaware of the looming disaster. Because of this, the Tri-State Tornado is considered one of the worst tornadoes in history, as it caused a great deal of destruction and loss of life.

2. The Most Expensive Tornado

The most expensive tornado in history is the May 22, 2011 EF5 tornado in Joplin, Missouri. This tornado caused an estimated $3.18 billion in total damage, with insurance companies paying out around $2.8 billion. Over 150 people were killed, and the tornado destroyed 7,000 homes and 2,000 other structures. It had an estimated maximum wind speed of 200 mph, and it left a damage path length of 22.1 miles and a maximum path width of 1 mile. This tornado is the most expensive to this day, and its devastation to the city of Joplin will be remembered for a long time.

3. Manikganj, Singair, and Nawabganj, Bangladesh – 1973

In April 1969, two devastating tornadoes struck Bangladesh on the same day, one in the Dhaka district and another in the Comilla district of Chittagong. The Dhaka district tornado killed 660 people and injured 4,000, while the Comilla district tornado killed 883 people, making it one of the deadliest days in world history. On May 13, 1996, a whirlwind swept through the cities of Madarganj in the north and Mirzapur in the central part of Bangladesh, killing 700 people and damaging 30,000 houses.

In 1973, three tornadoes struck Bangladesh: the Manikganj tornado, the Singair tornado, and the Nawabganj tornado. The Manikganj tornado struck on February 13, 1973, killing an estimated 20 people and leaving an unknown number injured. On April 26 of the same year, the Singair tornado ripped through the Madaripur district, killing 500 people and destroying all the buildings and homes in its path. Finally, on June 5, 1973, the Nawabganj tornado tore through the Dhaka district, killing an estimated 20 people and causing considerable property damage.

These three tornadoes were part of a tornado outbreak in Bangladesh that occurred mainly in April and May, indicating that this is the most violent season for tornadoes in the country. Poor early-warning systems, densely packed populations, and weak infrastructure all contributed to the high death tolls from these three tornadoes.

4. Tupelo, Mississippi – 1936

On April 5, 1936, a devastating tornado swept through Tupelo, Mississippi, claiming the lives of 216 people. Among the survivors was a young Elvis Presley and his mother. The tornado destroyed 48 city blocks and heavily damaged Black neighborhoods, and the death toll was likely much higher due to the lack of records of Black people at the time.

The next day, a tornado hit Gainesville, Georgia, killing 203 people. To make matters worse, buildings were destroyed and caught fire, making it difficult to determine the exact death toll. The tornado outbreak extended to nine different states, with 34 people killed overall and over 440 injured. The destruction and debris caused was estimated to be around $400 million in property damage.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was vacationing in Florida at the time of the disaster and declared it a national tragedy. Temporary hospitals were set up in Tupelo until the trains were back up and running so injured people could be brought to hospitals in other cities. It took about a week to clear the roads and allow meaningful aid to get to the town, as the city had no water or power in addition to floods and fires. To this day, the exact count of deaths remains unknown.

5. Gainesville, Georgia – 1936

On April 5, 1936, a powerful F5 tornado struck the town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing 216 people and leaving many more injured. The same storm system went on to cause a destructive F4 tornado in Gainesville, Georgia the very next day, where it killed 203 people, injured 1,600, and destroyed four blocks of buildings, as well as 750 houses. Tragically, 60 people perished when a clothing factory they were sheltering in collapsed and caught fire, due to the lack of water or power in the area.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was vacationing in Florida at the time of the disaster, cut his vacation short and traveled to Gainesville on April 9, where he met with local officials and representatives of the American Red Cross, Civilian Conservation Corps, and Works Progress Administration.

The Gainesville tornado, estimated at F5, had resulted from a pair of storms that converged on the city and destroyed residential sections, leveling 48 blocks. Among the survivors was a very young Elvis Presley. By the end of the two-day disaster, the death toll had reached 454 people, with the exact number of dead and injured uncertain, as local newspapers had not published data on victims among the black population. Financial losses were estimated at $15.5 million, which would be equivalent to $200 million today.

6. Magura and Narail districts, Bangladesh – 1964

In 1964, a deadly tornado swept through the Magura and Narail districts of Bangladesh, causing severe destruction and leaving an estimated 300 people dead. The storm was so powerful that entire villages were wiped out, leaving no survivors. The financial damage was immense, with thousands of homes and buildings destroyed in its wake. This tragic event further highlighted the need for an effective early warning system in the country, as many people were caught unaware of the approaching storm.

7. Sicily, Italy – 1851

The 1851 Sicily tornado was an incredibly rare phenomenon and one of the deadliest in European history. It began as a waterspout and swept through half the town of Castellamare, destroying it and killing around 500 citizens. This tornado is one of the most devastating in European history, alongside the 1551 Malta tornado (which caused destruction in Grand Harbor Bay by capsizing four galleys and killing an unknown number of people) and the 1896 St. Louis tornado (which killed at least 255 people). The 1899 tornado that struck near a circus show also killed 117 people. Tornadoes are typically more common in North America, particularly in an area colloquially known as “Tornado Alley”.

8. Madaripur and Shibchar, Bangladesh – 1977

In 1977, two devastating tornadoes struck Bangladesh, one in the Madaripur district and the other in the Shibchar area. The Madaripur tornado was particularly devastating, ripping through the heart of the district and killing an estimated 500 people. No records exist of the financial damage, but it is known that all buildings and homes were destroyed in its wake. The Shibchar tornado, which occurred on May 13, 1996, began in the city of Madarganj and moved south to the city of Mirzapur. It killed 700 people, injured many more and caused property damage to 30,000 houses. This tornado erased seven villages from the map, leaving no survivors in the village of Bhabanipur. Both of these tornadoes were part of a tornado outbreak that indicated the violent tornado season in Bangladesh usually occurs between early April and late May.

9. New Richmond, Wisconsin – 1899

The New Richmond, Wisconsin tornado of June 12, 1899, is considered one of the worst tornadoes in history due to a number of factors. The small town was crowded with people from out of town viewing a circus event, which made the tornado’s toll much higher than it would have been without the extra population. The tornado was an incredibly powerful F/EF5, with wind speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. It had a mile wide funnel and destroyed over 117 buildings, killing 117 people in the process. Furthermore, the tornado occurred in a time before comprehensive damage surveys, making it difficult to accurately assess the deaths and injuries. This makes the tornado all the more tragic, as the actual number of fatalities could have been much higher. This tornado serves as a reminder of the power of nature and the devastation it can cause.

10. Belyanitsky, Ivanovo, Balino, Russia – 1984

In 1984, a powerful tornado tore through Belyanitsky, Ivanovo, Balino, Russia. Rated at either F4 or F5 based on the observed destruction, this tornado was part of a severe outbreak north of Moscow. Reports of hail weighing around 2.2 pounds add to the intensity of the storm. The tornado was so powerful that it was able to disintegrate even steel reinforced concrete.

The tornado erased seven villages from the map and left a death toll of 1,400 people. Most of the dead were in rural areas, and it is believed that the actual death toll is much higher. The entire village of Bhabanipur was obliterated, leaving no survivors. The tornado also wiped out the entire village of Baluchar and seriously damaged nine other towns. Witnesses described two funnels that joined together into one large tornado that zig-zagged on its course. A boat with three people on it was even blown over 3,000 feet from the banks of a river. The loss of life alone makes this one of the worst tornadoes in history, and the financial damage is unknown.

How to Stay Safe During a Tornado

Step 1: Follow instructions from the authorities

Step 1: Be prepared. Collect an emergency kit consisting of water, medication, and food. Make sure to have access to the Internet, the Weather Channel, and the National Weather Service alerts. Activate alerts in the RainViewer app so you can get them directly on your smartphone.

Step 2: Watch the weather conditions. If you notice unusual weather conditions such as a dark or green sky, low-lying clouds, roaring sounds, or large hail, take cover immediately.

Step 3: Know where the nearest shelter is. If you have a basement in your house, it is the best place to hide. If not, seek shelter in an interior room on the lowest floor, away from windows and exterior walls.

Step 4: Follow instructions from authorities. If you hear a tornado warning, turn on a NOAA weather radio or other local news source for more information. If a tornado watch is issued, be prepared to take shelter if a warning is issued.

Step 2: Don’t try to outrun a tornado

If you encounter a tornado, it is important to stay safe and protect yourself and your family. Here are the steps you should take:

  1. Be prepared: Collect an emergency kit consisting of water, medication, and food and have access to the internet, the Weather Channel, and the National Weather Service alerts. Activate those alerts in the RainViewer app so you can receive them directly on your smartphone.
  2. Watch the weather conditions: If you notice such unusual weather conditions as a dark or green sky, low-lying clouds, roaring sounds, or large hail, take cover immediately.
  3. Know where the nearest shelter is: If you have a basement in your house, it is the best place to hide.
  4. Get to the nearest shelter: Go to the basement or an enclosed, windowless area and stay away from windows, doors and exterior walls. Cover yourself with a mattress or other cushioning material and remain in the shelter until the tornado passes.
  5. Stay Safe: Do not ignore tornado warnings and stay informed of the weather conditions in your area. Monitor the news and other sources of information to stay up to date with the weather.

Step 3: If inside, keep away from windows and use survival bags

Survival bags, also known as “bug out bags,” are essential for staying safe during a tornado. These bags contain all of the necessary items needed to survive in an emergency situation. They are typically filled with water, food storage items, a battery-powered stove, a battery-powered radio, a flashlight, extra batteries, prescription medications, and a first-aid kit. Having these items on hand is important because they can provide sustenance, comfort, and medical aid if needed.

In addition to having these items in a survival bag, it is also important to know the three key steps to tornado safety. The first is to be prepared. This includes having an emergency kit ready with access to the Weather Channel or National Weather Service alerts. The second is to watch the weather conditions. If you notice anything abnormal, such as a dark or green sky, take cover immediately. Lastly, be sure to know where your nearest shelter is. If you have a basement, that is the best place to hide during a tornado.

Survival bags are important for tornado safety because they are filled with the necessary items to help you survive in an emergency. Having access to these items when needed can provide sustenance, comfort, and medical aid in an urgent situation. Therefore, it is essential to make sure you have a survival bag ready and know the three key steps to tornado safety.

Step 4: Know what to do during a tornado warning

What should you do during a tornado warning? [Step-by-step instructions]

  1. Be prepared. Collect an emergency kit consisting of water, medication, and food. Be sure to have access to the Internet, the Weather Channel, and the National Weather Service alerts. Activate those alerts in the RainViewer app so you can receive them directly on your smartphone.
  2. Watch the weather conditions. If you notice such unusual weather conditions as the dark or green sky, low-lying clouds, roaring sounds, or large hail, take cover immediately.
  3. Know where the nearest shelter is. If you have a basement in your house, it is the best place to hide. Close all the windows, doors, and get as low to the ground as possible.
  4. Stay safe and do not ignore the alerts! If you live in a mobile home, it is not safe to stay in during a tornado. Seek immediate shelter in a nearby sturdy building.
  5. Cover your head and neck with your arms, blanket, or pillow. This can help protect you from flying debris or even falling buildings.
  6. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid flooding. Flooding can put you in danger during a tornado as well. It is important to be aware of any potential flooding areas and to stay away from them during a tornado.
  7. Stay informed. Keep your family and yourself updated with the latest tornado warnings. You can do this by downloading the Red Cross App, tuning into the Weather Channel, or subscribing to the National Weather Service Alerts.

Step 5: Prepare for the aftermath of a tornado

Step 1: Stay safe and secure – Immediately after a tornado, take shelter in a secure place and check yourself and your family for any injuries.

Step 2: Check your surroundings – Assess your immediate environment to make sure it is safe. Look out for broken glass, downed power lines, and other potential hazards.

Step 3: Locate your family and friends – Make sure everyone in your family and community is safe. Check with your neighbors to see if they need help or if you can provide assistance.

Step 4: Contact your local authorities – Contact your local authorities to report any damage or injuries.

Step 5: Document the damage – Take pictures or videos of the damage to support any insurance claims you may want to make.

Step 6: Start the cleanup process – Once you have documented the damage and had the area assessed for safety, begin to clean up the mess. Use caution when doing so as there could still be hazardous materials present.

Step 7: Create an emergency plan – Make sure you have an emergency plan in place that includes an evacuation route, a place to meet, and a communication plan.

Step 8: Stay informed – Stay aware of the weather conditions and listen to the news for updates. Services like the Weather Channel and the National Weather Service can provide you with tornado alerts. Make sure to use the RainViewer app to activate the alerts and get them directly on your smartphone.

Step 6: Collect evidence after a tornado

What evidence should be collected after a tornado? [Expanded list]

After a tornado strikes, it is important to collect evidence to help assess the severity of the storm and extent of the damage. This includes:

  • Photographs of the damage and surrounding area
  • Debris samples and recordings of wind speeds
  • Measurements of the path of the tornado, including its width and length
  • Accounts of eyewitnesses
  • Meteorological data and radar images
  • Samples of any floods, hail, or other severe weather
  • Damage surveys of buildings, infrastructure, and any other affected areas
  • Records of any injuries and fatalities
  • Records of any power outages or disruptions to services and transport
  • Pollution readings from any hazardous materials that may have been released
  • Reports from emergency personnel and first responders