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!
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.
Location: Manikganj District, Bangladesh
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.
Location: Midwestern and Southeastern United States
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.
Location: Dhaka District, Bangladesh
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.
Location: Western Sicily, present-day Italy
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.
Location: Madaripur and Shibchar, Bangladesh
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.
Location: Southeastern United States
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.
Location: Soviet Union, Russia
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.
Location: Midwest and Southwest United States
Deaths: At least 324
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.
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.
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
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.
Location: Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas
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.
Location: Joplin, Missouri
Summary of the 12 Deadliest Tornadoes on Earth
|Rank||Hurricane Name||Hurricane Category||Location||Date|
|1||Daulatpur – Saturia||F4||Manikganj District, Bangladesh||April 25, 1989|
|2||Tri-State||F5||Missouri, Illinois, Alabama, Indiana, and Kansas||March 18, 1925|
|3||Bangladesh 1973||F4||Dhaka District, Bangladesh||April 17, 1973|
|4||Sicily||Unrated||Western Sicily, present-day Italy||December 8, 1851|
|5||Madaripur and Shibchar 1977||Unrated||Madaripur and Shibchar, Bangladesh||April 1, 1977,|
|6||Tupelo-Gainesville 1936||F5||Tupelo, Mississippi, and Gainesville, Georgia||April 5, 1936|
|7||Soviet Union 1984||F4||North of Moscow, Russia||June 9, 1984|
|8||Dixie 1908||F4||Midwest and Southwest United States||April 23-25, 1908|
|9||Great Natchez||Unrated||Natchez, Mississippi||May 7, 1840|
|10||St. Louis 1896||F4||St. Louis, Missouri||May 27, 1896|
|11||Glazier-Higgins-Woodward 1947||F5||Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas||April 9, 1947|
|12||Joplin 2011||F5||Joplin, Missouri||May 22, 2011|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Minerva Studio/Shutterstock.com
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What was the deadliest tornado in world history?
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.
What is a tornado?
Tornadoes are vertical funnels of rapidly spinning air. Their winds may top 250 miles an hour and can clear a pathway a mile wide and 50 miles long. Also known as twisters, tornadoes are born in thunderstorms and are often accompanied by hail.
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