The 12 Deadliest Tornadoes on Earth and What Happened

Tornado
© Minerva Studio/Shutterstock.com

Written by Niccoy Walker

Updated: September 12, 2023

Share on:

Advertisement


Tornadoes are violent weather phenomena. They produce wind speeds up to 300 mph that lift cars into the air, shred houses apart in seconds, and turn glass and debris into destructive missiles. More than 2,000 tornadoes occur worldwide every year, causing hundreds of deaths and millions in damage. Discover the 12 deadliest tornadoes on earth!

Tornado

The Daulatpur-Saturia was the deadliest tornado in human history, killing 1,300 and wounding 12,000.

©Minerva Studio/Shutterstock.com

Daulatpur – Saturia 

On April 25, 1989, an F4 tornado ripped through the Manikganj District in Bangladesh. Its path was 50 miles long, and its wind speed was between 210 and 260 MPH. The exact death toll is uncertain, but it’s estimated to be around 1,300 people, with 12,000 injured. The tornado uprooted trees, destroyed countless homes, and left 80,000 people homeless. The Daulatpur-Saturia tornado is the deadliest in history. 

Year: 1989

Location: Manikganj District, Bangladesh

Deaths: 1,300

Tri-State

Great Tornado over the road

The Tri-State outbreak in 1925 was the worst recorded tornado in the United States.

©artofvisionn/Shutterstock.com

A deadly outbreak of at least 12 tornadoes mowed down homes, schools, and businesses across Missouri, Illinois, Alabama, Indiana, and Kansas. These tornadoes spawned mid-afternoon on March 18, 1925, while children were in school, and people were at work. The worst of the bunch was the F5 Tri-State tornado that tore through Southeastern Missouri, Southern Illinois, and Southwestern Indiana. The outbreak lasted seven hours, claiming 751 lives and causing billions in damages. The Tri-State tornado is the deadliest in United States history and the second deadliest on earth. 

Year: 1925

Location: Midwestern and Southeastern United States

Deaths: 751

Bangladesh, 1973

April 17, 1973, a tornado leveled eight villages in the Manikganj subdivision of the Dhaka District in Bangladesh. The prime minister stated that not a single dwelling was traceable. Uprooted trees lay in crisscrossed patterns, and bodies covered the ground. The official death toll was 681, but locals believe that over 1,000 people lost their lives that day. The 1973 Bangladesh tornado is the third worst in human history, and it occurred 16 years before the Daulatpur-Saturia tornado wiped out 1,300 people. 

Year: 1973

Location: Dhaka District, Bangladesh

Deaths: 681

Sicily

Two tornadoes swept through the countryside on December 8, 1851, in Western Sicily (now Italy). Two large waterspouts crossed over the plains and formed a giant supercell tornado. It is unknown how many people died, but experts estimate around 500. Tornadoes are very rare in Italy, and this was the second largest one to hit Europe. The first was the Malta tornado that killed 600 people in 1555. 

Year: 1851

Location: Western Sicily, present-day Italy

Deaths: 500

Tornado formation

Tornadoes form when warm, humid air collides with cold, dry air.

©Tsyntseus Anastasiia/Shutterstock.com

Madaripur and Shibchar, 1977

Bangladesh receives more than its fair share of severe storms, especially tornadoes. To the south lies the Bay of Bengal, similar to the Gulf of Mexico, which pushes warm and humid air. On April 1, 1977, a deadly tornado hit Madaripur and Shibchar, proving that this April Fool’s Day was no laughing matter. It leveled trees, homes, and businesses, leaving behind 500 bodies in its wake. 

Year: 1977

Location: Madaripur and Shibchar, Bangladesh

Deaths: 500

Tupelo-Gainesville, 1936

Survivors of tornado damage

More than 2,000 tornadoes occur worldwide annually, causing many deaths and millions in damage.

©Gregory Simpson/Shutterstock.com

Twelve tornadoes struck the Southeastern United States on April 5, 1936. The outbreak centered around Tupelo, Mississippi, and Gainesville, Georgia, with at least two F5 tornadoes. Other destructive twisters hit parts of Tennessee, South Carolina, and Acworth, Georgia. The storm also produced severe flash floods that caused millions in damage. 454 people died from this group of tornadoes. 

Year: 1936

Location: Southeastern United States

Deaths: 454

Soviet Union, 1984

Modern Russia has only experienced three tornadoes, and the 1984 one was the worst in its history. On June 9, 1984, 11 tornadoes formed in the Soviet Union north of Moscow. Two tornadoes were F4s; one was 0.7 miles wide, which caused extreme damage. Severe thunderstorms around these twisters produced the heaviest hail in history, weighing around 2.2 pounds. The exact death toll is unknown, but some speculate it may be as high as 400. 

Year: 1984

Location: Soviet Union, Russia

Deaths:  400

Dixie, 1908

Large tornado forming

Tornadoes are vertical funnels of rapidly spinning air. Winds may top 250 miles an hour.

©Nick Photoworld/Shutterstock.com

For two days, a tornado outbreak terrorized the residents of the midwestern and southern United States. Between April 23 and 25, 1908, 31 tornadoes swept through 13 states, killing 324 and wounding 1,720. Three violent F4 tornadoes caused most deaths in rural areas, and a considerable amount was unaccounted African Americans. 

Year: 1908

Location: Midwest and Southwest United States

Deaths: At least 324

Two tornadoes

Many of the older recorded tornadoes in the U.S. are much worse than previously thought.

©Huntstyle/Shutterstock.com

Great Natchez

The second deadliest tornado in the United States hit Natchez, Mississippi, on May 7, 1840. The tornado moved along the banks of the Mississippi River, tossing boats and drowning crew members before moving into town and desolating buildings. It’s estimated that 317 people died, and over 100 were injured. Most lives lost were enslaved people working on plantations, and many deaths were not recorded. 

Year: 1840

Location: Natchez, Mississippi

Deaths: At least 317

St. Louis, 1896

An F4 tornado caused severe damage to St. Louis, Missouri, and East St. Louis, Illinois. In the early evening of May 27, 1896, the most notable of a tornado outbreak, tour through these populated cities. The destruction lasted for 20 minutes, but caused $10 million in damages, left 5,000 homeless, and killed at least 255 people. It is the third deadliest tornado in United States history.

Year: 1896

Location: St. Louis, Missouri

Deaths: 255

Glazier-Higgins-Woodward, 1947

Tornado hitting a house

Tornadoes are violent weather phenomena that produce wind speeds up to 300 mph.

©EmiliaUngur/Shutterstock.com

On April 9, 1947, a supercell spawned 12 tornadoes that swept through Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Most of the damage was from one F5 tornado that decimated everything in its path. This cyclone traveled 125 miles, causing $10 million in damages, injuring 980, and killing 181. Shortly after, a cold front covered the wreckage in snow, making it even harder to clean up. 

Year: 1947

Location: Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas

Deaths: 181

Joplin, 2011

Joplin, MO tornado damage

The tornado killed 158 people, injured 1,150, and accrued $2.8 billion in damages.

©Melissa Brandes/Shutterstock.com

During the evening of Sunday, May 22, 2011, an F5 tornado rapidly intensified and picked up speed as it headed towards Joplin, Missouri. Its maximum width was nearly one mile, and it hit much of the rural portions of the area. The tornado killed 158 people, injured 1,150, and accrued $2.8 billion in damages. It is the costliest tornado in United States history. 

Year: 2011

Location: Joplin, Missouri

Deaths: 158

Summary of the 12 Deadliest Tornadoes on Earth

RankHurricane NameHurricane CategoryLocationDate
1Daulatpur – Saturia F4Manikganj District, Bangladesh April 25, 1989
2Tri-StateF5Missouri, Illinois, Alabama, Indiana, and KansasMarch 18, 1925
3Bangladesh 1973F4Dhaka District, BangladeshApril 17, 1973
4SicilyUnratedWestern Sicily, present-day ItalyDecember 8, 1851
5Madaripur and Shibchar 1977UnratedMadaripur and Shibchar, BangladeshApril 1, 1977,
6Tupelo-Gainesville 1936F5Tupelo, Mississippi, and Gainesville, GeorgiaApril 5, 1936
7Soviet Union 1984F4North of Moscow, RussiaJune 9, 1984
8Dixie 1908F4Midwest and Southwest United StatesApril 23-25, 1908
9Great NatchezUnratedNatchez, MississippiMay 7, 1840
10St. Louis 1896F4St. Louis, MissouriMay 27, 1896
11Glazier-Higgins-Woodward 1947F5Texas, Oklahoma, and KansasApril 9, 1947
12Joplin 2011F5Joplin, MissouriMay 22, 2011


Share this post on:
About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer for A-Z Animals, and her primary focus is on birds, travel, and interesting facts of all kinds. Niccoy has been writing and researching about travel, nature, wildlife, and business for several years and holds a business degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver. A resident of Florida, Niccoy enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, and spending time at the beach.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.