The List of the Strongest Tornadoes Ever Recorded: Part III

Views of the EF5 tornado that caused catastrophic damage in the city of Joplin, Missouri. Like many of the deadliest tornadoes in US history, the Joplin tornado was extremely powerful and not clearly visible to those in its path. In terms of damage severity, the Joplin tornado easily caused the most intense tornado damage ever surveyed in a heavily urbanized area. (Video stills by Jeff and Kathryn Piotrowski)

□ For a tornado to be considered for categorization, it must have caused at least one fatality and it must have occurred after 1970. While an accurate list is impossible to compile, objectivity is attempted through the use of damage photographs and first-hand survey reports.

The indefinitive list of the strongest tornadoes:

1. Jarrell, Texas – May 27, 1997

2. Smithville, Mississippi – April 27, 2011

3. Kemper County (Philadelphia), Mississippi – April 27, 2011 

4. Bridge Creek, Oklahoma – May 3, 1999    

5. Bakersfield Valley, Texas – June 1, 1990 

6. Phil Campbell, Alabama – April 27, 2011

7. El Reno, Oklahoma – May 24th, 2011

8. Smithfield, Alabama – April 4, 1977    

9. Brandenburg, Kentucky – April 3, 1974 

10. Andover, Kansas – April 26, 1991

11. New Hartford (Parkersburg), Iowa – May 25, 2008

12. Joplin, Missouri – May 22, 2011

13. Guin, Alabama – April 3, 1974 

14. Moore, Oklahoma – May 20, 2013

15. Mulhall, Oklahoma – May 3, 1999

16. Wheatland, Pennsylvania – May 31, 1985

17. Rainsville, Alabama – April 27, 2011

18. Barneveld, Wisconsin – June 8, 1984

19. Will County (Plainfield), Illinois – August 28, 1990

20. Xenia, Ohio – April 3, 1974

The 1995 Kellerville tornado is not included in the “strongest” list because it caused no fatalities. A detailed report of the damage, however, concluded that “the Kellerville tornado was one of the most violent ever surveyed” and was undoubtably capable of causing F5 damage. Vegetation in the tornado’s path was “completely scoured, leaving bare soil.” Asphalt was also stripped from roads, and trees were snapped a few inches above ground level. An unusual feature of the storm was its wobbly, non-linear path – a damage feature that had not been documented before in a violent tornado (Wakimoto, Murphey, Bluestein, Dowell, 2003).

15. Mulhall, Oklahoma – May 3, 1999

Image of the Mulhall tornado from the Doppler On Wheels.

□ The May 3rd, 1999, tornado outbreak is infamous for spawning a devastating F5 tornado that thundered through Bridge Creek and the Oklahoma City suburbs. Peak doppler velocities analyzed in the storm were estimated at 281 – 321mph, the highest ever recorded. Many are unaware, however, that another powerful tornado was analyzed by the Doppler On Wheels later that evening north of Oklahoma City. While peak velocities were somewhat less intense than the Bridge Creek tornado, the incredible size and duration of the winds meant that the storm was potentially capable of causing even more extreme damage.

The tornado touched down three miles south of the town of Mulhall just before 9:30pm. Doppler velocities indicated that the storm was exceptionally large early in its development, with powerful winds expanding over an area greater than four miles in width. The monster tornado quickly developed a pronounced multiple vortex structure as it roared northeast at 30mph. Six minutes after touching down, the large tornado passed to the east of the tiny town of Mulhall. As residents took shelter, hurricane force inflow winds blew through the streets, shattering windows and knocking out power. More than a minute later, winds throughout the town increased as the tornado made its closest pass to the east. Debris loudly impacted the sides of houses as buildings disintegrated and cars tumbled in the thundering winds. The town’s water tower collapsed, sending a tidal wave of water that pushed one home off its foundation. A full four minutes later, the winds began to subside. More than three quarters of the town had been destroyed, and some well-built homes on the edge of town were nearly leveled. Outside Mulhall, a woman was killed in the complete destruction of her home. Ten miles to the north, a man was killed when his vehicle was thrown from beneath an overpass on the I-35.

Despite the severity of the damage in Mulhall, the town was outside the core circulation of the tornado and on the weaker left side of the storm. Doppler analysis indicated that the highest winds occurred on the eastern side of the tornado as sub vortices slingshotted around the right side of the storm at 120mph (Wurman, Alexander, Robinson, Richardson, 2006). Peak velocities of 246 to 257mph were recorded as the tornado strengthened north of Mulhall, and even higher values were estimated. A ring of winds greater than 185mph surrounded the core of the storm, which had a diameter of nearly one mile (Lee, Wurman, 2005). While ground level winds could not be analyzed, it is likely some locations experienced surface winds greater than 180mph for several minutes.

Few, if any damage photographs are publicly available of the areas affected by the core of the storm. The southeast corner of Mulhall, which was more than a mile from the area of strongest winds, experienced borderline F4 damage. Considering that the tornado peaked in intensity well north of Mulhall, it is almost certain the storm was capable of causing a wide swath of F5 damage.

Photographs of the vehicle in which a fatality occurred. Wind damaged grass is visible on the hillside near the destroyed car. The center of circulation passed a mile west of this location.

Despite being well away from the center of the tornado, the brick Mulhall-Orlando Elementary School was nearly leveled by the storm. (The Edmond Sun)

14. Moore, Oklahoma – May 20, 2013

View of the 2013 Moore tornado near the time at which it reached EF5 intensity near Drexel Avenue. (Video by Curtis McDonald and Charles Lubensky)

View of the 2013 Moore tornado as it approached peak intensity. (Video by Curtis McDonald and Charles Lubensky)

In the midst of a multi-day severe weather outbreak across the Great Plains, a large funnel descended from the sky in Grady County, Oklahoma. News stations in Oklahoma City interrupted regular programming to broadcast footage of the tornado as it turned towards the city’s southern suburbs at 30mph. A rare tornado emergency was issued for the metropolitan area just after 3pm.

The large tornado traversed eight miles of sparsely populated countryside before entering a period of rapid intensification a mile east of the Canadian River. Homes in wealthy subdivisions just west of Moore were swept completely away as the tornado thundered through the area, leading to five fatalities. Powerful winds engulfed an area greater than a half-mile in diameter, but the worst damage was confined to a narrow streak less than 80-yards wide. Within the worst affected areas, vegetation was ripped from the ground and large trees were shredded into featureless trunks.

The tornado was likely above the EF5 threshold as it crossed Western Avenue and ripped through Celestial Acres and other equine sports facilities, killing approximately 100 horses (Kuruvilla, 2013). Nearby, a 20,000lb water tank was ripped from its anchorage and thrown a half-mile, and an oil tank weighing more than 5,000lbs was hurled 1.3 miles (Nye, 2013). Less than a minute later, the tornado entered the densely populated neighborhoods of Moore. Briarwood Elemenatry School, located at the western edge of town, experienced EF5 damage (NWS, 2013). Several deaths occurred as rows of tightly packed homes were whipped to the ground near Santa Fe Avenue. After crossing over Penn Lane, the tornado may have reached a secondary intensity maxima as it roared over Plaza Towers Elementary School. The school’s well-built concrete walls collapsed in the storm, crushing seven children to death (Kelly, 2013). Just south of the school, six more were killed as an entire residential block was reduced to a checkerboard of bare foundations. Fields in the vicinity of Plaza Towers Elementary were stripped bare and automobiles from adjacent neighborhoods were rolled into twisted balls only a few feet across.

Hundreds of homes were leveled to the ground as the storm made a slight jog to the north, narrowly missing a large theatre complex. A 7-Eleven at the northern margin of the tornado’s damage track was obliterated, killing four people who had taken shelter in the store’s walk-in freezer (Chuck, 2013). The greatest concentration of EF5 damage throughout the tornado’s path occurred on SW 6th Street, where five well-built homes were reduced to bare foundations (Ortega, Burgess et al., 2014). The storm then made a sudden curve to the east, enveloping the Moore Medical Center and nearby businesses. Cars in the medical center’s parking lot were hurled through the air and stacked like leaves against the building’s walls, but no fatalities occurred in the complex. After crossing the I-40, the tornado abruptly narrowed but maintained extreme intensity as it tore a streak of destruction through eastern Moore. Four separate homes, each in a different neighborhood, were destroyed in EF5 fashion between Broadway Street and Sunnylane Road (Ortega et al., 2014). Approximately 40 minutes after first touching down, the tornado roped out and dissipated near the shores of Stanley Draper Lake.

The Moore tornado caused extreme vegetation damage in areas just west of the city. Large trees were completely debarked or sheared just above ground level in a swath often only 30 yards wide. Near Western Avenue, the tornado left a streak of scoured earth only 50ft away from bushes with relatively little damage.

The Moore tornado caused extreme vegetation damage in areas just west of the city. Large trees were completely debarked or sheared just above ground level in a swath often only 30 yards wide. Near Western Avenue, the tornado left a streak of scoured earth only 50ft away from bushes with relatively little damage.

Two views of EF5 home damage in Moore. Both residences were determined to have been well-constructed.

Two views of EF5 home damage in Moore. At left, a row of five well-constructed homes near the Moore Medical Center was obliterated  At right, a large, strongly anchored house was reduced to a clean foundation at the eastern edge of Moore (Ortega et al., 2014).

More than half of the 23 direct fatalities from the Moore tornado occurred in the vicinity of Plaza Towers Elementary School. Seven students were killed in the school's collapse and another six deaths occurred in homes swept completely away on ar adjacent to SW 14th Street.

More than half of the 23 direct fatalities from the Moore tornado occurred in the vicinity of Plaza Towers Elementary School. Seven students were killed in the school’s collapse and another six died in homes swept completely away on or adjacent to SW 14th Street. (Image by Geoff Legler)

13. Guin, Alabama – April 3, 1974

Despite its impressive reputation, little information is available on the Guin tornado. All of the photographs used in this article were taken from this video.

Despite its impressive reputation, little information is available on the Guin tornado. Most of the photographs used in this article were taken from this video by ABC 33/40.

As the 1974 Super Outbreak drew to a close in the Ohio River Valley, a series of powerful supercells erupted in the nighttime sky over the Deep South. Around 8:45pm, a large tornado touched down near the Mississippi/Alabama state line and rapidly roared to the northeast. Like most intense tornadoes in the South, the storm was exceptionally fast moving and buried within sheets of torrential rain and hail. Hundreds of trees were felled each second as the tornado ripped through sparsely populated sections of Lamar County. The tornado reached F5 intensity as it crossed into Marion County, devastating several rural homes before reaching the small town of Guin. Homes and businesses within a 300-yard wide swath were reduced to bare concrete slabs. According to former NWS forecaster J. B. Elliot, “even the foundations were dislodged and, in some cases, swept away” *(ABC, 2006). Survivors described a very sharp line separating the worst damage from adjacent homes that were relatively unscathed. Most of the debris from Guin was blown to the northeast and wrapped around debarked trees.

After exiting Guin, the tornado plowed through the William Bankhead National Forest, leaving a well-defined streak of damage that was later photographed by satellites. The tornado weakened as it approached Lawrence County and finally lifted near Decatur after traveling just over 100 miles. Most, if not all of the damage and fatalities occurred in the tornado’s first 40 miles on the ground. Tom Grazulis lists 20 deaths in Guin and 30 overall, whereas the NWS shows 23 fatalities in Guin and 28 total.

In recent years, the intensity of the Guin tornado has become a frequent topic of conversation on severe weather message boards. Many of the extraordinary claims (including that Prof. Fujita considered an F6 rating) appear to have originated from meteorologist J. B. Elliot, who surveyed the damage in Marion County. Little photographic evidence exists of the destruction in and around Guin, so little objective information is available to either verify or disprove personal accounts. The tornado was undoubtably a historic event, but no solid evidence exists that indicates it was any more intense than the EF5’s that struck Alabama in 2011.

Brick homes were swept completely away on the west side of Guin. According to Tom Grazulis, the tornado was one of the most intense of the 20th century and caused F5 damage both before and after striking Guin (Grazulis, 1991).

Brick homes were swept completely away on the west side of Guin. According to Tom Grazulis, the tornado was one of the most intense in Alabama’s history (circa 1991) and caused F5 damage both before and after striking Guin (Grazulis, 1991).

Aerial view of the damage swath in Guin. (Image used by C. F. Boone)

Aerial view of the damage swath in Guin. (Image used by C. F. Boone)

12. Joplin, Missouri – May 22, 2011

View of the Joplin tornado as it tears through the city at EF5 intensity.

□ On a stormy afternoon in 2011, the city of Joplin, Missouri, was struck by the most catastrophic tornado in modern history. In only twelve minutes, the exceptionally violent storm killed 158 people and destroyed more buildings than any single tornado since 1925. The event was a meteorological worst case scenario; the nearly mile-wide tornado rapidly intensified moments after touching down on the western outskirts of a densely populated area. Within five minutes of touchdown, the tornado was causing EF5 damage.

The tornado began its trek across the southern half of Joplin around 5:40pm. Storm chasers photographed the ragged funnel as it entered the city near the Twin Hills Country Club. The rapidly intensifying tornado soon became rain-wrapped and indistinguishable to those in its path. A damage survey indicated that the tornado widened and developed a pronounced multiple vortex structure moments before engulfing St. Johns Hospital. The large, ten-story medical complex was devastated by the storm, and survivors reported that patients in the ER were “sucked out of windows into the parking lot” (Sulzberger, 2011). The extreme inner core of the tornado, which passed just north of the hospital, was powerful enough to rip pavement from a parking lot and hurl thousands of cars long distances, reducing many to unrecognizable balls of twisted metal. One tractor trailer originating from St. Johns was shredded to its frame and wrapped around a debarked tree. Surveyors later noted that the tornado uprooted 300lb cement parking stops, which had been tightly anchored into concrete. A wind engineer concluded that such damage required winds of at least 205mph. Taking into account the friction from densely packed homes and businesses, winds of 205mph or greater only inches above the ground easily indicates significantly stronger winds a few yards higher up.

As the tornado continued eastward past St Johns Hospital it completely swept away brick homes along 20th Avenue. Trees and low-lying shrubs in the area were stripped entirely of bark and branches, and patches of grass were scoured from exposed hillsides. Just before roaring over Moffet Avenue, the tornado obliterated the Greenbriar Nursing Home, leading to 21 fatalities. The swath of EF3+ damage increased to a half mile in width as the tornado obliterated businesses on Main Street, and hurricane force inflow winds enveloped more than 200 city blocks. Entire neighborhoods of one and two-story frame homes were flattened and swept away as the tornado roared past Joplin High School, killing dozens. East of the high school, several three-story apartment buildings were nearly leveled to the ground, and sections of concrete curb were shattered and blown away from roadsides.

The tornado maintained EF5 intensity all the way to Rangeline Road, where it obliterated businesses and large department stores. Five people were killed after being torn out of a walk-in freezer at a Pizza Hut, and another eight perished in the destruction of a Home Depot. Surveyors later documented large sections of pavement that were scoured from parking lots near Home Depot and Walmart. As the storm continued eastward, it passed over an industrial area, leaving large warehouses as empty concrete slabs. Dozens of 18-wheeler trucks were hurled more than 300 yards and pronounced wind rowing occurred as debris was blown across Duquesne Road. In southeast Joplin, the tornado weakened but continued leveling buildings until it crossed the I-44 and swirled into a rural area east of the city. When it was all over, more than 7,000 buildings lay in ruins.

Video evidence suggests that most of the extreme damage was caused by incredibly powerful suction vortices rotating within the main funnel. The severity of the destruction was all the more impressive due to the density of structures in the tornado’s path, which would have added significant ground level friction.

A more thorough entry on the tornado can be found here.

At top, a mangled car was hurled into an empty basement. At bottom, a debarked tree with the frame of a disintegrated vehicle wrapped around it. Partial grass scouring is visible in the foreground. (Images by Dan Michaels)

Views of damage just east of St. Johns Hospital, where the tornado likely reached peak intensity. At top, a mangled tractor trailer that was wrapped around a debarked tree. Partial grass scouring is visible in the foreground. At bottom, the remains of an obliterated home. (Images by Dan Michaels)

Aerial view of EF5 damage along Iowa Avenue, where there was a high concentration of fatalities. Many of the homes that were swept away were well-constructed. Survey images taken the day after the tornado confirm that these homes were swept away by the tornado and not clean-up crews.

Views of EF5 damage along 20th Avenue. The images at top show how, in some cases, even taking shelter under a heavy table in a basement was not entirely safe. At bottom, aerial view of trees that were stripped completely bare. Vegetation damage in Joplin was noticeably more intense than vegetation damage in some other EF5 tornadoes, such as the Greensburg tornado of 2007.

Aerial view of extreme damage to large businesses and warehouses surrounding Rangeline Road. A defined trail of wind damaged grass marks the streak of worst damage. At left, a close view of two parking lots that were scoured of pavement. At top, the Walmart parking lot, and at bottom, a parking lot 100 yards to the east of the devastated Home Depot.

11. New Hartford (Parkersburg), Iowa – May 25, 2008

Two views of the EF5 tornado. The left photograph shows the tornado directly over Parkersburg. (Miles Humphrey)

□ During a wide-scale severe weather outbreak across the Great Plains, a massive tornado touched down in the cornfields of central Iowa. The wedge tornado quickly reached EF4 intensity as it thundered to the east over open farmland. Only a few minutes after forming, the intensifying tornado ripped through the small town of Parkersburg, killing seven people. The entire southern half of town was leveled, and more than 100 homes and businesses were obliterated. According to the town’s mayor, Bob Haylock, “most of those killed in Parkersburg were in basements” (NY Times, 2008). Many of the destroyed homes were swept completely away, floorboards and all, exposing people who had taken shelter underground to the full force of the tornado. Another indication of the tornado’s exceptional power was the presence of finely granulated debris throughout the damage swath (NWS Survey, 2008). Photographs reveal that much of the material from devastated buildings in Parkersburg was ground into tiny pieces the size of woodchips and deposited east of town.

The EF5 damage contour commenced on the southwest edge of town and continued intermittently for the next ten miles. Aerial photographs suggest the tornado was approaching peak intensity just east of Parkersburg as it passed over a golf course. Grass in the area was partially scoured from the ground and well-constructed homes were swept completely away. Surveyors also documented thick, well-anchored basement walls that were undermined by the tornado’s incredible winds. As the tornado continued eastward it maintained its strength and size. By the time the tornado reached a rural housing subdivision north of New Hartford, it was likely at peak intensity. Two more died as several homes were reduced to empty basements plastered in mud and debris. Trees in the area were completely debarked and cars were hurled long distances and mangled beyond recognition.

The Parkersburg tornado passed only a few miles north of downtown Waterloo. Had the tornado tracked slightly farther to the south at EF5 intensity, the number of destroyed homes could have topped 3,000. The destruction in eastern Parkersburg and New Hartford solidified the EF5 tornado’s place as one of the most intense in modern history.

Aerial view of extreme damage in Parkersburg. The damage to the industrial buildings at lower left was deemed to be of EF5 intensity (NWS Survey, 2008).

Views of EF5 damage to a home east of Parkersburg. Extreme winds knocked over thick, well-anchored basement walls and left cracks in the home’s foundation. The streak of damage east of Parkersburg was marked by partially scoured grass and pronounced wind rowing, both indications of EF5 intensity. In the image at right, view of finely mulched debris from homes more than a half mile to the west. (NWS, 2008)

The remains of a frame home in New Hartford. The woman who lived at the residence was killed despite seeking shelter in the home’s basement. Trees in the area were completely debarked, and a vehicle that was stripped to its metal frame can be seen in the background. (Jungbluth, 2008)

At top, view of the tornado’s path as it exited Parkersburg and swept away homes along a golf course. The tornado left a visible trail of partially scoured grass. At bottom, a close up view of grass nearly ripped from the ground in New Hartford. (NWS Survey)


Click to see:
Part I
Part II
Part IV

50 thoughts on “The List of the Strongest Tornadoes Ever Recorded: Part III

  1. Pingback: The Indefinitive List of the Strongest Tornadoes Ever Recorded (Part I) | Extreme / Planet

  2. Pingback: The Indefinitive List of the Strongest Tornadoes Ever Recorded (Part II) | Extreme / Planet

    • I have been collecting as much imagery and information as I can, but have begun having doubts about the inclusion of several of the tornadoes at the end of the list.

      Before I finalize part IV, I need to make sure I agree with my own categorization. I have received several e-mails regarding certain tornadoes that fit the criteria specified that were not included, so I’m trying to make sure my “indefinitive” list is as accurate as possible.

  3. Pingback: The Indefinitive List of the Strongest Tornadoes Ever Recorded (Part IV) |

  4. I’m curious. I noticed that you included virtually all of the EF5s of the last 4 years. Are each and every one of them among the most intense or is it that there’s a lot of conclusive info thanks to modern tools to analyze in depth.

    • The list is definitely skewed towards more recent events. I tried to be as objective as possible by comparing damage photographs, and the amount of imagery from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s is often limited.

      With that said, the 2011 tornado season was definitely the most impressive in modern history – the Smithville, Philadelphia, Phil Campbell, Joplin and El Reno storms certainly deserve a high ranking on any list of tornado damage severity.

      The more information I acquire, the more accurate the list will become. As I have always said, I love nothing more than when readers send me information/damage photographs that I may have missed.

  5. Awesome. I have another question if you don’t mind, (this site kicks ass). I’d like to know your opinion on a few tornadoes about being on this list:

    1. The 1990 Goessals tornado is rumored (by chasers) to be one of the most intense.

    2. The 1976 Jordan is rumored the same

    3. The 1953 Flint seems scary but I don’t know of the intensity. It simultaneously picked up houses on Coldwater road before exploding them.

    4. The 1974 Guin

    5. The 1947 Woodward seems to be a monster but it happened so long ago.

  6. 1. Two news articles discuss the Goessel tornado’s “incredible intensity”, and one even says that Prof Fujita reviewed the damage path and estimated winds of 300mph or more due to the position of spiral ground markings. Other than that, there is no information or damage photographs available of the storm. I have even contacted the Goessel Public Library and they had nothing. So as of yet, there is not enough information to categorize it. But video of the storm shows some pretty impressive rotational velocity right after the storm merged with the Hesston tornado.

    2. The Jordan storm caused no deaths, so it was not considered. Several reports mention that Prof Fujita considered it “the strongest” he had ever surveyed, but I have never found any text by Fujita himself confirming he felt that way. Also, 1976 was fairly early in his career.

    3. The 1953 tornado in Bleecher was extremely intense and narrow. It would surely deserve a place on a list of damage severity, but it occurred before 1970.

    4. Lots of discussion about the Guin tornado on another post. In short, despite all the incredible claims about the storm, there are almost no damage photographs (and the one’s that exist are not overly impressive), and there are no reliable first hand reports of the destruction. Therefore, not enough information for it to be included.

    5. The Woodward tornado was a monster, but pre-1970. I have not spent enough time researching it to form an opinion on it, but in time I will.

  7. I know it didn’t cause any fatalities, but since the 1995 Kellerville tornado got a mention, I feel that the 1995 Pampa, Texas tornado should have had one as well, because in terms of violent rotation, debris velocity, sheer strength and violence, nothing beats that one. Out of all the tornado videos I have watched, Pampa is absolutely incomparable. I only wish it was easy to find damage photos and surveys of the event.

    • I have been unable to find damage pictures online, but I own a VHS tape that shows storm chasers driving through the damage path immediately after the Pampa tornado. The damage is intense – all of the shredded buildings were caked in mud – but I don’t think the Pampa tornado, or the Elie tornado, were more powerful than the Smithville or Kellerville tornadoes.

      The Pampa and Elie tornadoes both moved very slowly yet didn’t cause any serious ground scouring, while the Smithville tornado had a similar sized core that clipped along at 70mph and caused MUCH more intense vegetation scouring. The difference is that the intense core of the Pampa tornado was clearly visible, whereas the most intense vortices in wedge tornadoes are hidden by debris. Had the Smithville tornado been more transparent, I imagine that the speed of the winds in the center of the tornado would have been like nothing ever filmed before – cars were likely lofted 500ft+ into the air and thrown more than half a mile in one toss.

  8. Maybe it’s just me, but the Hackleburg tornado’s path closely paralleled Guin’s at some points, and it seems to have narrowly clipped the northwest edge of the William B. Bankhead National Forest.

  9. I wonder why there’s never been more category 5s in Arkansas. You would think that since it’s east of Oklahoma that there would be more.

    • I believe its because the state sits perfectly in between the two zones where violent tornadoes are most frequent – central tornado alley and northern Alabama and Mississippi.

      But I’m sure multiple tornadoes capable of causing EF5 damage have swept through the state. It has a fairly low population density and wide expanses of forest so NWS personnel often cannot do thorough damage surveys.

  10. All of the tornadoes in this Part III were incredible. The damage pictures from the Guin tornado actually look the least convincing to me despite all of the fuss about how it was “an F6!” Is there a reason you ended up adding the Guin tornado? I see in another post someone said you initially did not include it.

    Do you think the Joplin tornado compares well to any of the other tornadoes on the list? As in, if it has occurred in a rural area, would it have still been notable enough to draw attention from the weather service? I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this who reads this comment.

    • I guess I did include the Guin tornado due to Mr. Elliot’s statements, and the fact that Grazulis said it was “one of the most powerful” in Alabama history. I have yet to see a damage photograph from the Guin storm that definitively shows EF5 damage.

      As for Joplin, I think the tornado was typical of large, violent storm’s that develop annually in the Great Plains. A good comparison in terms of size, speed and strength might be the 1999 Mulhall tornado, though the Joplin tornadoes width of EF3+ damage (0.6 miles) was not as wide as the Mulhall storm (probably a bit more than 1 mile).

    • It’s incredible how frequently Moore and the northwest suburbs of Birmingham, AL, get struck by violent tornadoes.

      This tornado was like many that touch down in the area – it just happened to cross a populated area. I imagine the death toll will reach somewhere between 45 and 70 when all is said and done – significantly worse than the ’99 storm. I also imagine it will be upgraded to an EF5 in the next two days.

      The storm struck fewer homes than the ’99 storm, but may have been more intense and also was not as clearly visible. The ’99 storm also spent more than 45 minutes grinding through areas to the southwest, whereas this one entered Moore less than 20mins after touchdown.

  11. I am working on a project over tornadoes that occurred in the 1990’s and I had four questions.
    1. Do you know where I could get information on the Kellerville tornado?
    2. Would you consider the Muhall tornado an F4, or F5?
    3. Do you know where I could get information on the Red Rock tornado?
    4. Would you consider the Pampa tornado an F4, or F5?

    • 1. The link in the entry above is the best I know of in regards to the Kellerville tornado.
      2. I’d say it was very likely capable of causing F5 damage.
      3. Not sure at the moment, but just do a search in google scholar.
      4. Was very likely capable of causing F5 damage.

  12. The second tornado to be rated an EF5 the Parkersburg/New Hartford tornado was definitely more impressive than the Greensburg tornado as far as the damage go. The Parkersburg/New Hartford tornado left humongous spiral marks on the ground. I didn’t see anything like this with the Greensburg tornado. Try to argue to those who chased the Greensburg tornado and surveyed the damage that the Parkersburg/New Hartford tornado was stronger than the Greensburg tornado. You will get shunned.

  13. The Joplin tornado was truly a monster. It seemed to have consistent EF-5 damage & intensity for most of it’s life cycle based on the massive uniform devastation and the videos. It seemed to go to EF-5 strength almost immediately upon formation. In this video you can see it literally explode I have never seen a tornado go that violent & intense that quickly. The motion is amazing. Probably surface winds around 250mph+ at its peak if not higher.

  14. If a tornado pulls deep rooted shrubs out of the ground is that an indication of a violent tornado(EF4+). I know in Parkersburg, Iowa there was a house that received EF5 damage and right across the street there were shrubs that were pulled out of the ground. I also know the Westminster, Texas tornado also pulled shrubs completely out of the ground.

  15. Depends on plenty of factors, including debris impacts and the size/strength of the plant, but I’d say the removal or near removal of small, well-rooted shrubs is a sign of high intensity – particularly if the bush is stripped bare.

  16. Regarding Guin, I’m still digging up info. I had become pretty skeptical about the supposed intensity of the Guin event, but what I dug up recently made me reconsider. First of all, I never seemed to notice that in “Significant Tornadoes”, Grazulis mentions that an entire block was swept clean of all debris. Sounds rather impressive imo.

    These newspaper articles also have some interesting stuff, including the photo in the first one, and the NWS surveyor’s description of the damage in the second one:,327355

    While not really a reliable source, this next one is pretty interesting. the the 11th comment in this article is an eyewitness account of the Guin damage.

    • The second newspaper link and the Myra Week comment were very interesting. If the Guin tornado did, in fact, uproot foundations and dig/scour the ground clean then it would deserve a place at the top of any tornado intensity list.

      Here are the reasons I haven’t done that:

      a) All of the comments regarding foundations being ripped from the ground commenced 20+ years after the tornado, from what I have seen. As with some other famous weather events (Xenia tornado, Hurricane Camille etc…), time leads to some serious distortions.

      b) None of the aerial imagery I have seen shows ground scouring/unprecedented damage (though images are hard to come by)

      c) The Grazulis reference to “everything” being carried away from a city lot in two seconds is strange. How on earth could such a claim be verified?

      d) Fujita surveyed all of the ’74 paths and never made any special mention of the Guin tornado in his many published articles, from what I’ve seen.

      e) The proportion of fatalities vs injuries/fatalities vs homes destroyed is less than the Brandenburg tornado and other events on the same day (despite striking after dark).

      f) The Phil Campbell tornado was just as fast moving and violent, it would seem, and destroyed far more homes at peak intensity yet didn’t dislodge a single foundation – nor has any other documented tornado.

  17. Yeah there just isn’t enough reliable info out there to verify many of claims about this tornado. The only damage pics I can find are very grainy and hard to examine. However, judging by the the what information is available, I would still say that Guin was still likely a very violent tornado.

  18. How come no recorded tornado has ever dislodged a single foundation? You would think that since they can scour pavement, the same would happen with foundations too.

    • Two main reasons:
      1.) Foundation slabs are made of concrete, which is much harder, and less brittle than asphalt

      2.)Foundations are usually set about a foot or more into the ground, so the wind is going to have a very hard time getting “under” the slab. Asphalt simply rests on the surface.

      There IS one probable instance of this occurring in Smithville, but the skimpy and vague NWS survey writeup leaves out many details, so it isn’t mentioned.

      • Very interesting thanks! Is it possible in very rare extreme cases for a foundation to be dislodged and completely swept away?

  19. I can’t find any cases where I can confirm that this happened. Rumors of foundations being swept away surround the 1974 Guin AL, 1998 Lawrenceburg TN, 1884 Leeds AL, and 1925 Liberty, TN tornadoes. These are all probably the result of internet rumors, and eyewitnesses not understanding what they are looking at (I know in some cases such as Jarrell, Bridge Creek, and Tuscaloosa where people looked at empty CMU/block foundations and assumed that there had been a slab there previously)

    To answer your question, it technically is possible, but it has yet to be officially documented, and would require a tornado of almost inconceivable intensity imo. With that said, the Smithville tornado likely did dislodge and tear up the slab at the Cox residence, so who knows what would have happened if the tornado was slower moving.

    • I believe the images I provided of the Cox home are being over-analyzed. While I am a firm believer in using photographs as evidence regarding intensity, the photograph does not clearly indicate anything to me. The manner in which the foundation appears partially lifted is suspect – that might be the whole foundation (which would be bizarre since the winds only uprooted a section of it without blowing it away), it might be flooring, it might be something else entirely. A chimney may have ripped out a section of the foundation, but I have not found any clearer photographs to verify this.

      As for dislodging foundations, buckeye expressed my sentiments. It is possible (ala Philadelphia style ground scouring) but surely a rare occurrence.

      • I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you there. Iv’e spent way too much time looking at all the pictures available of the Cox residence, and I can say with a high degree of confidence that we are looking at uplift of the concrete itself, especially after I zoomed in on the images. The aerial picture makes it pretty obvious in my opinion. I will say, that the damage probably had more to do with whatever was in the center being ripped out, rather than wind getting under the slab. There are multiple reasons that lead me to conclude it was the concrete slab itself:

        1.) A wooden foundation would not fail in the manner we see here, and we would be able to see where the individual wooden floor boards were ripped up. I see no wood anywhere on this foundation.

        2.) I have never seen flooring that thick.

        3.)The aerial pic shows the true thickness of the slab. In the missing section, you can see a shadow cast by the jagged edge of the remaining slab. Bare soil is visible where the concrete was previously.

        4.)Angular, ragged pieces of torn up concrete are clearly visible in the aerial picture.

        5) The area of uplift is visible on the aerial shot as well.

        6). What convinced me the most, is that the way the edge of the foundation failed is consistent with rebar enforced concrete. Most slabs have a latticework of rebar running horizontally through the foundation. Even if part of the concrete were to buckle, it would still remain attached to the rest of the slab, unless it was ripped away with enough force to snap the rebar. Deformation, rather than total separation from the rest slab would occur. On the ground level picture, you can even seen what looks to be a bent piece of rebar sticking out of the side. I simply can’t think of anything that these pictures show other than what it appears to be. I don’t know of any foundation type other than concrete that would fail in this manner.

      • I just looked more closely at the original image that was sent to me, which is rather large, and it does appear to be a foundation. Thing is, the foundation was dislodged on the northeast side, the opposite side of where the most intense winds would have occurred in such a fast moving tornado. Second, the manner in which it is dislodged near the edge may be the result of a clean-up crew/bulldozer immediately after the tornado. The photo I have was taken approximately 3 days after the tornado. The satellite images I utilized of the damage were taken May 2nd, five days after the tornado.

        I believe the Smithville tornado was exceptionally violent and I want to find all the examples I can of its power. I just wouldn’t say the photographs of the foundation pass the litmus test of what can be considered verifiable. Same with the culvert on Market Street – photographs make it clear the tornado ripped it out, but the local police say they bulldozed it the day after the storm.

  20. Just wondering, what do you think of the 1944 Shinston, WV tornado? Early on when the internet was new I was left with the impression that it was an F5 I guess it was misinformation. I have a gut feeling it was just an F4 or 3 you don’t hear much about it.

    • Honestly I don’t know much about that tornado. I’ve seen some damage pictures and saw nothing that looked clearly above F3 intensity. I’d love to see more information at some point as I’m most interested in unusual tornadoes that strike unexpected places.

  21. NOAA has a new page up for the 40th anniversary of the 1974 Super Outbreak, and has some ground & aerial survey photos from both of the Tanner tornadoes and some aerial photos of the William Bankhead National Forest:

    And on this page is a PDF of “April 3, 1974: A Night to Remember” by Charles Jordan that contains several photos (ground & aerial) of Guin and other tornadoes of that day.

  22. Do you think the surface winds in the 2008 Parkersburg/New Hartford tornado could have approched or exceeded 300 mph? In particular, the damage done to the swept away home’s knocked over basement outer wall and cracked floor? Do you think suction vortices were responsible for this type of damage?

    • The term “maxi tornado” was used by some researchers following the May 31, 1985, outbreak to describe the F5 tornado that devastated Niles and Wheatland. I think it’s just a way of referring to a tornado at the top of the Fujita scale.

  23. I would rate the El Reno 2013 as first in intensity.. ..then the Bridgecreek / Moore 99 storm as second.. …Or maybe even the ’99 Mulhall storm as second…

    • I will have to respectfully disagree with you there. I surveyed the damage from both the ’13 Moore and ’13 El Reno tornadoes (I have a posting with my photography for each storm), and I felt the damage from the Moore tornado was significantly more intense in every way (more intense ground scouring / tree damage / structural damage). And while I was very impressed by both tornadoes, I wouldn’t put either of them in my top 10.

  24. Given the photos and descriptions of the Parkersburg-New Harford damage from 2008, I’m surprised you didn’t rank it higher. The debris granulation and total sweeping away of homes (and consequent killing of victims sheltered even in recommended places) suggest at least a top 10 violent tornado, not top 5 only because of the four on 4/27/11 plus Jarrell.

    I also find it mind-boggling that the Joplin tornado is highlighted as “disputed” on the Wikipedia F5/EF5 list because of that ASCE study. A tornado simply doesn’t kill >150 people in this day and age without being exceptionally violent. For example, Tuscaloosa-Birmingham of 4/27 was clearly at minimum a very high-end EF4, probably hit about the same number of homes as Joplin, yet caused less than half the number of fatalities (and we thought THAT was as bad as it got). That and there were abundant contextual DIs (such as the concrete parking stops and hurling/mangling of vehicles) consistent with other high-end violent tornadoes.

    Please post again!

  25. Theresa lot of debate about tornado ratings when it comes to these F5’s. Problem is theres a lot more going on..not just the amount of debris picked up, its the type of debris, forward ground speed, what side of the funnel vs geography of the landscape.. suction vortex vs main funnel etc. The type of debris is like a different grit sandpaper.. if there is a lot of dense airborne items such as car parts and concrete bits its going to do a hell of a lot more damage to structures vs if its just full of dirt and grass. The suction vortex spin ups can be very violent and erratic, so rating them is very much based on place and time rather than the actual intensity.

    Technology is getting far enough along we should be getting closer to accurate wind speeds based on factors other than damage. Another thought is with the quality of video these days you can get estimates of rotational speed just by visual..estimate width and time for an item to get from one side to the other etc. Rate the Damage whatever but to me it would be interesting to see the overall power of the wind from one storm to another.

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