The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 9, 2013

Missouri a bull’s-eye for severe tornadoes

JOPLIN, Mo. — The three worst recorded tornadoes in the United States — and four of the 10 worst — have one thing in common: Missouri.

Greg Forbes, severe-weather expert for The Weather Channel, analyzed fatalities and damage costs (adjusted for inflation through 2011) in order to rank the nation’s worst tornadoes.

Here is his list of the 10 worst tornadoes in history:

No. 1: Tri-State Tornado, 1925

695 fatalities

The tornado, which grew at times to three-quarters of a mile wide, stayed on the ground for between 219 and 234 miles through southern Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, causing $1.46 billion in damages.

“Of the 695 total fatalities, 234 of those were in the town of Murphysboro, Ill., the single greatest tornado death toll in any U.S. city,” Forbes concluded.

An estimated 15,000 homes were destroyed. Nineteen communities were hit, and one — Parrish, Ill. — never rebuilt.

No 2: St. Louis, Mo.-Ill., 1896

255 fatalities

The tornado caused damage in downtown St. Louis before crossing the Mississippi River and wrecking East St. Louis.

“Prior to the Joplin tornado in 2011 (when adjusting for inflation), this late 19th-century tornado qualified as the costliest in U.S. history,” Forbes said.  

Over 8,800 buildings were either damaged or destroyed.

No. 3: Joplin, 2011

161 fatalities

Up to one mile wide, the EF-5 had winds of more than 200 mph.

“The sheer scope of the damage was beyond belief. Neighborhoods were left unrecognizable, including the destruction at St. John’s Mercy Hospital and Joplin High School,” Forbes said. “The tornado generated roughly 4.1 million cubic yards of residential and commercial debris.”

It remains the single costliest tornado in U.S. history, with damage estimates approaching $3 billion.

No. 4: Tuscaloosa, Ala., 2011

65 fatalities

“Arguably the most destructive single tornado of a record-setting day during which 200 tornadoes spun across the Southeast,” Forbes said.

The EF-4 tornado also caused damage in nearby Concord and Pleasant Grove west of Birmingham, Ala.

The damage estimate was $2.2 billion.

No. 5: St. Louis, 1927

72 fatalities

It carved a 12-mile path through the heart of St. Louis. An Associated Press story at the time described it as “four terrible minutes of a ripping and roaring tornado.”

Until 2011, it was the nation’s second-costliest tornado in terms of damages.

No. 6: Gainesville, Ga., 1936

203 fatalities

Forbes said a two-day Southern tornado outbreak hit the community northeast of Atlanta during the Great Depression.

“Buildings collapsed as the central business district was almost entirely leveled, including the county courthouse. The collapse and fire of the Cooper Pants factory killed dozens. Forty people were never found and are officially deemed as missing.”

The total death toll from the two-day tornado outbreak was 454.

No. 7: Worcester, Mass., 1953

94 fatalitie

This was the worst tornado to hit in the Northeast.

The same weather system that spun off an EF-5 a day earlier in Flint, Mich., caused this tornado.

“Some debris was swept miles away, including a frozen mattress found near Weymouth in Massachusetts Bay as well as books and clothing found at both Blue Hill and on outer Cape Cod.”

No. 8: Hackleburg, Ala., 2011

18 fatalities

An EF-5, it had winds of more than 210 mph. “It is one of two billion-dollar tornadoes from the April 27, 2011, ‘superoutbreak,’” Forbes said.

Although the fatality count was lower than other tornadoes, it destroyed 75 percent of the town and caused $1.25 billion in damages.

No. 9: Natchez, Miss., 1840

317 fatalities

According to Forbes, Natchez was a bustling river port city “with flatboats galore.”

A tornado, later estimated to be an EF-5, hit 20 miles southwest of Natchez, then followed the river before hitting the city itself.

“Of the 317 official deaths, reliable reports suggest 269 of those perished as flatboats were sunk. This death toll may be forever underestimated, as fatalities from slaves were not counted in that era,” Forbes noted.

No. 10 (tie): Waco, Texas, 1953; Wichita Falls, Texas, 1979

114 fatalities in Waco; 42 fatalities in Wichita Falls

The Waco tornado hit the downtown and damaged more than 600 businesses.

The Wichita Falls tornado was one of 13 in parts of north Texas and Oklahoma that day. It was more than a mile wide at its worst.

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