The Worst Tornadoes of All Time, and the Devastation They Caused

Written by Marisa Wilson
Published: September 27, 2022
Image Credit EmiliaUngur/Shutterstock.com
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The majority of tornadoes are small and don’t do much damage. There have, however, been a few that have wreaked great destruction and disaster. One of the deadliest and most destructive types of natural disasters on Earth is tornadoes. While tornadoes do occasionally occur in other nations, sadly, the United States is the country that experiences them most frequently. 

The destruction and damage that tornadoes can produce is absolutely terrifying. They occasionally have the ability to appear suddenly and catch people off guard. Due to people’s lack of preparation, this could cause more harm. The disaster that is generated can be somewhat mitigated if an adequate warning is given beforehand. This allows for appropriate action to be taken accordingly. 

With proper evacuation measures and good disaster management, the effects of these storms can be decreased. However, some of the tornadoes mentioned on this list were hard to warn people about. This is because they didn’t have the capability to read weather patterns as well as they can now. Which made warning people difficult. You already know how destructive tornadoes can be, so let’s dive into the devastation the worst tornadoes cause.

Tornadoes in an Oklahoma farmyard
The Worst Tornados Of All Time Caused Millions of Dollars in Damage

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The St. Louis-East St. Louis Tornado, 1896

Many ignored the warning or believed that the storm would not affect St. Louis, despite it being predicted for the last few days of May. The technology available to weather forecasters then did not allow them to foresee tornadoes (then known as “cyclones”) of this size. Still, they were able to anticipate strong storm systems in general. People went about their daily activities in passivity as the day began. The weather forecast for the morning did not call for any severe weather. 

The local weather bureau predicted thunderstorms, but nothing more powerful. The barometric pressure dropped, and the clouds started to look more sinister around noon. This was alarming to those who knew this was a sign of a tornado. On May 27, 1896, around 5:00 pm, a historic tornado is known as the St. Louis-East St. Louis tornado struck downtown St. Louis, Missouri, East St. Louis, Illinois, and the surrounding areas. 

This tornado was one of the deadliest and most destructive in American history. It was the most notable of a major tornado outbreak that hit the central United States. The next day, it spread to the east, producing several other sizable, long-track, violent tornadoes. At least 255 people were killed, over a thousand were hurt. The St. Louis tornado cost more than $10 million (roughly $326 million in 2021) in damages over about 20 minutes. 

More than 5,000 people lost everything, including their homes. The fashionable neighborhoods of Lafayette Square and Compton Heights, as well as the less affluent Mill Creek Valley, were the city’s hardest hit areas. It continues to rank as the third deadliest tornado in American history.

tornado storm
The St. Louis-East St. Louis Tornado Did $326 Million in Damage (2021 Dollars)

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The Great Natchez Tornado

This enormous tornado developed about twenty miles southwest of Natchez just before noon and moved northeast along the Mississippi River. It directly followed the river, removing forests from both shores. The vortex struck the riverport of Natchez Landing, which is situated below Natchez’s bluff. Out of the 120 flatboats docked at Natchez that day, this windstorm threw 116 of them into the river, killing their crews and passengers. 

Other boats were grabbed and tossed onto the ground. Thirty miles from the river, a piece of a steamboat window was reportedly discovered. Many people who were working on the shore were also killed. The bulldozing of homes, businesses, steamboats, and flatboats at Natchez Landing was almost finished. 

The river and village of Vidalia in Louisiana were also destroyed by its full width of destruction before it finally moved into the town of Natchez. The funnel slammed into the central and northern parts of Natchez, ruining numerous buildings completely. On land, there were 48 deaths, and 269 people perished in the river. 

Further along, the path, as the tornado also hit rural areas of Concordia Parish, Louisiana, many additional fatalities might have happened. The final death toll was 269 on the river and 48 on land, mainly from flatboats sunk. The fact that only 109 people were hurt in addition to the 317 deaths is evidence of the tornado’s intensity. The tornado, which left behind $1,260,000 in damage, is still considered the second deadliest in American history. The actual deaths are estimated to be higher than what is indicated.

Two tornadoes
The Great Nanchez Tornado Was One of The Deadliest in History

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Tri-State Tornado

At least twelve significant tornadoes were produced by one of the fiercest outbreaks in recorded history, which affected a huge portion of the midwest and the southern United States. The outbreak, which occurred on March 18, was the deadliest tornado day in U.S. history, and 1925 had the deadliest tornado year with at least 751 deaths and 2,298 injuries. The outbreak produced significant tornadoes in Alabama and Kansas and numerous terrible tornadoes on the same day in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. 

There were undoubtedly other tornadoes with less severe effects than the ones that were confirmed, but their occurrences have been lost to history. The Tri-State tornado, the second-deadliest tornado ever recorded globally and the deadliest tornado in American history, was a part of the outbreak. The tornado’s 219-mile path from southeast Missouri through southern Illinois and southwest Indiana is the longest ever recorded. 

According to modern meteorological re-analysis, the extremely long path length and lifespan described in historical accounts may better be explained by a family of independent tornadoes than to a single, continuous tornado. The storm injured more than 2,000 people, 105 of whom later died from their injuries. Hospitals from St. Louis to Evansville were immediately overrun with the wounded and dying. 

The most seriously injured were transported by relief trains from Missouri to St. Louis. The rest were taken to Perryville and Cape Girardeau hospitals. The Missouri Pacific Railroad transported most of the injured north to East St. Louis. And the remaining south to Cairo in Gorham, where half of the town’s residents were hurt.  

Tornado
The Tri-State Tornado Resulted in Over 750 Deaths

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Saturia Tornado, Bangladesh

On April 25, 1989, a trough of low pressure moved eastward across Bangladesh and into Manipur, India. It spread over Bihar and West Bengal, India. The system remained largely stationary throughout the day on April 26 and into the next. On that day, a ridge over China and another low from Madhya Pradesh combined to make the pressure gradient across Bangladesh tighter. Cool, dry air moved south from the Himalayas, while warm, moist air moved northeast from the Bay of Bengal. 

Strong westerly winds from the jet stream produced plenty of wind shear in the upper levels of the atmosphere above the low. This was a crucial element in making supercell thunderstorms capable of producing tornadoes. On April 26, the jet stream reached an exceptionally high point. It had winds reaching 150 mph at 35,000 ft, according to a sounding from Dhaka. 

Thunderstorm development was centered around an established dry line over western Bangladesh. All of the above elements caused severe thunderstorms nationwide by 12:00 UTC. A tornado landed near Daulatpur in the Manikganj District around 12:30 UTC and then moved east before striking Saturnia. It devastated a 58 sq mi area spanning three upazilas, with Saturia suffering the most. It traveled a path of about 50 miles. According to a World Meteorological Organization newsletter, the tornado had a Fujita Scale rating of F3.5. 

However, the 210 to 260 mph wind estimate would classify it as an F4. About 1300 people were killed, and another 12,000 were hurt. Numerous trees were uprooted, and every house within a six-square-kilometer radius of the tornado’s path was destroyed entirely. About 80,000 people were left without a place to live.

Storm over Lubbock, TX
The Saturia F4 Tornado In 1989 Resulted in 12,000 Injuries

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Tornado hitting a house
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
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About the Author

Creepy-crawly creatures enthrall Marisa. Aside from raising caterpillars, she has a collection of spiders as pets. The brown recluse is her favorite spider of all time. They're just misunderstood. You don't have to worry about squishing the creatures as her catching, and relocating abilities can safely move stray centipedes or snakes to a new location that's not your living room.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How bad are tornadoes?

Tornadoes typically result in 60 to 80 fatalities and over 1,500 injuries each year. In the most violent tornadoes, flying or falling debris causes most deaths. Only 2% of tornadoes are violent, but they are responsible for 70% of tornado fatalities.

What makes a tornado stop?

It rotates the air on the ground and starts to rip up the earth. A tornado forms when the funnel cloud interacts with the turbulent air close to the ground. The tornado gradually dissipates as the energy of the updrafts wanes.

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

Sources
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  2. , Available here: https://www.homeadvisor.com/r/worst-tornadoes-in-us-and-world-history/
  3. , Available here: https://www.12storylibrary.com/non-fiction/all-time-worst-disasters/12-worst-tornadoes-time/
  4. , Available here: https://www.ranker.com/list/the-worst-tornadoes-in-history/drake-bird