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The Tri-State Tornado of Wednesday, March 18, 1925, was the deadliest tornado in U.S. history. With 695 confirmed fatalities, the tornado killed more than twice as many as the second deadliest, the 1840 Great Natchez Tornado. The continuous ≥219 mile (≥352 km) track left by the tornado was the longest ever recorded in the world: the tornado crossed from southeastern Missourimarker, through Southern Illinois, then into southwestern Indianamarker. While not officially rated by NOAA, it is recognized by many as an F5 tornado, the maximal damage rating issued on the Fujita scale.


The tornado was part of a larger tornado outbreak with several other destructive tornadoes in Tennesseemarker, Kentuckymarker, and Indiana, as well as tornadoes in Alabamamarker and Kansasmarker. Including additional tornadoes that day, at least 747 people were killed and 2,298 were injured during this unusually intense and early spring outbreak. There were undoubtedly many other smaller tornadoes that have been lost to history.

List of significant tornadoes — March 18, 1925
Time (local)
Path length
F2 Dearing, Kansasmarker Montgomery, Kansasmarker 0510 unknown Homes and gas station damaged at and around Dearing.
F5 NNW of Ellington, Missourimarker to 10 mi (16 km) NE of Princeton, Indianamarker Reynoldsmarker, Ironmarker, Madisonmarker, Bollingermarker, Cape Girardeaumarker, Perrymarker, Missourimarker - Jacksonmarker, Williamsonmarker, Franklinmarker, Hamiltonmarker, Whitemarker, Illinoismarker - Poseymarker, Gibsonmarker, Pikemarker, Indianamarker 1301 234 miles (377 km) 695 deaths - Deadliest single tornado in US history - See section on this tornado
F2 Littleville, Alabamamarker Colbertmarker, Alabamamarker 1642 12 miles (19 km) 1 death - moved northeast at Littleville where damage and casualties at gas station, homes, and store occurred; 60 yd (55 m) average path width. 12 others were injured.
F4 near Buck Lodge, Tennessee to Beaumont, Kentucky Sumnermarker, Tennesseemarker - Allenmarker, Barrenmarker, Monroemarker, Metcalfemarker, Kentuckymarker 1700 60 miles (97 km) 39 deaths - Moved ENE from 8 mi (13 km) north of Gallatin, Tennesseemarker, homes leveled in many communities, possibly a tornado family; 400 yd (370 m) average path width. 95 others were injured.
F4 Mauckport, Indianamarker to southern border of Louisville, Kentuckymarker Harrisonmarker, Indianamarker - Jeffersonmarker, Kentuckymarker 1715 18 miles (29 km) 4 deaths - Up to mile (1.6 km) wide, moved ENE, swept away entire farms near Laconiamarker and Elizabeth, Indianamarker before ending just south of Louisville, Kentuckymarker; 1200 yd (2000 m) average path width. 60 others were injured
F3 Kirkland, Tennessee Williamsonmarker, Rutherfordmarker, Tennesseemarker 1745 20 miles (32 km) 1 death - Major damage to homes in Kirkland incurring all casualties; 200 yd (185 m) average path width. Nine others were injured.
F3 Louisvillemarker to near Pewee Valley, Kentuckymarker Jeffersonmarker, Oldhammarker, Kentuckymarker 1800 10 miles (16 km) ≥3 deaths - Moved NE from east edge of Louisvillemarker to near Pewee Valleymarker; at least 12 homes destroyed. 40 others were injured, and the death toll may have been higher.
F3 near Unionville to 2 mi (3 km) NE of Fosterville, Tennessee Bedfordmarker, Rutherfordmarker, Tennesseemarker 1810 12 miles (19 km) 2 deaths - Moved ENE, at least 10 homes destroyed; 300 yd (275 m) average path width. 15 others were injured.
F3 western Marion Countymarker to past Lexington, Kentuckymarker Marionmarker, Washingtonmarker, Mercermarker, Jessaminemarker, Fayettemarker, Bourbonmarker, Kentuckymarker 1830 60 miles (97 km) 2 deaths - Tornado family moved ENE from western Marion Countymarker, passing near Springfieldmarker, ending past Lexingtonmarker; 300 yd (275 m) average path width. 40 others were injured.

Tri-State Tornado

One tornado or a series?

There has long been discussion as to whether the event was a single continuous tornado or a tornado family. Quality of data because of distance in the past and lack of other tornadoes approaching this path length and duration raised doubts; and theory on tornadoes and supercell morphology suggested such duration was exceedingly improbable. In fact, several other historically very long track tornadoes were subsequently found to be tornado families, although in the last several years some very long track tornadoes and supercells have occurred. Thorough new and continuing research, however, has found no break in the path and also that the tornado touchdown may have occurred approximately 15 miles (24 km) before previously thought, bringing the total path length to around 234 mi (377 km).

Tri-State Tornado storm track and other tornadoes that day from "Monthly Weather Review" April 1925[1].
The information about the temperature, pressure, and other tornadoes may not be accurate, however one can get a general idea of the scale of this storm.


The vortex was first sighted at around 1:01 p.m., north-north-west of Ellington, Missourimarker. The tornado sped to the northeast, killing two and causing $500,000 worth of property damage and the near annihilation of Annapolismarker, then struck the mining town of Leadanna. In Bollinger Countymarker, 32 children were injured when two schools were damaged. Redfordmarker, Cornwall, Biehlemarker, and Frohnamarker also were hit by the tornado. At least eleven died altogether in Missouri.


The tornado crossed the Mississippi River into southern Illinois, hitting the town of Gorhammarker, at 2:30 p.m., essentially obliterating the entire town, killing 34. Continuing to the northeast at an average speed of 62 miles per hour (100 km/h) (and up to 73 miles per hour [117 km/h]), the tornado cut a swath almost a mile (1.6 km) wide through Murphysboromarker, De Sotomarker, Hurst-Bushmarker, and West Frankfortmarker. Also afflicted were Zeiglermarker, Eighteen, and Crossvillemarker. Within 40 minutes, 541 lives were lost and 1,423 were seriously injured. The village of Parrish was completely destroyed, killing 22. In Murphysboro, 234 were killed, the most in a single city in U.S. history. The tornado proceeded to decimate rural areas across Hamiltonmarker and Whitemarker Counties, claiming 65 more residents. In Illinois, at least 613 were killed, the most in a single state in U.S. history.


Crossing the Wabash River into Indiana, the tornado struck and nearly totally demolished Griffinmarker, devastated rural areas, impacted Owensvillemarker, then roared into Princetonmarker, destroying half the town. The tornado traveled ten more miles (16 km) to the northeast before finally dissipating at about 4:30 p.m. around three miles (5 km) southwest of Petersburgmarker. In Indiana, at least 71 perished.


In all, at least 695 died and 2027 were injured, mostly in southern Illinois. Three states, thirteen counties, and more than nineteen communities, four of which were essentially effaced (several of these and others never recovered), were in the path of the record 3.5 hour duration tornado. Total damage was estimated at $16.5 million; adjusted for wealth and inflation the toll is approximately $1.4 billion (1997 USD), surpassed in history only by two extremely destructive tornadoes in the City of St. Louismarker. These three events in terms of destruction, inferred by normalized monetary losses, are by far the most destructive (and expensive) tornadoes ever in the United States. Over 15,000 homes were destroyed by the Tri-State Tornado.

Nine schools across three states were destroyed in which 69 students were killed, more schools destroyed and more students killed (as well as the single school record of 33 deaths in De Soto, Illinois) than any other tornado in U.S. history.

The unusual appearance (due to its size) of the very fast moving tornado, best described by the witnesses along most of its path as an amorphous rolling fog or boiling clouds on the ground, fooled normally weather wise farm owners (and people in general) who did not sense the danger until the storm was upon them.

The tornado was accompanied by extreme downburst winds generally throughout the entirety of its course; the tornado and accompanying downbursts increased the width of damage from an average of 3/4-mile (1.2 km) (though at times over a mile [1.6 km] wide) to an area three miles (5 km) wide at times.

In addition to the dead and injured, thousands were left without shelter or food. Fires erupted, exacerbating the damage. Looting and theft, notably of the property of the dead, was reported. Recovery was generally slow with the event leaving a lasting blow to the region.

See also


External links

  • The Tri-State Tornado: The Story of America's Greatest Tornado Disaster, by Peter S. Felknor. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1992. 131 pages. ISBN 0-8138-0623-2.
  • The Forgotten Storm: The Great Tri-state Tornado of 1925, by Wallace E. Akin. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2002. 173 pages. ISBN 1-58574-607-X.

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