Analysis of Violent Tornadoes that have Struck Downtown Areas

Views of three infamous tornadoes that struck the downtowns of large cities. At left, one of the most unsual tornadoes in recent history passed directly through downtown Salt Lake City at F2 intensity. At center, a wide but weak tornadic circulation damaged skyscrapers in downtown Nashville in 1999. While officially rated an F3, the storm caused no damage indicative of such intensity at any point throughout its life. At right, some of Atlanta's tallest buildings were struck by an unexpected nighttime tornado in 2008. All three storms caused tremendous monetary damage and one fatality each.

At left, an exceptionally rare F2 tornado passed directly through downtown Salt Lake City in 1999. At center, a wide but weak tornadic circulation damaged skyscrapers in downtown Nashville in 1998. While officially rated an F3, the storm caused no damage indicative of such intensity. At right, some of Atlanta’s tallest buildings were struck by an unexpected nighttime tornado in 2008. All three storms caused tremendous monetary damage but only one fatality each due to their modest strength.

Despite popular misconception, the downtowns of large cities are no less prone to violent tornadoes than the farmland that surrounds them. High-rise districts are rarely larger than one or two square miles, so they sit as small and widely spaced targets across the storm prone regions of the United States and Canada. Tornadoes have caused well over 1 billion dollars in damage and approximately 100 fatalities in the centers of major cities since 1950. As of this writing, however, no tornado* has ever caused violent (EF4/EF5) damage in the downtown area of a large city.

Below is a list of all strong (E/F3+) tornadoes that have impacted the downtowns of cities with populations greater than 100,000. While all of these storms left impressive damage, none caused the catastrophic devastation that researchers have predicted using modeled scenarios. Analyses of spatial distributions have indicated that a single tornado could take well over 10,000 lives within the boundaries of a major population center (Wurman, Alexander, Robinson, Richardson, 2006). After decades of relative complacency, the 2011 storm season proved that modern civilization is still no match for an EF5 tornado.

*The Gainesville, Georgia, tornado of 1936 caused violent tornado damage in the city’s central business district as well as over 200 fatalities. The population of Gainesville, however, is less than 50,000.

St. Johns Hospital was impacted by EF4 winds as the Joplin tornado reached EF5 intensity only a 100 yards north of the main tower.  (Images courtesy of Mercy Health)

The 2011 Joplin tornado reached EF5 intensity as the core of the storm passed only a few hundred feet north of St. John’s Hospital. The complex’s main tower is the tallest inhabited building ever directly impacted by violent tornadic winds. Irreversible damage to the structure’s concrete frame led to its demolition in 2012. (Images courtesy of Mercy Health)

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Waco, Texas – May 11, 1953

High school student David Reagan took color photographs of the tornado damage in downtown Waco following the devastating tornado of 1953. At left, the remains of a collapsed building on the 400 block of Austin Avenue, where more than half the fatalities occurred. (

Color photographs of damage in downtown Waco, the scene of the most disastrous tornado to ever impact the center of a large city. At left, the remains of a collapsed building on the 400 block of Austin Avenue, where more than half of the fatalities occurred. The Roosevelt Hotel, visible in the background, only suffered minor damage despite being directly impacted by the storm. (Images by David Reagan)

A sudden burst of heavy rain sent weekend shoppers scrambling for shelter in downtown Waco on May 11th, 1953. From inside the many multi-story businesses lining 4th and 5th Street, people watched as the afternoon sun was quickly extinguished by a massive thunderstorm. An “inpenetrable darkness” swept over the city streets, causing the few driving vehicles to switch on their headlights (WCCC.TV, 2012). Dozens of customers in the five-story R. T. Dennis Building, a large furniture store on 5th Street,  watched from the plate glass windows as hail loudly banged against parked cars. The storm was growing in intensity when an ominous roar was heard off to the south.

Without warning, a 300-yard wide tornado swept through the city center at 40mph. Those taking shelter in street-front shops were pelted with flying glass as a “dark fog” engulfed the area. Massive thuds were heard as water tanks were blown off roofs, crushing cars on the street below. The R. T. Dennis Building swayed back and forth a few times before collapsing, killing more than 22 people – including the majority of the store’s staff (Cox, 2006). A nearby recreation center was flattened, crushing 17 others to death (AP, 2003). More than half of the 114 deaths occurred on one city block, bound by Austin and 5th Street to the west. Damage to low-rise mortar buildings was catastrophic, yet the eleven-story Roosevelt Hotel stood with only a few broken windows. The tallest high-rise in Waco, the 22-story ALICO Building, suffered similarly modest damage despite being just across the street from the worst affected area

After the creation of the Fujita Scale, the Waco tornado was retrospectively given an F5 rating. Photographs, however, indicate that home damage in the vicinity of downtown was in the F2 and F3 range. The low concentration of fatalities in the residential sections of the city, coupled with the survival of most of the city’s large buildings, indicates the storm was likely under F5 intensity in the areas documented by local media.

At left, aerial view of the damage in downtown Waco. The 22-story ALICO (far left) was only a hundred yards from the devastated R. T. Dennis Building (Image from The Texas Collection). At right, view of the devastation on 5th Street.

At left, aerial view of the damage in downtown Waco. The 22-story ALICO Building (far left) was less than one 100 yards from the destroyed R. T. Dennis Building (Image from The Texas Collection). At right, view of the devastation on 5th Street.

At left, ground view of the devastation on 5th Street.

Ground views of the devastation in downtown Waco. The tornado was likely at F3 or marginal F4 intensity in the downtown area.

Additional views of the damage. At left, the 22-story ALICO Building is visible just beyond the worst damage. At right, workers pulling a body from a car that was crushed by debris. (Images courtesy of the Austin History Center)

Additional views of the damage. At left, the 22-story ALICO Building is visible just beyond the worst damage. At right, workers pulling a body from a car that was crushed by debris. (Images courtesy of the Austin History Center)

Topeka, Kansas – June 6, 1966

The Topeka tornado was clearly visible and fairly slow-moving, which allowed more than two dozen photographers to capture the storm from various vantage points. (Image from the Kansas State Historical Society)

The Topeka tornado was clearly visible and fairly slow-moving, which allowed more than two dozen photographers to capture the storm from various vantage points. Here the tornado is seen churning through Burnett’s Mound at peak intensity.

One of the most well-known tornadoes of the 20th century touched down near Old Pauline Road in Shawnee County, Kansas. The large and widely visible funnel was reported by several police officers and weather service employees as it roared to the northeast towards the city of Topeka. Just east of Sherwood Lake, the rapidly intensifying tornado swept a home completely away, killing the two occupants. The storm’s moderate forward speed, which averaged 30mph, gave residents in the outer suburbs of Topeka more than ten minutes to seek appropriate shelter. By the time the barrel-shaped tornado reached a housing development along Interstate 470, it was at peak intensity. Rows of small tract homes were reduced to bare concrete slabs and vehicles were hurled more than two block and mangled beyond recognition. Most of the storm’s fatalities occurred in this area. The tornado swept over a freeway overpass where a group of people had sought shelter, leading to several critical injuries.

As the tornado moved into the city, it weakened slightly but continued causing a pronounced swath of F3+ damage. A large apartment complex was impacted directly by the tornado, yet only one of the 100 or more people who did not make it to the building’s storm cellar was killed (Fales, 1967). The storm crossed over a mile long section of Big Shunga Park, momentarily sparing residential areas of the city. After tearing across 21st Street, the tornado passed over the main campus of Washburn University. More than a dozen large, stone buildings at the college were severely damaged – some having their upper floors sheared completely off. Fifty students and faculty survived in the southeast corner of the school chapel’s basement. The “safe” southwest corner of the basement, where the group intended to hide, was buried in thousands of pounds of debris moments later (Fales, 1967). A 300lb piece of stone originating from the college was hurled two miles and found atop the Topeka Municipal Auditorium (Fales, 1967). As the storm continued to the northeast it ripped through downtown Topeka at marginal F3 intensity. The state capitol and a ten-story building suffered window and roof damage, but no fatalities were recorded in this area. East of downtown, the tornado flipped planes at the municipal airport before narrowing and dissipating.

The tornado caused 14 deaths in Topeka an 16 overall (Hoots, 2010). After the Fujita Scale was created in the early 70’s, the tornado was given an F5 rating due to the home damage near Interstate 470. Most of the homes were small and not well-built, however, so the damage may not be indicative of F5 intensity. The low number of fatalities was likely the result of the tornado’s slow movement, wide visibility and moderate intensity north of Big Shunga Park.

At left, view of devastation near the I-470, where the most intense damage in Topeka was documented (Image by Rich Clarkson). At right, Rick Douglas narrowly survived the tornado after being blown out from beneath an overpass and caked in mud and debris (Image by Delmar Schmidt).

At left, view of devastation near the I-470, where the most intense damage in Topeka was documented (Image by Rich Clarkson). At right, Rick Douglas narrowly survived the tornado after being blown out from beneath an overpass and caked in mud and debris. (Image by Delmar Schmidt).

Damage at Washburn University. (credit)

Damage at Washburn University. A 300lb chunk of stone from this building was thrown two miles. (Image by Mike Worswick)

After causing intense damage in southwest Topeka, the weakening tornado passed through downtown. Windows were shattered in the city's tallest high-rise, and the capital building was heavily damaged.

After causing intense damage in southwest Topeka, the weakening tornado passed through the southern end of downtown. Windows were shattered in some of the city’s tallest high-rises, and the capital building suffered roof damage.

Lubbock, Texas – May 11, 1970

The Lubbock tornado was awarded an F5 rating due to damage in the northern sections of town, although an F4 rating was likely more appropriate. In downtown, the wind damage was comparatively light. (The City of Lubbock)

The Lubbock tornado was awarded an F5 rating due to damage in the northern sections of the city, although an F4 rating may have been more appropriate. In downtown, the wind damage was relatively light. Most sources erroneously claim that the Great Plains Life Building was directly impacted by the tornado at F5 intensity. (Images from The City of Lubbock)

One of the most important tornadoes in US history touched down in Lubbock, Texas, on a stormy night in May of 1970. The tornado’s damage path commenced a few blocks southwest of the city’s high-rise district, which included two buildings over 200ft in height. Downtown Lubbock was bombarded by hurricane force winds as the tornado widened to over a mile in width and slowly meandered to the north. Windows were shattered and several unreinforced brick walls collapsed, but the damage was fairly light in the city’s business district. The tornado’s first victim was killed several blocks west of downtown in the collapse of a small home. The massive storm intensified as it turned northward into the Guadelupe neighborhood, a low-income district with many poorly built homes. Widely spaced suction vortices left narrow strips of intense devastation surrounded on all sides by moderate to mild damage. Eight people were killed in the Guadelupe area, most in homes that were leveled to the ground.

Extreme streaks of damage were documented as the tornado crossed a tributary of the Brazos River and entered an industrial area. A 26,000lb, 41-ft long fertilizer tank was hurled nearly a mile across a freeway without leaving any visible impact marks. Several large oil tanks were also carried more than 300 yards, and a railroad car was rolled 50 yards (TTU, 1970). Sixteen people were killed near loop 289 of the US 87, several of them in vehicles swept off the freeway. The deaths included a family of four in a home that was swept completely away (City of Lubbock). Almost all of the residential developments in Lubbock are to the south and west of the business district, so the storm did not impact the majority of the city’s densely populated neighborhoods. As a result, the final death toll was only 26 residents.

Following the tornado, a relatively unknown faculty member from the University of Chicago, Professor Fujita, spent more than a week thoroughly studying the storm’s damage. Photographs of the widely spaced streaks of destruction led to our modern understanding of multiple suction vortices, a phenomena that had never before been so clearly documented. The Fujita-Pierson Tornado Damage Scale was also developed as a direct result of research conducted on the Lubbock tornado. The tornado was later given an F5 rating due to the severity of the damage in the northern edges of the city. Most, if not all of the obliterated homes were of questionable construction, so a contemporary EF5 rating may not be appropriate. The movement of large industrial equipment, however, remains among the most impressive instances of tornado damage ever documented.

Note: Fujita reported that a “family of five” was killed in a home in the Skyview neighborhood, but no such deaths were recorded by the city.

Despite reports to the contrary, the Great Plains Life Building in downtown Lubbock was well outside the F4/F5 damage zones. Window and roof damage to the building was likely the result winds in the F1 range. Following the tornado, the building was deemed "unsafe" and abandoned for several years. Whether the tornado truly caused massive structural damage is unclear.

Despite reports to the contrary, the Great Plains Life Building in downtown Lubbock was well outside the F4/F5 damage streaks. The window and roof damage to the building was likely the result of ground-level winds in the F1 range. Following the tornado, the building was deemed “unsafe” and abandoned for several years due to a visible twist in the structure’s frame. (Images from the City of Lubbock)

Aerial views of the intense damage streaks in northern Lubbock. At right, view of destroyed homes on Cypress Road, where three fatalities occurred. At left, damage in the Guadelupe district. (Images from the City of Lubbock

Aerial views of damage streaks in northern Lubbock. At right, view of destroyed homes on Cypress Road, where three fatalities occurred. At left, damage in the Guadelupe district. The tornado’s low death toll was deemed to be the result of improvements in weather service warnings, but the low population density in northern Lubbock was likely the most influential factor. (Images from the City of Lubbock)

Kalamazoo, Michigan – May 13, 1980

the storm

The deadly Kalamazoo tornado was filmed on home video as it slowly twisted towards downtown. The cameraman continued filming from the building’s basement as the storm passed directly over the area. (Video by Ted Ruble)

In May of 1980, a tornado descended from the sky over the western outskirts of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The funnel remained airborne for several minutes before touching down just north of Newton’s Airport. Boards and branches whirled through the air as the storm headed eastward, roughly following Main Street towards the center of the city. A laundry business collapsed just before the tornado reached the center of the city, causing the storm’s first fatality (Laurens, 2002). At 4:15pm, the ragged funnel passed directly through downtown Kalamazoo, shattering windows in mid-rise office buildings. Several cars were flipped by winds funneled down narrow alleyways and the entire facade of a seven-story building collapsed onto the street below, killing two women. A motorcyclist riding through Bronson Park in downtown was killed by a falling tree (source, n.d.). In eastern Kalamazoo, the storm’s final fatality occurred when a man loading his truck was thrown to the ground.

Surveyors later awarded the storm an F3 rating due to a small streak of heavy damage near St. Augustines Elementary School (NWS Survey). Damage in the city center was indicative of F1 to F2 intensity. Prof Fujita surveyed the damage and deemed the tornado an “extremely rare event.” He incorrectly estimated that tornado’s strike the downtowns of large cities every 50 to 100 years.

Note: While the official population of Kalamazoo is under 100,000, the metropolitan area has a population over 300,000.

View of damage in downtown Kalamazoo following a tornado on May 13th, 1980. (Images by S. Zomer)

Damage in downtown Kalamazoo following the tornado. Most of the structures in the city center experienced only modest damage. At left, damage to a seven story building that housed the Gilmore Department store. Two people were crushed to death when the structure’s facade collapsed into the street (Images by S. Zomer)

Many of the mid-rise masonry buildings in downtown Kalamazoo, as in most cities, were built in the first half of the 20th century and not constructed to survive winds greater than 110mph. The greatest potential loss of life in city centers would likely be in these types of buildings, which surround most modern skyscrapers. (Images by S. Zomer)

Many of the mid-rise masonry buildings in downtown Kalamazoo, as in most cities, were built in the first half of the 20th century and not constructed to survive winds greater than 100mph. The greatest potential loss of life in future tornadoes would likely be in these types of buildings, as well as highways filled with afternoon traffic. Many large, elevated freeways in the Great Plains are oriented to the northeast and capable of holding more than 10,000 automobiles per mile of roadway. (Images by S. Zomer)

Forth Worth – March 28, 2000

The 2000 Fort Worth tornado was typical of many short lived storms on the Great Plains that fail to attract any media attention. By chance, however, the tornado touched down in the center of the city and passed directly through downtown.

The 2000 Fort Worth tornado was typical of most short lived storms that spin through sparsely populated areas and fail to attract significant media attention. By chance, however, the tornado touched down in the center of the city and passed directly through downtown.

The Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area is one of the largest and most vulnerable urban centers in Tornado Alley. Historical records indicate that the region surrounding the Red River Valley is particularly prone to violent, wide-tracked tornadoes in the months of March and April. To date, more than a dozen significant tornadoes have passed within the boundaries of the two cities, the deadliest of which swept through residential sections of Dallas in 1957. The last killer tornado to strike the area touched down near the Burton Hills neighborhood, about three miles west of downtown Fort Worth. Videographers filmed the large, dusty vortex as it marched eastward towards the city’s tallest skyscrapers. The tornado caused little damage until it reached the Trinity River, at which time it rapidly intensified into a minimal F3. After causing its first fatality at a trucking plant, the storm engulfed the ten-story Cash America building at maximum intensity. Nearly every window in the building was shattered and exterior offices were stripped of furniture. The tornado then began to weaken as it entered the heavily urbanized core of Fort Worth. Howling winds funneled through the downtown streets as the now-transparent tornado whirled debris high into the air. Thousands of windows shattered, raining large pieces of jagged glass to the ground below. High winds knocked over a brick wall where a homeless man had sought shelter, crushing him to death (NWS, 2010). After exiting downtown, the tornado became diffuse and dissipated.

Surveyors later concluded that most of the damage in the downtown area was of F0 and F1 intensity. The devastated Cash America Building, however, was likely impacted by winds in the upper-F2/lower-F3 range.

At left, damage to the Bank One Building in downtown Fort Worth. At right, the devastated Cash America Building, which was struck by the tornado while at peak intensity.

At left, damage to the Bank One Building in downtown Fort Worth. At right, the devastated Cash America Building, which was struck by the tornado at peak intensity.

Additional views of the Bank One and Cash America building. Due to ground friction, tornadic winds increase dramatically with height. Tree and vehicle damage at street level was generally minor.

Additional views of the Bank One and Cash America buildings. Due to ground friction, tornadic winds increase dramatically with height. Had the tornado not impacted such tall structures, it likely would only have achieved an F2 rating.

The Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area has some of the most congested freeways in the United States, such as the Woodall Rodgers overpass (pictured at left). Peak traffic flow generally occurs between 4 and 6pm, which coincides with violent tornadic activity. Considering the vehicle fatality rate in EF5 tornadoes, a single badly placed storm could cause thousands of deaths, particularly if a rain-wrapped storm were to follow a freeway corridor.

The Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area has some of the most congested freeways in the United States (pictured is the 366 Spur just west of the central business district). Peak traffic flow generally occurs between 4 and 6pm, which coincides with the maxima in violent tornadic activity. Considering the vehicle fatality rate in EF5 tornadoes, a single badly placed storm could cause thousands of deaths on the roads alone, particularly if a rain-wrapped storm were to follow a freeway corridor.

Springfield, Massachusetts – June 1, 2011

The Springfield tornado was captured by tower camp as it crossed the Connetticut River and moved into the downtown area.

The Springfield tornado was captured by a tower camera as it crossed the Connecticut River and moved into the downtown area. (Right image still by brewbeer22)

A rare supercell thunderstorm in the state of Massachusetts spawned a tornado that touched down in the city of Westfield. The knob-like funnel remained aloft for several minutes as it spun to the east at 30mph. Damage was limited primarily to trees and poorly fitted roofs until the storm entered the city of Springfield, at which point it intensified. Hundreds of vehicles caught in afternoon traffic were struck by the tornado as it passed over the Memorial Bridge, leading to several injuries from shattered car windows. Sheets of water spiraled around the core of the vortex as it crossed the Conneticut River and approached the high-rises of downtown Springfield. Just after making landfall on the other side of the river, a man was killed when a tree fell atop his parked car. Winds in the storm caused extensive damage to multi-story brick buildings just south of the central business district, littering the streets with bricks and downed trees. As the storm exited downtown, it passed over a three-story apartment building on Union Street. The force of the tornado caused the structure to collapse, killing a mother sheltering her daughter on the ground floor (Constantine, 2011).

East of Springfield, the tornado reached EF3 intensity as it plowed through miles of forestland. Several homes impacted by the tornado were nearly leveled to the ground in the town of Monson (NWS Survey). The storm’s final fatality occurred when the storm swept through a campground near Brimfield. While the tornado was determined to have been a half mile wide in Brimfield, the worst damage was confined to an area less than 100 yards in width. The tornado finally lifted about eight miles southeast of Worcester, the scene of New England’s deadliest tornado in 1953.

The tornado slowly intensified as it ripped through a historic section of downtown Springfield. (Image from AP).

The tornado slowly intensified as it ripped through a historic section of downtown Springfield. (Image from AP)

At left, damage in the Six Corners district. At right, the apartment building where one of the fatalities occurred. (Images by Robert Blackie)

At left, damage in the Six Corners district. At right, the destroyed apartment building where a mother sheltering her daughter was killed. (Images by Robert Blackie)

15 thoughts on “Analysis of Violent Tornadoes that have Struck Downtown Areas

  1. Three questions:

    1. Is the Wichita Falls event overrated in terms of intensity? As in, the amount of exposure it got from the media, as opposed to what was scientifically determined?

    2. Do tornadoes in the Red River Valley tend to be rain-wrapped or clearly visible?

    3. Did the Worcester tornado cause its most intense damage in the downtown areas, or rural/suburban areas? In other words, what was the basis for the F4 rating?

    • 1. I believe the intensity of the Wichita Falls tornado is a bit overrated. Looking at the whole aerial survey and every damage shot available, I was only able to find a dozen or so instances of totally leveled homes, almost all of which appeared small and not well-built. Vehicles were also not as thoroughly mangled as you often see after a violent storm, and there were only five deaths within homes. The storm’s size is a bit overstated too, I believe. Most people don’t realize that official width’s are based on the distance of the F0 damage contours, which often extend three times farther from the center than the visible damage swath. The Joplin tornado caused a similarly wide swath of F2+ damage, but was significantly more intense.

      2. Storm’s in the Red River Valley, based on the major events in the past, can be both rain-wrapped and clearly visible. Most of the major one’s I can think of were visible (Sherman 1896, Dallas 1956, Wichita Falls 1964/1979, Paris 1982) – but many of the deadliest in Texas’s history were rain-wrapped or struck at night.

      3. I haven’t spent much time studying the Worester tornado so I’m not sure where the worst damage was. I know there is one photograph circulating online that appears to show a whole cluster of empty foundations, but there is no context to the picture (i.e. where, when, if it was taken post clean-up)

      • What about the damage to the school in Wichita Falls? I have heard it mentioned as an example of intense damage, though I do not recall where.

  2. That is interesting. I had wondered about Wichita Falls as I had never seen a picture of F4 house damage. Could more severe damage to the school be accounted for by a suction vortex? Still that would seem to suggest low-end F4 at most as opposed to the high-end F4 I’ve often heard mentioned. One thing that comes to mind is the recent Hattiesburg tornado which apparently produced one small pocket of EF4 damage and several others of EF3 damage.

    • It was a very clearly multi-vortex storm, so likely all of the extreme damage (as is the case with most large tornadoes) was a result of suction vortices.

      The tornado also caused its most intense surveyed damage early in its life as it entered the city. I have noticed this trend with many violent tornadoes – they appear to reach peak intensity soon after entering their mature stage. This was the case with Hackleburg, Smithville, Rainsville, Bridge Creek, Xenia, Joplin, El Reno etc…

      • I’ve noticed that too in going over some of Grazulis’ data. It would be interesting to find out what is behind this. Have you looked into this trend vs Elie and Sherman type events?

      • More than 70% of all the violent tornadoes I can think of caused their worst damage early in their mature stages – but deviations from the rule besides the one’s you mentioned are Andover, Philadelphia, Brandenburg, Chickasha, Wheatland, Smithfield and kinda Jarrell.

        I haven’t really got a strong theory why. I know from my experience chasing hurricanes that intensifying hurricanes always feel more violent than weakening hurricanes.

  3. I live 30 miles south of Springfield and photographed the supercell associated with it at the time of it infamously going across the Connecticut River. Unfortunately, that picture was taken in the haze, but when contrast is increased, it shows that it was a low topped supercell. I visited the path a few days later and remember seeing evidence that it contained multiple vortices.

  4. What is the vehicle fatality rate in an EF5 tornado anyway? You mentioned it in that freeway picture.
    Would a tornado of just EF2 or low EF3 intensity impacting a crowed freeway result in a significant death toll?

    • I’ve never seen a solid number for the vehicle fatality rate in EF5 tornadoes due to a number of variables (primarily whether the car was in the core of worst damage/hit by a suction vortex, the distance the vehicle was moved and the amount of debris and surface friction) but I’d say a good estimate within the EF5 damage core would be a 75% fatality rate – ranging with near certainty between 30% and 80% on a congested freeway.

      Generally there are no survivors in vehicles thrown greater than 100 yards. The Weather Channel vehicle supposedly thrown “200 yards” in the 2013 El Reno tornado was actually rolled about 40 yards and was not within the EF4/EF5 damage contour. In some cases, vehicles are destroyed in a manner that creates a near 100% fatality rate. Survivors in vehicles thrown great distances are generally ejected from the vehicle and seriously injured in the process.

      An EF2 tornado churning down a freeway would probably cause a rather low fatality rate – maybe less than 2%. An EF3 tornado might cause a fatality rate of 2 to 10% in the context of a crowded, tightly packed freeway. For the most part, high fatality rates occur in EF4+ storms.

  5. Wasn’t Janesville, WI hit by an F4 some years back? Not sure if it hit downtown or not, but that’s closest thing Wisconsin has to having a violent tornado in a major city.

    • I think found a record of that. January 24, 1967. It was officially an F3 but rated F2 by Grazulis. There was no mention of Janesville, so I wouldn’t think there was particularly significant damage there.

    • You are thinking of the November 1911 F4. It killed 8 people in Janesville and and one other in a rural area outside of town.

      • Wow! That site had awesome phoots! It must be pretty neat to be able to see lightning storms in such a wide-open sky like the prairies. I love to watch those storms (you know, from safely warm and dry inside on a comfy couch). They are truly awe-inspiring.

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