Fascinating and Accurate Tornado Records – the Deadliest, the Fastest, the Rarest

Several EF5 tornadoes have thrown industrial equipment weighing in excess of 15,000 lbs long distances. At top left, the 2011 El Reno tornado hurled an oil tanker weighing approximately 25,000 lbs a mile without leaving any noticeable ground impacts. At top right, the 1970 Lubbock tornado tossed a 26,000 lb fertilizer tank 3/4 of a mile over a freeway and several undamaged fences. At bottom left, the 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado hurled a train car weighing 71,600lbs 130 yards in one throw, according to witnesses. At bottom right, the 1995 Pampa tornado lifted a 35,000 lb lathe.

Several EF5 tornadoes have thrown industrial equipment weighing in excess of 15,000 lbs long distances. At top left, the 2011 El Reno tornado hurled an oil tanker weighing approximately 25,000 lbs a mile without leaving any noticeable ground impacts. At top right, the 1970 Lubbock tornado tossed a 26,000 lb fertilizer tank 3/4 of a mile over a freeway and several undamaged fences. At bottom left, the 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado hurled a train car weighing 71,600lbs 130 yards in one throw, according to witnesses. At bottom right, the 1995 Pampa tornado lifted a 35,000 lb lathe.

□ Accurate tornado statistics can be difficult to find. Recording techniques were not standardized before the weather radar age, so information on tornadoes that occurred before 1970 is often unreliable. Furthermore, lists of the deadliest and longest tracked tornadoes in world history are easy to find and dominated by 19th and early-20th century events.

To level the playing field and promote the dissemination of credible information, all of the following records cover tornadoes that occurred after 1970. Click each link in the index below to jump to a specific section. This page will undoubtably go through several edits and expand as more notable tornado records are uncovered. 

I. The Deadliest Tornadoes on Record

II. The Longest Tornado Damage Paths

III. The Fastest Tornadoes Ever Recorded

IV. Violent or Unusual Tornado Records

-IVa. The Highest Altitude Violent Tornado

-IVb. The Deadliest and Most Intense Anticyclonic Tornado Ever Recorded

-IVc. The Deadliest Hurricane Spawned Tornado

-IVd. The Highest Tornado Fatality Rate

-IVe. The Most Fatalities in a Single Building

-IVf. The Most Fatalities in a Single Mobile Home Park

-IVg. The Fastest Tornado Movement Ever Recorded Using Photogrammetry

-IVh. The Heaviest Object Ever Lifted by a Tornado

V. Graphs

Va. Graph of Tornadoes Causing 10+ and 20+ Fatalities by Decade

Vb. Graph of the Deadliest Tornadoes by Decade

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I.
□ The Deadliest Tornadoes on Record

The 2011 Joplin tornado is by far the deadliest tornado of the past 50 years. Considering the storm's incredible intensity and size, it is remarkable the number of deaths did not surpass 200. All three of the deadliest tornadoes since 1970 occurred during the 2011 tornado season, the worst in modern history.

The 2011 Joplin tornado was by far the deadliest tornado of the past 50 years. Considering the storm’s incredible intensity and size, it is remarkable the number of deaths did not surpass 200. All three of the deadliest tornadoes since 1970 occurred during the 2011 tornado season, the worst in modern history.

1. 158 fatalities – Joplin, Missouri – May 22, 2011

□ A violent EF5 tornado rapidly intensified as it entered heavily populated sections of Joplin. The storm holds the post-1970 record for the most fatalities in frame homes (approximately 70) and the most fatalities in commercial buildings (approximately 20). The commercial deaths do not include the large number of fatalities at medical facilities, churches and private organizations.

2. 72 fatalities – Hackleburg/Phil Campbell, Alabama – April 27, 2011

One of the most impressive tornadic events in history carved a 132-mile path of devastation through largely rural areas of northern Alabama. The EF5 tornado had an exceptionally high fatality to injury ratio. The storm holds the post-1970 record for the longest swath of EF5 damage (including approximately 40 consecutive miles at EF5 intensity).

3. 64 fatalities – Tuscaloosa/Concord, Alabama – April 27, 2011

□ Borderline EF5 tornado caused more than 40 deaths in Tuscaloosa. Extremely well-covered by local news agencies and photographers. Caused high-end EF4 damage from Tuscaloosa to the suburbs of Birmingham.

4. ≈47 fatalities – Pugh City, Mississippi – February 21, 1971

□ A fast-moving F4 tornado nearly wiped out the town of Pugh City, killing 22 residents. Dozens of small homes were swept completely away. Official death toll of 58 is likely the result of a tornado family.

5. 42 fatalities – Wichita Falls, Texas – April 10, 1979

□ A large tornado left a wide swath of marginal F4 damage in Wichita Falls. The historic storm holds the post-1970 record for the greatest number of fatalities in vehicles (25). The majority of the deaths in automobiles were people attempting to flee the storm.

6. ≈41 fatalities – Inverness, Mississippi – February 21, 1971

□ A fast-moving F5 tornado passed directly through the town of Inverness, killing approximately 20 residents. Most of the deaths were in poorly built homes that were obliterated.

7. 36 fatalities – Bridge Creek/Moore, Oklahoma – May 3, 1999

□ Violent F5 tornado killed 13 people in rural areas while at maximum intensity. The storm then caused another 23 deaths as it tracked through the Oklahoma City suburbs. Holds record for the highest doppler velocity ever measured – approximately 302mph.

8a. 32 fatalities – Oak Grove, Alabama – April 8, 1998

□ Marginal F5 tornado caused a high number of fatalities as it chewed through small towns near Birmingham after dark. The worst damage was confined to several small streaks of intense devastation.

8b. 32 fatalities – Xenia, Ohio – April 3, 1974

□ Infamous multi-vortex tornado became the deadliest and most damaging single storm in the 1974 Super Outbreak. Brief film of the tornado captured by a high school student was broadcast on news networks across the world.

9. 31 fatalities – Brandenburg, Kentucky – April 3, 1974

□ Violent F5 tornado swept away well-constructed houses in the town of Brandenburg. The storm struck far fewer homes than the Xenia tornado yet caused a similar death toll due to its extreme intensity.

10. 30 fatalities – Saragosa, Texas – May 22, 1987

Short lived multi-vortex tornado touched down and rapidly intensified as it passed over a small town in southwest Texas. Most of the fatalities occurred in the destruction of a crowded church.

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II.
□ The Longest Tornado Damage Paths

-Due to the high number of tornado families that have been officially recorded as a single storm, an accurate list is difficult to compile. Tornadoes thought to have been two or more separate storms are not included. This list will undoubtably go through various edits.

The longest tracked tornadoes generally occur in the South in the spring and fall. At left, one of the longest tracked tornadoes in history caused EF5 damage in Hackleburg. At right, an power tornado probably capable of causing F5 damage killed four people in the obliterated home at bottom. One of the bodies was found in a tree a quarter mile from the foundation (Grazulis, 1995).

The longest tracked tornadoes generally occur in the South in the spring and fall when upper-level winds are more conductive to rapid forward movement. At left, one of the longest tracked tornadoes in history caused EF5 damage in Hackleburg. At right, an extremely long-lived nighttime tornado killed four people in the obliterated home at bottom near Jackson, Mississippi, in 1992. The body of one of the occupants was found in a tree a quarter mile from the foundation (Grazulis, 1997).

1. 149 miles – Yazoo City, Mississippi – April 24, 2010

□ A large, often obscured tornado sped through central Mississippi, killing 10 people in and near Yazoo City. The majority of the damage path was through sparsely populated forestland.

2. 132 miles – Hackleburg/Phil Campbell, Alabama to TN – April 27, 2011

Violent EF5 tornado travelled across nearly all of northern Alabama, causing 72 deaths before crossing the Tennessee border and continuing for an additional ten miles through Franklin County. The storm left strong tornado damage (EF3+) over more than 110 miles (NWS Survey).

3a. 128 miles – Brandon, Mississippi – November 21, 1992

□ Violent, rain-wrapped tornado killed 12 near Jackson around midnight. Four of the deaths occurred when a large, two-story brick home in the Easthaven subdivision was completely destroyed.

3b. 128 miles – Cordova, Alabama – April 27, 2011

□ Fast-moving tornado killed 13 people in Alabama. While officially rated an EF4, the tornado left severe ground scouring in unpopulated areas and hurled a vehicle nearly one mile.

4. 124 miles – Raleigh, Mississippi to AL – April 27, 2011

□ A Lesser know violent tornado during the 2011 Super Outbreak killed 7 in Mississippi and Alabama. Formed farther south than most of the tornadoes on April 27 and left a quarter-mile wide swath of fallen trees through a forest reserve.

5. 122 miles – Clinton, Arkansas – February 5, 2008

□ A fast-moving and long duration EF4 tornado ripped through largely rural areas of Arkansas. The 13 fatalities were spread out over a 30 mile area beginning in Pope County.

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III.
□ The Fastest Tornadoes Ever Recorded

-Due to their rapidly shifting nature, it is difficult to ascertain the forward speed of a tornado over a specified time period. Decaying tornadoes can momentarily exceed 90mph, but these great speeds are never maintained. Most of the fastest tornadoes occur in the South from late-November through April, but similar conditions can cause extremely fast moving tornadoes from Tennessee to Michigan.

In 2012, an extremely violent and fast-moving tornado was filmed as it sped through the town of Henryville, Indiana, at more than 60mph (Video contains strong language). The multi-vortex tornado was powerful enough to loft vehicles more than 200 yards, scour a highway of pavement and completely sweep away several large, two-story brick homes. While rated an EF4 by the NWS, the tornado probably had instantaneous gusts capable of causing EF5 damage in areas east of Henryville. (Video by Rhett Adams)

1a. 70mph+ – April 27, 2011

Many of the tornadoes in the 2011 Super Outbreak reached speeds of 70mph at some point in their development. Examples include the Hackleburg/Phil Campbell tornado as it ripped through Marion and Franklin Counties and the Smithville, Mississippi, tornado as it caused some of the most intense EF5 damage ever photographed in Monroe County.

1b. 70mph+ – March 2, 2012

The deadliest tornado outbreak of 2012 brought violent and fast-moving tornadoes to the states of Indiana and Kentucky. The deadliest two tornadoes in the outbreak – the Henryville, Indiana, tornado and the West Liberty, Kentucky, tornado – may have approached 75mph in periods of their development.

1c. 70mph+ – April 3, 1974

During the 1974 Super Outbreak, nearly every supercell was moving in excess of 50mph. The violent tornadoes that occurred in the state of Alabama – including the infamous Guin tornado – may have reached or momentarily surpassed 75mph.

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IV.
□ Violent or Unusual Tornado Records

IVa. The Highest Altitude Violent Tornado

One of the most unusual violent tornadoes in recorded history touched down high in the mountains near Yellowstone National Park. The rain-wrapped tornado was imbedded within an exceptionally violent mesocyclone with large hail and frequent microbursts. Fujita toured the nearly mile wide damage swath and noted extreme tree damage consistent with violent (F4/F5) tornadic winds. The tornado proved that the deadliest tornado in United States history, theoretically, could strike a place as unexpected as

One of the most unusual tornadoes in recorded history touched down high in the mountains near Yellowstone National Park on July 21, 1987. The rain-wrapped tornado, which travelled at nearly 60mph, was imbedded within an exceptionally violent mesocyclone that contained large hail and frequent microbursts. Fujita toured the 1.5 mile wide damage swath and noted bursts of extreme tree damage consistent with violent (F4/F5) tornadic winds more than 9,000ft above sea level (the worst damage is visible as the lighter area on the hillside just above center). Some mountain peaks affected by the storm were at an altitude of nearly 11,000ft (Fujita, 1989). The rare storm, which was likely capable of causing a wide swath of EF2, EF3 and EF4 damage early in its life, proved that potentially catastrophic tornadoes can occur well-outside “tornado alley.” Had the storm impacted a large population center, it could have caused damage and loss of life comparable to the 2011 Joplin tornado.

IVb. The Deadliest and Most Intense Anticyclonic Tornado Ever Recorded

The West Bend tornado left a narrow swath of F4 damage through a housing subdivision in town.

In April of 1981, a thunderstorm developed over Washington County, Wisconsin. The storm resembled a typical nighttime thunderstorm on weather radar, so no tornado watch was issued. Despite the storm’s modest size and low cloud tops, it spawned an unusual anticyclonic tornado just after midnight. The short-lived tornado touched down at the edge of a neighborhood in the town of West Bend (visible above) and immediately began causing F4 damage (Wakimoto, 1983). Several two-story houses were leveled to the ground and three people were killed, including one man who was thrown more than 50 yards from his destroyed home. The rapidly intensifying tornado was exceptionally narrow, often less than 50 yards in width, and dissipated after traveling less than two miles. The event remains a meteorological oddity and the only violent anticyclonic tornado ever recorded. (Images by Patrick Golembiewski)

IVc. The Deadliest Hurricane Spawned Tornado 

In 1964, Hurricane Hilda made landfall in Louisiana as a weakening category 3 storm. Before the hurricane's eye reached the coast, a violent tornado was spawned in the swampland 30 miles south of New Orleans. The F4 tornado travelled westward over a narrow strip of homes and buildings that lined a waterway, killing 22 residents.

In October of 1964, Hurricane Hilda made landfall in Louisiana as a weakening Category 3 storm. Before the hurricane’s eye reached the coast, a violent tornado was spawned 30 miles south of New Orleans in a marshy area near the Gulf of Mexico. The F4 tornado travelled westward over a narrow strip of homes and buildings that lined a waterway in the town of Larose, killing 22 residents. Some homes were swept completely away and many of the bodies were carried more than 100 yards and later recovered in a nearby bayou. The storm remains the deadliest hurricane spawned tornado in US history and one of the strongest such storms ever recorded.

IVd. The Highest Above-Ground Tornado Fatality Rate

On Ma7 27, 1997, perhaps the most violent tornado in modern history swept through two clusters of homes just outside Jarrell, Texas. The slow-moving F5 tornado completely swept away two dozen homes and ground the remains into tiny pieces. Within the streak of worst damage, which expanded over a quarter-mile in width, there were no survivors above ground. The only people to that didn't loose their lives were crowded in an underground storm cellar on Double Creek Drive, where most of the fatalities occurred.

On May 27, 1997, perhaps the most violent tornado in modern history passed over two clusters of homes just outside Jarrell, Texas. The slow-moving F5 tornado completely swept away two dozen homes and ground the debris into tiny pieces. Within the streak of worst damage, which expanded over a quarter-mile in width, there were no survivors above ground. All of the vegetation in the worst affected areas was scoured from the ground, leaving nothing but empty foundations and fields of mud.

IVe. The Most Fatalities in a Single Building (post-1970)

At left, the 1987 Saragosa, Texas, tornado killed 22 people in the Guadelupe Church during a graduation ceremony for young students. At center, the 1994 Piedmont, Alabama, tornado killed 20 people at the Goshen United Methodist Church during Palm Sunday services. At right, the 2011 Joplin tornado leveled and partially swept away the Greenbriar Nursing Home. Of the approximately 90 residents and nurses in the building, 21 died.

At left, the 1987 Saragosa, Texas, tornado killed 22 people in the Guadelupe Church during a graduation ceremony for young students. At center, the 1994 Piedmont, Alabama, tornado killed 20 parishioners at the Goshen United Methodist Church during Palm Sunday services (Survey Report). At right, the 2011 Joplin tornado leveled and partially swept away the Greenbriar Nursing Home. Of the approximately 90 residents and nurses in the building, 21 died.

IVf. The Most Fatalities in a Single Mobile Home Park

In November of 2005, a fast moving nighttime tornado touched down near Evasnville, Indiana. Around 2am, the tornado struck the Eastbrook Mobile Home Park while residents were asleep. In the park alone, 20 people were killed as mobile homes were swept completely away along the southern edge of the park.

In November of 2005, a fast-moving nighttime tornado touched down near Evasnville, Indiana. Around 2am, the multi-vortex tornado struck the Eastbrook Mobile Home Park while most of the area’s residents were asleep. A total of 20 people were killed as the F3 tornado swept away mobile homes along the southern edge of the park. The event remains the deadliest tornado disaster in a mobile home park. In July of 1987, one of Canada’s deadliest tornadoes killed 15 people in the Evergreen Mobile Home Park in Edmonton, Alberta.

IVg. The Fastest Tornado Movement Ever Recorded Using Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is a technique that allows for the measurement of debris movement in the visible portions of tornadoes. The highest officially calculated velocity using Fujita's meticulous techniques was 284mph in the 1974 Parkersburg, Indiana, tornado. The official analysis program ended in the 80's, but rough calculations by Tom Grazulis indicated particle motions of 300mph just above ground level in the 1995 Pampa, Texas, tornado.

Photogrammetry is a technique that allows for the measurement of debris movement in the visible portions of tornadoes. The highest officially calculated velocity using Fujita’s meticulous techniques was 284mph in the 1974 Parker City, Indiana, tornado (Forbes, Bluestein, 2001). The official analysis program ended in the 80’s, but rough calculations by Tom Grazulis indicated particle motions of 300mph just above ground-level in the 1995 Pampa, Texas, tornado (two vehicles are visible mid-air left of the funnel). Basic photogrammetry techniques indicate the 2007 Elie, Manitoba, tornado was of similar intensity (a van being thrown 200 yards from the tornado is visible at right).

IVh. The Heaviest Object Ever Lifted by a Tornado

In June of 1990, an exceptionally violent tornado formed in the desert-land of southwest Texas. Near the end of the tornado's path, an oil production facility was destroyed (at left) and three oil tanks weighing 180,000lbs were moved three miles to the east. Two of the tanks were found 600ft up a hillside with a 40 degree incline. This is one of the most impresive instances of tornado damage ever recorded and perhaps the only instance of an object over 100,000lbs being moved a great distance.

In June of 1990, an exceptionally violent tornado formed in the desert-land of southwest Texas. Near the end of the tornado’s path in Bakersfield Valley, a production facility was destroyed (at left) and three oil tanks weighing 180,000lbs were moved three miles to the east. Two of the tanks were found 600ft up a hillside with a 40 degree incline. This is one of the most impresive instances of tornado damage ever recorded and perhaps the only documented instance of an object over 100,000 lbs being moved a long distance. (Images by Wayne Greene)

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V.
□ Va. Graph of Tornadoes Causing 10+ Deaths by Decade

Since the the 70's, the average amount of lead-time preceding a tornado has not changed significantly. As a result, the number of overall fatalities bottomed out in the last two decades of the 20th century.

Since the the 70’s, the average amount of lead-time preceding a tornado has not changed significantly. As a result, the trend towards fewer fatalities has bottomed out. Urban sprawl and the increasing population in many severe weather-prone states will likely lead to an upturn in tornadoes causing 10 or more fatalities in the coming decades. Due to the random nature of all weather disasters, there is extreme variance in the number of deaths per year. Using a statistical bell curve of all tornado fatalities from 1980 to 2010, the 2011 tornado season’s death toll would have been expected less than once in a million years. In reality, a deadlier season is likely in the next century.

□ Vb. Graph of the Deadliest Tornadoes by Decade

No single tornado caused more than 50 deaths between 1955 and 2011. After several widely visible and well-covered tornadoes (Xenia '74, Wichita Falls '79, Bridge Creek '99) failed to cause more than 100 deaths, it was considered by some an "impossibility" in the weather-radar age. In truth, major cities and crowded freeways open the possibility to a single storm causing more than 1,000 deaths.

No single tornado caused more than 50 deaths between 1955 and 2011. After several widely visible and well-covered tornadoes (Xenia ’74, Wichita Falls ’79, Bridge Creek ’99) failed to cause more than 100 fatalities, it was considered by some an “impossibility” in the weather-radar age. In truth, major cities and crowded freeways open the possibility to a single storm causing more than 1,000 deaths.

56 thoughts on “Fascinating and Accurate Tornado Records – the Deadliest, the Fastest, the Rarest

  1. I noticed two typos: In “1c”, you say “2011 Super Outbreak.” I assume you meant 1974? And Parker City, Indiana was referred to as “Parkersburg.”

    Anyways, two questions:

    1. Is Cordova the one where the vehicle thrown left an impact crater upon landing, and if so, are there any photos available of the crater site?

    2. I have seen the Guin’s path length estimated at 79.5, 102 and 103 miles long. Which one of these is likely the most accurate? I keep reading that it had the longest path length in the Super Outbreak, but for some reason, sources conflict on just how long that path was.

    • John – thanks, those definitely were typos. I wrote this entry much faster than normal.

      1. Yes, it tossed a 4,000 lb utility trailer a mile and left a dent in the dirt. I haven’t made any serious effort to find pictures of that specific incident, but the NWS didn’t include a picture of it so I’m guessing it would be hard to find. I added some pictures in my first post (’74 Outbreak vs 2011 Outbreak) that show the ground scouring southwest of Cordova.

      2. Tom Grazulis discussed the Guin path length in “Nature’s Ultimate Windstorm” and settled on 103 miles, I believe. The longer path farther north is now considered a tornado family.

      • The photo did link, and while the dent is clearly noticeable, the photo as a whole doesn’t seem to be of the best quality. I can see the trailer, yes, I’m just surprised that NOAA didn’t upload more pics of the site. I can’t tell if the trailer landed on its side or if it is propped up against some sort of landmark. Nonetheless, thanks for the link.

  2. What an interesting article. Thank you for putting this all together.

    I never realized how fast-moving the Smithville tornado was until I watched that video and paid close attention to how far it moves by the end of the clip. Looks like it made it all the way to the distant horizon in only a few minutes.

    I was just curious, why didn’t you go with the official number of deaths with the two tornadoes in February of 1971? According to some sites, at least one of those tornadoes did cause more than 50 deaths.

    • Lee – the 1971 Pugh City tornado and the 1966 Candlestick Park tornado both “officially” caused more than 50 deaths, but both were quite likely tornado families. I did my own research on the storm’s and removed the fatalities that were likely unrelated to the primary damage path.

  3. Awesome article as always. Incredible stuff. I had never heard of that anticyclonic deadly F4 – that’s AMAZING. And I didn’t know the railroad car was thrown that far in the Tuscaloosa tornado either. An awesome compilation of rare records.

  4. So much good stuff on here. I spent the better part of my afternoon reading everything on this blog.

    I know you discuss the Ivanova, Russia tornado that struck in 1984 a bit in another post, but I would love to see more about it on here. I would also love it if you could find any pictures of the damage. I know the tornado lifted heavy construction cranes that weighed 710,000lbs over 200 yards – you do not have that listed as the heaviest object ever lifted by a tornado, maybe because there are no pictures of the damage.

    I would also love to read your research on:
    1. The Wichita Falls tornado of 1979.
    2. The Worchester tornado of 1953.
    3. The entire Super Outbreak of 1974.
    4. The Woodward tornado of 1947 and the Udall tornado of 1955.

    • Nate – the Ivanova tornado outbreak was surely an impressive event, but all the information on the damage does not pass the litmus test I try use for all the material on my blog i.e. it is not “verifiable” and therefore not suitable in a list of “accurate” tornado records.

      I hope my website is a place where people can trust everything I write about as almost every severe weather related resource is filled with subjective or false information.

      I have a hard time believing a tornado in Russia, which hasn’t had a single high-end EF2 tornado documented in decades, caused unparalleled damage to massive industrial equipment and “steel-reinforced” buildings. For all we know, a crane that was 600ft tall may have just tipped over (therefore it reached as far as 200 meters away) and a shoddily built concrete bunker had walls that caved in.

      • This is exactly why I love your website extremeplanet! It is a place I can trust! 🙂

      • This is exactly why I love your website Extremeplanet! This is a place I can trust! 🙂

  5. If it weren’t for the Phil Campbell and Joplin tornadoes, the tuscaloosa tornado would be by far the most damaging and deadly in the past 50 years. I think the storm was an EF5 in Alberta City as well as in Concord, so it was at that strength for 40 miles! I think it would be considered one of the strongest ever if it had been called an EF5.

    The way a tornado is rated changes the way we look at them.

    • I agree. The tornado was likely at high-end EF4 or perhaps EF5 intensity all the way from Tuscaloosa to Pleasant Grove. Fortunately for local residents, the tornado hit next to nothing while at peak intensity and maximum size between the two cities. If the tornado were to have occurred by itself, I believe it would have been given an EF5 rating and universally been considered one of the most impressive tornadic events in history.

  6. The 2011 St. Louis tornado was reported to have levitated a 757 airplane. Wouldn’t that be considered the heaviest object ever picked up since 757s weigh hundreds of tons?

    • The 2011 St. Louis tornado was rather weak (EF1 or EF2) when it passed over the airport, so it is very unlikely the tornado completely lifted the 747. The witness reports in that article are also inconsistent with the plane being completely airborne – the main interviewee says the plane only moved (slid) 20ft.

      I guess the subtext of my “heaviest object ever lifted” record is the object had to be moved a significant distance. Equipment in excess of 1 million pounds has been moved (construction cranes collapsing, drilling derricks rolled, bridge spans falling) but few things in excess of 30,000lbs have been thrown more than 100 yards.

  7. Not sure if you’ve heard of this but thought you would be interested. An EF2 tornado actually touched down in sunnyvale, CA (close to San Jose) in may of 1998. I witnessed it from my backyard. It was the strangest thing for a tornado to touch down in the bay area of all places, let alone in a populated area. It took the roof off of our church and damaged numerous houses but nobody was killed, (surprising since sunnyvale has over 100,000 in it). Us californians are not used to weather like that. http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/tools/decision/cases/980504/case.html

    • An EF-2 in San Jose? That is unusual.. I live in Wisconsin, sorta the far northern tip of “tornado alley” and an EF-2/EF-3 is the strongest we get in a typical year.

      • Yea it was quite a freak incident. Sunnyvale is a good-sized city too. We are so used to perfect weather here. Quite bizarre especially considering the Bay Area’s very mild climate. There was also one that hit Los Altos (also close to san jose) on the same day.

  8. Hypothetically speaking, based on the strongest winds ever recorded in a tornado, what would be the heaviest amount of weight that they would be able to fully lift off the ground?

  9. In regard to the 2013 El Reno tornado; it seems the path width given for this tornado was determined based on doppler radar. If radar measurements count now, then why isn’t the Mulhall tornado now listed as the widest on record?

  10. how strong do you reckon the winds were for the 2011 el reno tornado when it toppled and rolled a 2 million lb oil derrick? Could something that size have been picked up if the winds were even stronger?

    • Probably over 280mph for a second or two, hence the rather narrow swath of extreme damage.

      Extreme winds can lift basically anything of any weight if the proportions are not aerodynamic. I’m not sure if a tornado could lift an entire 2 million lb drilling rig , but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible.

  11. It may sound like a silly question but could whole houses that have been picked up by tornadoes before disintegrating in the air count as some of the heaviest objects picked up by them? Not sure how much the average house weighs but I’d imagine hundreds of thousands of pounds depending on the size. I think the Elie tornado picked up a whole house before it fell apart midair.

    • Yes, tornadoes have lifted entire homes, churches and factories into the air before ripping them apart – or sometimes dragging them 100 yards or more while keeping them intact (I know ’99 Bridge Creek did this) but I guess in such cases it’s impossible to know exactly how much it all weighed. I’m sure building/building sections heavier than 50,000lbs have been lifted into the air in this manner, but this might occur in every EF5 tornado that strikes a decent number of homes.

  12. How often do you choose to do articles on an individual tornado? I see some of the most recents you’ve done were on the Joplin, phil Campbell, moore, and el reno tornadoes but I was curious if you would ever do one on the 2011 el reno tornado? I am still amazed at the destruction it caused. Do you know what else it did besides destroying the oil derrick and mangling cars? I heard an above ground shelter at the oil rig site was damaged. Do you know if that had been directly hit as well?

    • I checked that one out and it appears to be a family of three or more tornadoes. The fact that it remained fairly weak throughout most its path, caused no fatalities and little damage and spent nearly all of its time in unpopulated areas is strong evidence that the storm, like many, was a family of tornadoes falsely recorded as a single path.

  13. I was searching for information on the 1999 Mulhall tornado when I stumbled across this article http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/BAMS-88-1-31
    I know you mentioned the potential for a 4-figure death toll if a sufficiently violent hits a large population center, but do you think the potential 5-figure death toll mentioned here is realistic?
    Considering a Mulhall-type tornado in a major metropolitan area?
    I know you think that Enhanced Fujita scale underestimates wind speed, so what do you think the size of the EF4+ damage swath for that tornado would be?

    • I mention that article in my “downtown tornadoes” entry. Yes, it is very possible that a large EF5 tornado could lead to over 10,000 deaths in a major city. While the Joplin tornado caused catastrophic damage, the city of Joplin is just a speck in comparison to the larger metropolitan areas like Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland.

      Such a scenario is most likely if a long-lasting, fast-moving EF5 tornado (like Phil Campbell or Guin) followed a crowded freeway corridor during rush hour traffic, which happens to coincide with the maxima in daily tornadic activity.

  14. I’ve been thinking about mini-tornado alleys, (aside from the main one centered on Oklahoma) here in the U.S. I’m just going to go out on a limb here:

    1. The North Dakota/Canada border
    2. Western New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut
    3. Northern Alabama, Northern Mississippi and Southern Tennesee
    4. I want to say lower Michigan and Northern Indiana

    this is just the top of my head I could be gravely wrong.

  15. Do you think the Yazoo City tornado may have been capable of causing EF5 damage as long lived as it was? How about the other two long lived 120+ mile tornadoes you have during the April 27, 2o11 Super Outbreak? The Clinton, Arkansas tornado on February 5, 2008 during the Super Tuesday Outbreak I suspected was capable of causing EF5 damage. It produced mid/high EF4 damage in several areas along its path and even some vehicles were never found.

  16. Do you know whether or not if the Kansas/Nebraska F4 tornado on March 13, 1990 was a family of tornadoes or a single tornado. There are claims that it was on the ground for 2 and a half hours and had a path length of 131 miles. It occurred the same day as the infamous Hesston, Kansas F5 tornado and the Gossell, Kansas F5 tornado. Them two tornadoes I know were part of a tornado family. I wonder if the long lived tornado may have been as violent as the Hesston and Gossell tornadoes. It formed in an unusual environment with marginal/modest heating and moisture. The temperature was like 67-68 degrees and the dewpoint was like 56-57. I was 9 years old when this happened and even remember them saying on the news a tornado was on the ground for 2 and a half hours that started in Kansas and went up to Nebraska. It was believed to have crossed several counties.

    • I just did a quick search and found someone on talkweather mentioning that Grazulis thought the long tracked storm was a tornado family. My copy of Significant Tornadoes is back home in my old room, so I don’t have that on me to verify that but I believe that was my reason for not including it.

      As for the Yazoo City tornado, I haven’t done too much research on it but I do believe it must have been capable of causing EF5 damage at some point due to the massive swath of EF3/EF4 damage it caused. Same probably goes for all of the other long tracked tornadoes listed above, particularly Cordova based on some of the ground scouring pictures I’ve seen.

    • That might be the case – though I could almost swear I read an article which said that three deaths were later attributed directly to the tornado by a researcher. If I can’t find that, I’ll revise it down.

  17. Am I the only person getting strange conversation replies on this list? I think someone hacked into my computer!! There’s replies that show up on my email that has nothing to do with tornadoes.

    • It’s not you, it’s random spammers on my blog. Once you get over a certain number of daily views the spam bots come in – strangely their messages often are semi-relevant but always kinda incomprehensible. I haven’t had too many in awhile but I’ve had to spam more than 40 messages today. If it keeps up I’ll have to change my settings so that I need to approve all messages.

      The messages are posted randomly – as replies to comments, as replies to pictures – and they’re harmless if ignored.

    • It’s definitely theoretically possible, but the car would likely be completely fragmented within the first few miles. Long distance (2 miles+) travel of a heavy object implies multiple instances of contact with the ground – as in the car being hurled against the ground, rolled violently at great speeds and then re-lifted into the air.

      I believe the story may be failing to mention that a “car part” was found in Vilonia, not the whole car. Or it’s false entirely.

      • And I can’t remember if it was you that asked, Buckeye, but I added pictures of the safe and truck that were thrown long distances from 1608 Lingerfelt Road during the Rainsville tornado (in the Rainsville damage post). The Robinson family contacted me and sent me hundreds of pictures that I plan to use for an article real soon.

      • I saw one meteorologist on a forum mention that it could have been stripped down to the chassis and that is all that was found. I’d say that is a fair bet, as I have seen that happen several times in violent tornadoes.

      • Such a thing may be the result of the “telephone” effect. I recall that playing a role in the 2012 Henryville tornado, where a baby was erroneously reported to have been carried 10 miles and initially survived.
        I would guess that perhaps the license plate was carried and perhaps the truck itself was carried a much shorter distance.
        I had also heard reports that a storm shelter was lifted from a basement, though I have some doubts about that.

    • Dean – I hadn’t seen that yet, exams are absorbing all my time. In short, that is incredible. With the death of three professional storm chasers in 2013, 158 dead in the ’11 Joplin tornado, and now this death in a safe room – I can’t help but think the tornadic lull that characterized the 60’s – 00’s has come to an end.

      I standby my assertion that this tornado was an EF5. It will be added to my “Indefinitive List of the Strongest Tornadoes” in the coming weeks. This single instance of damage is not proof of EF5 intensity, but if the safe room is shown to have been up to FEMA standard – I would consider it an “incredible phenomena” worthy of a top ranking.

  18. In regard to the deadliest tornadoes, going int the really old records, I was looking over an entry in Significant Tornadoes and found something odd. Grazulis lists the 1860 Comanche, Iowa tornado as having 92 fatalities, but adding up the totals from the description, I get 115 deaths. What do you make of this?

  19. There’s some very interesting information here. I was wondering about the exclusion of the 1973 Brent, AL tornado from the “Longest Tornado Damage Paths” list. It’s a post-1970 event, traveled ~139 miles, and unlike some other historic very long-tracked tornadoes (1966 Jackson-Leesburg, MS, 1971 Pugh City, MS), I have never heard this path length contested or seen evidence suggesting multiple tornadoes. I know plenty of recorded information on tornado events are often incorrect, even in official sources. So was there something particular about this event that led you to conclude the path length was less than reported, or did it just slip by you?

  20. There’s some very good information here. I was wondering about the exclusion of the 1973 Brent, AL tornado from the “Longest Tornado Damage Paths” list. It traveled ~139 miles, was a post-1970 event, and I have never heard of it referred to as a suspected tornado family like the 1966 Jackson-Leesburg, MS or the 1971 Pugh City, MS events. I know there is much misinformation when it comes to tornado records, even in official sources. Is there such a reason it’s not on this list, or did it just slip by you?

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