The deadliest tornado in U.S. history wasn’t in April or May, but in March. Here’s an excerpt from “Twister Tales”, available on Amazon, about this incredible tragedy:
The ferocious Tri-State Tornado formed in eastern Missouri, crossed all of southern Illinois and moved into southwestern Indiana before ending its continuous 219-mile path of havoc and heartache.
The twister took shape over the hilly terrain of southeastern Missouri about 1 p.m. on March 18, 1925. This was a Wednesday so adults were at work and kids were in school.
The storm catapulted east-northeast from its initial impact point in Missouri at speeds of an incredible 60 to 70 mph (an average tornado’s forward speed is 25 to 30 mph). One of the first unfortunate communities in its path was Annapolis, Missouri, where some two dozen children huddled in their brick schoolhouse while the fierce winds chewed it into rubble.
On this day of great tragedy one was avoided here: by luck or by the heavens, all 25 of the children survived with only minor injuries. Hundreds of citizens downstream and in the twister’s target zone would not share that fortune.
The Tri-State Tornado clung to an unwavering path, crossing the Mississippi River and turning its fury on Gorham, Illinois, a small but thriving rail and farming town two miles from the river and in the middle of rich flood plain farmland. It laid waste to the town, killing 37, and the community was considered “100 percent de-stroyed,” meaning no building survived without significant damage.
The winds were so fierce here that railroad tracks were pulled off of the ground and flung high through the air.
Eight minutes later, Murphysboro, Illinois was in the crosshairs.
This was a moderate sized city of 15,000 and was the largest population center hit by the storm. It was here that 234 persons were killed, still the highest tornado death toll for any single city in the U.S. Fires broke out in the wake of the tornado and overall 40 percent of the city was left in ruins.
Just moments after leaving Murphysboro the fierce vortex hit De Soto, Illinois and the downtown area, where numerous citizens took shelter within a bank vault and survived, 36 who did not were killed. A 21st century example of this happened during the Moore, Oklahoma Tornado of 2013. Twenty-two people survived the Moore EF-5 mammoth by taking shelter in the Tinker Federal Credit Union’s bank vault as the twister roared through.
Back to the Tri-State Tornado, as its path took it over the De Soto school where 33 children died. It’s a school fatality figure that has never been exceeded by any U.S. weather event. West Frankfort, Illinois was the next victim at 3:00 p.m. when the storm destroyed 500 buildings including many recently-built homes in this coal-mining town. Six hundred miners were safely below ground, but when they came to the surface they found their town half destroyed and 182 of their friends and neighbors dead. Some 400 were injured.
The Tri-State behemoth continued without mercy, and 10 minutes later the town of Parrish, Illinois was leveled, and just as with Gorham, Illinois, not a single structure in the town survived without damage or complete destruction. There were 36 deaths here. The huge vortex rolled on into southwestern Indiana and the town of Griffin, Indiana was all but obliterated. Residents reported seeing a multi-vortex structure, although they didn’t call it that, they referred to it as “several funnels that moved around and came together.”
After leaving Griffin the tornado continued for a few more miles to Princeton, Indiana. In 10 more minutes the tornado would dissipate, but at this point it was still vicious enough to claim 45 lives and hurt 150 more. The deadliest tornado in American history finally dissipated over an Indiana corn field at 4:30 p.m. The massive funnel laid waste to everything in its path. The towns of Gorham and Parrish, Illinois, and Griffin, Indiana were completely destroyed or nearly so. Annapolis, Missouri, had 90 percent of its buildings damaged or destroyed. Parrish was never rebuilt and it became a “tornado ghost town.”
The tornado’s “cloaked” appearance as merely a boiling black cloud and its rapid speed of movement were probably factors in the high number of fatalities, along with absolutely no warning.
Some numbers from the event include:
• Longest-track tornado in U.S. weather records: 219 miles
• Average width of ¾ mile, more than a mile in places, EF-5
intensity with winds of 200-plus mph
• Three and half hours on the ground
• Incredible forward speed of 62 mph with a maximum
ground speed of 73 mph
• 695 deaths, 2,027 injuries
• 15,000 homes destroyed
• $17 million in damage (1925 dollars).
It’s probably well over a billion in real-world 21st century figures.
Imagine if the Joplin, Missouri, or Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornadoes (of 2011) had happened with no warning of any kind. That’s what they faced in Murphysboro, Illinois; Griffin, Indiana, and other towns along the Tri-State Tornado’s path: pockets of dense population, over 1,000 people per square mile in some spots, with no idea what was coming.
We can thank the tremendous advances in weather science, communications, and building engineering of today for keeping death tolls in even the most horrific tornadoes much lower than in the past.
Read about ALL of the Top 10 deadliest U.S. tornadoes as well as many tornado myths in “Twister Tales”, available on Amazon in Kindle or paperback. GET YOURS NOW: Order Twister Tales on Amazon (click here)