10 Incredible Videos Captured Inside a Tornado

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Incredible videos taken within dangerously close proximity to violent tornadoes are now captured every year. In 2013, the devastating Moore tornado was filmed from two vantage points as it thundered past the Odem residence near Plaza Towers Elementary.

□ Video is one of the best mediums for studying the complex nature of tornadic winds. Due to the availability of inexpensive cameras and the proliferation of smart phones, an increasing number of tornadoes are being documented first-hand each year. From a research perspective, such footage is important for two reasons. Firstly, the various videos provide further evidence that suction vortices and small-scale wind features are responsible for the erratic and extreme nature of tornado damage. Additionally, video documentation indicates that the Enhanced Fujita Scale underestimates the intensity of winds in violent tornadoes.

10. Tupelo, Mississippi – April 28, 2014

The Tupelo tornado was captured by an exterior surveillance camera at Saint Luke United Methodist Church.

The Tupelo tornado was captured by an exterior surveillance camera at Saint Luke United Methodist Church.

□ On April 28th, 2014, tornadic activity associated with a deadly two-day outbreak took aim on northern Mississippi.  At 2:42pm,  a multi-vortex tornado touched down near the Lee County border. The tornado slowly intensified and grew in size as it raced to the northeast at 50mph. Just before 2:50pm, the tornado entered the northern fringes of Tupelo. Damage was of EF1 and EF2 intensity until the tornado reached Clayton Avenue, at which point the storm rapidly intensified and destroyed three adjacent homes, one of which was swept completely away (NWS, 2014). The tornado then tore through a wealthy neighborhood just south of Legion Lake, unroofing and partially destroying several mansions. Winds were near peak intensity as the tornado ripped through a commercial district at the intersection of Gloster Street and Green Street. More than a dozen large businesses were within the tornado’s path, including a four-story Sleep Inn that lost its top floor. Across the street from the motel, a large bingo hall was nearly leveled. The tornado continued to the northeast for an additional 20 miles before dissipating. Overall, the tornado caused 40 injuries and one fatality (NWS, 2014).

View of the playground and the EF3 damage streak nearby. (DJournal)

View of the playground and the EF3 damage streak on Clayton Ave. (DJournal)

A surveillance camera near McCullough Boulevard captured the tornado as it passed over a church playground. The church complex is located on the north side of Clayton Avenue, across the street from the initial streak of EF3 damage. As the tornado approached the area, the sky darkened considerably and the camera switched to a low light mode. Vehicles are visible driving on Country Club Road even as northeasterly inflow winds surpass 100mph and trees begin to snap in unison. Due to the tornado’s multi-vortex nature, winds within the core of the storm were highly variable. The most intense winds occurred on the backside of the tornado and were from a southerly direction. The church building acted as a barrier to the strongest winds, resulting in only modest damage to the playground equipment. Damage to the church was consistent with an EF1 rating, in sharp contrast to the destruction only a short distance away.

9. Grande Isle, Louisiana – May 8, 2012

An unusually persistent waterspout came ashore on Grande Isle, Louisiana, and severely damaged a home.

In the late spring of 2012, a man filmed an unusually persistent waterspout as it tore through a residential area in Grande Isle, Louisiana.

□ More than a thousand waterspouts are spawned each year along the Gulf Coast. Unlike terrestrial tornadoes, most waterspouts are formed from garden variety thunderstorms and pack winds under 100mph. Since they are generally weak and fueled by warm water, waterspouts usually dissipate rapidly once they make landfall. On some occasions, however, they retain their strength over land and pose a threat to life and property. In May of 2012, a series of waterspouts formed over Caminada Bay in Louisiana. The largest waterspout travelled in a southeasterly direction towards a residential area on Grande Isle. The narrow funnel came ashore over a marshy area and continued inland without weakening. As surprised residents took cover, the tornado swept over homes on Raspberry Lane, destroying one residence and damaging seven nearby homes (Examiner, 2012). The tornado traversed the quarter mile width of the island and entered the Gulf of Mexico, where it quickly became diffuse and dissipated.

A different view of the tornado crossing Grande Isle.

A different view of the tornado over Grande Isle. (Video by Tammy Murry)

A Grande Isle resident captured the waterspout from a home on Raspberry Lane. The videographer initially documented two waterspouts as they swirled over the bay and slowly edged towards northern coast of the island. As the larger waterspout approaches shore, a man exclaims “that’s the biggest I ever seen.” The filmmaker took cover beneath a balcony as the tornado continued its slow approach towards a cluster of homes. When the tornado strikes, winds of approximately 90mph are visible swirling around the tiny core updraft, which was only 40ft wide at the surface. As the core passes over a house on stilts, it rips away the roof and a poorly attached section of the off-ground structure. The damage was later awarded an EF1 rating.

8. Milan, Italy – July 30, 2013

Cellphone footage captured the 2013 Milan tornado as it passed over an office building.

A cellphone camera captured the 2013 Milan tornado as it swept through an industrial district northeast of Milan. In May of 2014, another incredible, up-close video was taken of a small but strong tornado near the city of Modena.

□ More than 400 tornadoes touchdown in Europe each year, the majority of which are of F0 or F1 intensity. Northern Italy is perhaps the most severe weather prone region on the continent and one of the few places outside the US where violent tornadoes form on a regular basis. One of the most photographed tornadoes in Italian history touched down in the northeastern suburbs of Milan on July 29, 2013. The large funnel, the third to strike the city in a three month period, was spawned from a powerful supercell thunderstorm with large hail and hurricane force winds. The tornado strengthened to F2 intensity as it swept through industrial parks in Grezzago and Trezzo, filling the air with a blizzard of debris. Most of the damage occurred in Grezzago, where the storm ripped roofs off warehouses and rolled vehicles into piles. In total, the tornado displaced 12 families and caused several injuries, including one pedestrian who was crushed by a rolled vehicle (Autunno, 2013).

Lorries were flipped throughout tornado's path.

The Grezzago tornado flipped dozens of lorries near a DHN transport center.

An office worker captured the storm with a cellphone as it tore through the industrial section of Grezzago. The footage begins soon after the tornado passed over the A4 Freeway and damaged a Geodis transport center. A thick cloud of roofing materials from nearby warehouses filled the air as the tornado slowly swirled towards the filmmaker. The primary funnel was less than 100 yards wide but imposing in appearance due to the vast quantity of light weight debris ingested from a DHN trucking depot a block away. The footage ends abruptly as the winds change direction and threaten to break windows near the videographer.

7. Silves, Portugal –  November 16, 2012

Gui Teixeira captured incredible video of a rare tornado sweeping through a coastal area in southern Portugal. (Video by Gui Teixeira)

Gui Teixeira captured rare video of a tornado as it swept  through a coastal area in southern Portugal.

□ In the fall of 2012, a supercell thunderstorm developed off the coast of southern Portugal. The powerful storm-cell spawned a large waterspout several miles south of Lagos, a densely populated resort community in Portugal’s Algarves region. The tornadic waterspout came ashore in the town of Carvoeiro, damaging beachfront condominiums. The tornado continued northward into a mountainous region, eventually reaching the town of Silves seven miles inland. The tornado passed over a soccer stadium and swept through the center of town, ripping tiled roofs off multi-story apartment buildings and flipping dozens of vehicles. Most of the 13 injuries occurred in overturned cars, some of which were rolled more than 50ft (SkyNews, 2012). One woman died of her injuries a month after the tornado. Portugal’s Met Office deemed the tornado to be “moderately devastating,” and available imagery indicates the tornado left damage of EF2 intensity (Bratley, 2013).

Vehicles piled beneath a damaged apartment building in Silves.

Vehicles piled beneath a damaged apartment building in Silves.

Photographer Gui Teixeira captured the tornado as it passed directly over the Dr. Francisco Vieira Soccer Stadium in Silves. Teixeira first captured the tornado as it descended a hill and crossed the Arade River at the southern edge of town. The footage shows inflow winds ripping the canopy off the stadium’s bleachers moments before the 300-yard wide funnel engulfs the field. As the core of the storm passed over the videographer, perimeter fencing was swept away and roofing debris tumbled through the air. Rough analysis of the footage and subsequent damage indicates that the tornado was likely at marginal F2 intensity in the vicinity of the stadium.

6. Diamond, Illinois – November 17, 2013

A surveillance camera at Pete's Shell gas station captured the

A surveillance camera at Pete’s Shell gas station captured the complete destruction of a poorly anchored home in Diamond, Illinois.

□ In the midst of a devastating tornado outbreak on November 17, 2013, a fast-moving tornado touched down 40 miles southeast of Chicago. Unlike other tornadoes that day, the storm never developed a “wedge” appearance but instead appeared as a hanging funnel above a transparent debris cloud. The tornado skirted between two large towns and swept through a neighborhood in Diamond, a tiny community along Interstate 55. More than 75 buildings suffered “major damage” and at least one home was completely destroyed (“Diamond continues…”, 2013). Surveyors later determined that the storm left damage of EF2 intensity.

The Grundy County tornado's appearance was consistent with tornadoes under EF3 intensity. Some violent tornadoes, however, have looked similar while at peak intensity. (Still by TheVdp2012)

The Grundy County tornado’s appearance less than a minute before striking the gas station (Video by TheVdp2012)

A north-facing surveillance camera at a Diamond gas station captured the fast-moving tornado as it passed just east of town. The footage depicts an area of extreme winds obliterating a two-story home on Johnson Road – across the street from a largely undisturbed gas station awning. When the footage is analyzed in detail, the complete destruction of the home appears to have occurred just after the storm’s core passed a short distance behind the property, as evidenced by the west-to-east debris flow. The footage indicates the home was dislodged completely from its foundation prior to being destroyed, an indication of poor anchoring. From a human perspective, the footage reveals how deadly even modest tornadoes can be in unreinforced, wood-framed buildings.

5. Downtown West Liberty, Kentucky – March 2, 2012

On March 2, 2012, more than 60 tornadoes swept through the Ohio River Valley, leading to 41 fatalities. More than half of the deaths occurred in Kentucky

A surveillance camera captured a fast-moving, multi-vortex tornado as it passed over a hospital complex in West Liberty, Kentucky. The EF3 tornado was spawned from an exceptionally well-structured mesocyclone that failed to produce a condensation funnel.

□ On March 2, 2012, a series of violent and fast-moving tornadoes swept through the Ohio River Valley, causing 41 fatalities. One of the most notable tornadoes during the outbreak left an 86-mile swath of destruction through eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. The tornado touched down in the hills of central Menifee County and roared eastward with a forward speed in excess of 60mph (NWS, 2012). Two people were killed before the tornado entered Morgan County, where the damage swath was consistently one mile in width. After traveling 20 miles in 19 minutes, the tornado ripped through downtown West Liberty, causing six additional fatalities (NWS, 2012). More than a dozen multi-story brick buildings were destroyed in the town’s center, and over 100 homes were unroofed or partially leveled. The tornado had the longest path-length of any single storm during the outbreak and caused 10 fatalities during its 80 minute lifecycle.

The tornado's spectacular and unusual appearance near West Liberty.

The tornado’s spectacular and unusual appearance near West Liberty. (Video by Carl Potter)

A surveillance camera at Clinic Pharmacy in West Liberty captured fascinating footage of the tornado seconds before it entered the town’s central business district. The footage sheds light on the tornado’s highly complex wind-field, which was in excess of a mile wide but highly erratic due to transient suction vortices. Unlike most violent tornadoes, the storm lacked a solid condensation funnel. In the first half of the footage, the winds have a strong vertical element – lifting a portion of the medical building’s roof straight upward. The lack of horizontal momentum may be due to the tornado’s rapid forward motion, which both amplified and cancelled rotational velocities in varying parts of the storm. As the core of the tornado moves to the east, an extreme blast of westerly winds causes the majority of the damage in the area. Surveyors later determined that the tornado caused EF3 damage near the medical complex and immediately to the east in downtown West Liberty.

A surveillance camera

A quarter mile west of Clinic Pharmacy, a home surveillance system captured incredible footage inside the deadly tornado. The residence, located on Dixie Lane, experienced modest damage but was within close proximity to a swath of EF3 damage.

4. Henryville, Indiana – March 2, 2012

A surveillance camera

A surveillance camera at Henryville Middle School captured the onset of a deadly tornado on March 2, 2012.

□ On the same day as the West Liberty tornado, an even deadlier storm sliced through the town of Henryville, Indiana. Similar to other violent tornadoes during the outbreak, the Henryville tornado travelled almost due east at speeds in excess of 60mph.  The tornado first touched down in Washington County and quickly reached EF4 intensity near the town of New Pekin, where a large, well-built factory was reduced to a bare concrete slab (NWS, 2011). Nearby, thick sections of pavement were scoured from State Road 135 and three-story homes were completely leveled. Just east of the US 60, a young couple and their three children were killed in a mobile home that was obliterated. The tornado’s forward speed accelerated to 70mph in Clark County, where the most intense damage occurred (NWS, 2011). Just before 3:20pm, the tornado ripped through the northern section of Henryville, sweeping away homes and devastating the local public school. One man was killed in a frame-home in Henryville, where the primary damage swath was approximately 200 yards wide. Overall, the long-lived tornado killed 11 people along a 49-mile path that traversed two states.

Frame of the tornado as it passes over the school complex. (Video by Rhett Adams)

Frame of the Henryville tornado as it passes over the school complex. (Video by Rhett Adams)

Surveillance cameras at Henryville Public School captured the tornado from multiple vantage points. One camera recorded the storm from an east-facing wall at the middle school, where the most severe damage occurred. The footage shows children exiting a school bus and seeking shelter in the school less than three minutes before the tornado strikes. Due to the tornado’s rapid forward speed, ground level winds increased rapidly and shifted direction in only a few seconds. Just before being destroyed, the camera captured a school bus and two other vehicles being pushed sideways by the southerly flow. Another camera approximately 80 yards to the north captured what appears to be the calm “eye” of the tornado, an indication the storm’s center passed directly over the school. While the majority of the school complex was severely damaged but left intact, the middle school was nearly leveled. The variations in damage are likely due to storm’s 65mph forward speed, which amplified the winds in the southern portion of the tornado’s inner core.

3. Lebanon, Kansas – May 27, 2011

The TIV2 was impacted by a large, slow-moving tornado in northern Kansas.

In May of 2013, the TIV2 became the first armored chase vehicle to sustain a direct hit from a strong tornado.

□ On May 27, 2013, a large tornado touched down near the town of Lebanon in northern Kansas. The slow-moving tornado expanded to over a half-mile in width as it meandered to the east-southeast through sparsely populated farmland. A homestead three miles north of Lebanon was impacted by the tornado, leading to one injury. The home’s second floor was sheared off and trees across the property were uprooted or snapped in half (NWS, 2013). Several other homes experienced mild to moderate damage before the tornado dissipated.

The crew poses next to the TIV2, which was caked in mud by the tornado.

The crew poses next to the TIV2, which was caked in mud by the tornado. (Image by Heath Jepson)

The Tornado Intercept Vehicle II (TIV2), driven by meteorologist Brandon Ivey, directly encountered the tornado on a rural county road. The 6.5 tonne vehicle parked just east of the rain-wrapped storm and deployed anchoring spikes a few minutes before the tornado struck. Video footage reveals that damaging inflow winds in excess of 100mph buffeted the vehicle before visibility dropped to only a few feet within the core of the storm. Due to the tornado’s slow movement, peak winds lasted for nearly two minutes. At one point, southerly winds sent a blizzard of hay over the vehicle. The chasers later reported that debris from a home several hundred yards away impacted the vehicle at extreme speeds and breeched the passenger compartment in two places. An anemometer atop the vehicle, which failed near the beginning of the tornado, recorded winds between 150mph and 175mph. Had the anemometer withstood the duration of the storm, it is likely winds in excess of 200mph would have been recorded. The winds captured by the TIV2 were likely congruent with the winds in other large tornadoes in the absence of suction vortices, which are usually responsible for damage above the EF3 threshold. According to past survey reports, long duration winds of EF4 intensity (166 – 200mph) are capable of causing EF5 damage, yet the vegetation around the TIV2 was largely unaffected by the bombardment of winds in excess of 175mph. Taking this into account, it is likely that ground scouring in violent tornadoes occurs due to winds significantly stronger than those encountered by the TIV2 crew.

2. Parkersburg, Iowa – May 22, 2008

The Parkersburg tornado passed directly over a First State Bank branch on Highway 14 while at EF5 intensity.

The Parkersburg tornado passed over a First State Bank branch on Highway 14 while at EF5 intensity. An outdoor camera recorded clear footage of the storm as it engulfed a frame-home. The reinforced bank building, which likely experienced winds of EF4 intensity, was severely damaged but left standing.

□ On May 25, 2008, one of the most violent tornadoes in modern history touched down five miles west of the small town of Parkersburg, Iowa. The historic storm rapidly intensified as it thundered eastward at 40mph, leveling corn crop and destroying more than a dozen out-lying farm buildings. As the massive funnel approached the edge of Parkersburg, it reached EF5 intensity – only the second storm to do so in the preceding nine years. At 5pm, the nearly half-mile wide tornado swept through the southern half of town, completely obliterating 200 homes and businesses. According to the town’s mayor, most of the seven fatalities in Parkersburg occurred in basements. The tornado maintained EF5 intensity for more than 15 minutes, causing two additional fatalities in homes that were swept completely away near New Hartford. A survey team later concluded that the exceptionally powerful tornado swept away more than a dozen well-anchored homes (NWS Survey, 2008).

View of damage to First State Bank and the home captured in the surveillance footage.

View of damage to First State Bank and the home captured in the surveillance footage. (Photo by John McLaughlin)

At 4:58pm, an ATM surveillance camera at First State Bank was recording a cloudy sky with light winds. Just after 4:59pm, the air momentarily fell still. Seconds later, powerful inflow winds began buffeting trees around a frame-home on Russell Circle. The rapidly accelerating winds surpassed hurricane-force in less than six seconds, filling the air with lethal projectiles. Ignited by exploding transmission towers, the sturdy camera captured the failure sequence of the home as the dark debris cloud engulfed the area. Remarkably, a man and his young son survived inside the home, which was reduced to its baseboards. The winds captured near the end of the video are likely in excess of 200mph – the strongest ever clearly captured on film. The home incurred EF3 damage before being obscured, an indication significantly stronger winds were responsible for the streaks of EF4 and EF5 damage.

1. Tushka, Oklahoma – April 16, 2011

One of the most compelling films ever taken within a tornado was captured in the town of Tushka. A couple and their children failed to find shelter in time and were caught in the storm outside.

An outdoor surveillance camera in the town of Tushka, Oklahoma, captured one of the most compelling weather videos ever taken. A couple and their children failed to find shelter and were caught in the storm outside.

□ In mid-April of 2011, one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in recent history left a wide trail of destruction from Oklahoma to the Atlantic Ocean. The outbreak was later superseded by two catastrophic events that left more than 500 people dead, but it remains the 6th deadliest tornado outbreak of the 21st century. On the first day of the outbreak, a large tornado touched down five miles southwest of the tiny town of Tushka, Oklahoma (NWS, 2011). Storm chasers captured the multi-vortex tornado as it expanded to over a half-mile in width and roared to the northeast at 35mph. Approximately eight minutes after forming, the tornado engulfed all of Tushka, causing two fatalities (NWS, 2011). The tornado left a highly variable damage swath – small streaks of destruction were surrounded on all sides by fairly mild damage.

Damage in Tushka - the municipal hall visible in the footage is seen at center.

The tornado left erratic damage patterns in Tushka. The brick municipal hall visible in the footage is seen at center. (Image by ok.gov)

As the edge of the tornado reached town, the four members of the Miller family were frantically driving to a storm shelter at Tushka Public School, where half the town’s population had sought shelter (FEMA, 2011). Hurricane-force winds buffeted the center of town as the family parked their vehicle in the school’s parking lot. Mrs. Miller, with her 5-year old son, and Mr. Miller, holding the couple’s infant daughter, ran to the school entrance, only to find the doors locked. Mrs. Miller later told a reporter, “the winds were so high we were getting blown backwards – so my husband walked one way and I walked another” (Shanahan, 2011). A sub vortex within the tornado reached the family at 5:12 in the video clip, causing bursts of violent winds from varying directions. Moments later, winds in the storm weakened, allowing the couple a brief opportunity to come together and kneel against a metal fence. At 5:42, a more powerful wind feature engulfed the center of Tushka. The Miller’s red SUV was pushed to within inches of the terrified family but also served as a barrier against deadly projectiles. In the background, the municipal hall and adjacent businesses were destroyed within a five second period. Less than 30 seconds later, the winds died down as the tornado exited town and continued to the northeast. The Miller family survived the storm with only minor injuries. The surveillance footage and aerial damage imagery indicate that the tornado’s complex multiple vortex structure spared the public school but directly impacted buildings on the other side of Pecan Street.

The List of the Strongest Tornadoes Ever Recorded (Pre-1970): Part II

Vehicle damage is one way to ascertain the intensity of historical tornadoes. Cars built pre-1960 were significantly heavier and, likely, more difficult to damage than modern, light-weight vehicles. At left, extreme vehicle damage following the 1953 Beecher tornado. At center, a destroyed car after the 1956 Hudsonville tornado. At right, a truck stripped to its frame following a tornado in Udall, Kansas, in 1955.

Vehicle damage is one way to ascertain the intensity of historical tornadoes, particularly since cars built pre-1960 were significantly heavier than modern light-weight vehicles. At left, extreme vehicle damage following the 1953 Beecher tornado (Image from the Flint Public Library). At center, a destroyed car after the 1956 Hudsonville tornado (Image by Thelma Bakker). At right, a truck stripped to its frame following the catastrophic Udall tornado of 1955.

□ While nowhere near definitive, objectivity is attempted through the use of damage photographs, reliable survey reports and fatality statistics. Unverified accounts, vague newspaper descriptions and damage figures are not considered. Tornadoes that occurred before 1880 and tornadoes that caused less than 10 deaths are excluded to eliminate the thousands of rural storms that failed to attract significant media attention. Little to no photographic evidence makes the inclusion of some past tornadoes unfeasible without further information.

Click to see Part I.

The list of the strongest tornadoes from 1880 to 1969:

1. Sherman, Texas – May 15, 1896

2. De Soto/Murphysboro/West Frankfurt, Illinois – March 18, 1925

3. New Richmond, Wisconsin – June 12, 1899

4. Beecher, Michigan – June 8th, 1953

5. Hudsonville, Michigan – April 3, 1956

6. Tupelo, Mississippi – April 5, 1936

7. Udall, Kansas – May 25, 1955

8. Pomeroy, Iowa – July 6, 1893

9. Woodward, Oklahoma – April 9, 1947

10. Scott County, Mississippi – March 3, 1966

11. Ruskin Heights, Missouri – May 20, 1957

12. Snyder, Oklahoma – May 10, 1905

13. Colfax, Wisconsin – June 4, 1958

14. Gans, Oklahoma – January 22, 1957

15. Winston County, Alabama – April 20, 1920

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7. Udall, Kansas – May 25, 1955

The Udall tornado caused the highest death toll in a US town with a population under 1,000 residents. The town's small business destrict was wrecked, whereas homes immediately to the east were swept completely away.

The Udall tornado caused the highest death toll in a US town with a population under 1,000. The town’s block-long business district was wrecked, whereas homes immediately to the south were swept completely away.

□ On the evening of May 25, 1955, a powerful supercell thunderstorm was edging northward near Ponca City, Oklahoma. After spawning a tornado that took 20 lives in the town of Blackwell, the storm produced another tornado that touched down near the Kansas border just before 10pm. Witnesses in the area reported that the tornado, which was made visible by near constant lightning, was approximately a quarter mile wide early in its development (NWS Storm Reports). The storm widened and strengthened as it moved northward, eventually expanding to more than half a mile in diameter. Maps from the time show the tornado traveled almost due north, but damage patterns indicate the tornado made a turn to the northeast as it roared towards the tiny town of Udall, which had only 600 residents (LIFE, 1955). The town’s population was within the boundaries of a tornado watch but a slight bureaucratic delay meant that the alert was not issued until 10:08pm. As a result, most residents who watched the 10 o’clock news were told that all advisories had been lifted (Smith, 2010). Many residents were in bed at 10:25pm, the moment the storm struck.

As the tornado reached the southwestern edge of town, it devastated the local high school and hurled vehicles from nearby houses more than a quarter mile. A massive electrical arc lit up the sky as the tornado struck a power station on 3rd Street, causing the entire town to disappear into darkness. The roar of the approaching storm gave many residents valuable time to seek shelter but the intensity of the winds below 2nd Street left nowhere safe to take cover. Rows of homes were swept completely away as the core of F5 winds passed just south of the town’s commercial strip (LIFE, 1955). The ensuing blizzard of high velocity debris killed people who attempted to run towards the few underground storm caves in town, including a couple and their two children (Raw Data Report, 1955). After leveling the town hall, the tornado crossed the railroad tracks that bisect the center of Udall and obliterated buildings in a neighborhood to the northeast. A nursing home on East Lewis Street was destroyed, leading to multiple fatalities. After exiting town, the tornado left a wide streak of scoured vegetation. (LIFE, 1955). A total of 75 people were killed in Udall, and another five lost their lives in a home south of town.

When the final people succumbed to their injuries, 13% of the town’s population was dead. There were multiple fatalities in 17 households, with up to five deaths in a single home (List of Deceased). The incredible intensity of the tornado left unusual sights across town. The damage to Udall’s public school was perhaps the most intense ever photographed. Thick, steal cross-beams arching over the school’s gym were snapped and, in some cases, blown completely away (NWS image). Near one of the classrooms, the severely denuded frame of a Ford truck was left tangled in a partially debarked tree. Areas of grass around the campus were scoured from the ground, and low-lying vegetation was stripped bare (Udall Historical Museum). Farther inside town, power poles were snapped like toothpicks several feet above the ground and a 30ft by 40ft concrete block building was swept away. The Udall event remains by far the deadliest tornado in Kansas history and one of the worst disasters to ever occur within the boundaries of tornado alley.

Vehicles across town were thrown long distances and mangled beyond recognition. At left, the tornado's most iconic sight was the remains of a truck wrapped around a tree near the high school. A postcard from the time wrote that the (very likely deceased) driver was found a quarter mile away.

Vehicles across town were thrown long distances and mangled beyond recognition. At left, the tornado’s most iconic sight was the remains of a truck wrapped around a tree near the public school. A postcard from the time wrote that the (very likely deceased) driver was found a quarter mile outside town. (Images from the Udall Historical Museum)

At right, the foundation of a home that was swept completely away. Nearly every home south of 2nd Street was obliterated in F5 fashion. At right, a school with thick brick walls was nearly leveled to the ground. (Images from the Wichita Eagle)

At left, the foundation of a home that was swept completely away. Nearly every home south of 2nd Street was obliterated in F5 fashion. At right, a grade school with thick brick walls was nearly leveled to the ground. (Images from the Udall Historical Museum)

Composite aerial view of the town taken two days later after only moderate clean-up had occurred. The southern section of town (at left) was swept completely away, leaving a checkerboard of empty foundations. The rest of the community was left as a patchwork of F5 to F0 damage, with the least damage occurring in the northwest corner of town.

Composite aerial view of the town taken two days later after only moderate clean-up had occurred. The southern section of town (at left) was swept completely away, leaving a checkerboard of empty foundations. The rest of the community was left as a patchwork of F5 to F0 damage, with the least damage occurring in the northwest corner of town.

At left, ground scouring just east of town. At right, an area near the high school that appears to have been stripped bare (as evidenced by the tire tracks, which are a common sight in ground effected by F5 winds). (Right image from the Udall Historical Society)

At left, ground scouring just east of town. At right, a field near the high school that appears to have been stripped bare (as evidenced by the post-storm tire tracks, which are a common sight in ground effected by F5 winds). The trees in the background have been completely debarked. (Right image from the Udall Historical Museum)

6. Tupelo, Mississippi – April 5, 1936

Catastrophic damage following the 1936 Tupelo tornado.

Catastrophic damage following the 1936 Tupelo tornado.

□ One of the worst tornado disasters in world history occurred in the midst of a wide-scale severe weather outbreak that brought devastating tornadoes throughout the Southeastern United States in the spring of 1936. Just after 8pm on April 5th, a massive funnel touched down approximately eight miles southwest of Tupelo, Mississippi. Little is known about the tornado’s path outside the city, but several fatalities occurred in rural areas, including one person who was killed in a vehicle swept off a road (Mississippi State Geological Survey). As the tornado raced through the outskirts of town it swept away the Burroughs home, leading to the deaths of the couple and their 11 children (New York Times, 1936).

One witness described the storm as “four funnels that merged” just west of town (The Press-Scimitar, 1936). More than a dozen large, well-constructed plantation homes were swept completely away as the tornado entered the wealthy Willis Heights neighborhood (Grazulis, 1993). Reported damage patterns indicate the tornado had a complex multiple vortex structure as some homes adjacent to the worst devastation suffered relatively modest damage (Mississippi State Geological Survey). The tornado tore through residential neighborhoods just north of the city’s business district, with most of the destruction occurring in a 300 yard wide swath centered near the intersection of Madison and Allen Street. One witness recalled that “all of a sudden, all these houses across the street went down like paper” (Edith Gurner, 2008). Residents scrambled into unusual hiding spots as the tornado approached, including one man who survived the storm after crawling into a manhole.

The tornado likely moved in excess of 55mph and took less than two minutes to reach the eastern side of Tupelo. Tens of thousands of pounds of debris were centrifuged around the core of the tornado as it crossed Gum Pond, where dozens of bodies from across town were later recovered. Many of the dead pulled from the water were black victims who likely originated from a working class neighborhood several blocks to the west. Materials from across town piled against the eastern shore of the pond as the tornado exited the area and plowed to the northeast. Heavy timbers and construction beams pierced deeply into the ground and the thick, concrete Battle of Tupelo Monument was blown apart. Additionally, fields east of town were scoured of vegetation and left covered with pulverized debris the size of woodchips (Mississippi State Geological Survey).

After the storm passed, rescue workers and the citizens of Tupelo combed the wreckage as torrential rain fell over the area. One survivor later reported that there was an eerie silence in the worst affected areas, without a single cry or moan coming from the rubble (Moore, 1992). The condition of some of the bodies made determining even the sex of the dead challenging (Mississippi State Geological Survey). Entire families were wiped out in the storm, with multiple households suffering more than five fatalities. The tornado’s final death toll is debatable due to the unknown fate of approximately 100 critically injured white patients and an unknown (but likely similar) number of injured black residents (Grazulis, 1993). The official death toll of 216 only takes into account the immediate fatalities from the storm, so later estimates were increased to 233. A final figure of 250 deaths seems appropriate, making the Tupelo event the deadliest tornado disaster in a single US town (Grazulis, 1993). The fatality rate within the main damage swath was perhaps the highest of any tornado to cause more than 100 deaths since the turn of the 20th century. While the storm was largely forgotten amidst the turmoil of the Great Depression, it remains one of the most catastrophic severe weather events to occur on American soil.

Aerial views of damage in Tupelo. At left, looking northeast at the tornado's path through the city. Gum Pond is visible at distance.

Aerial views of damage in Tupelo. At left, the devastation around Gum Pond. Possible vegetation scouring is visible atop the mound at right center. At right, looking northeast at the tornado’s path through the city.

Views of damage in Tupelo.

Views of damage in Tupelo. At left, the remains of homes and a tree that was stripped bare by Gum Pond. At bottom right, only sections of baseboard remain where a home once stood.

More scenes of devastation. The heavily damaged mansion at right is similar to nearby residences that were reduced to their foundations. The three-story Huffman house was swept completely away, leading to several fatalities.

At left, complete devastation in the eastern section of town. At right, a heavily damaged mansion that was similar to nearby residences that were reduced to their foundations. The three-story Hoffman house at 365 North Church Street was swept completely away, leading to several fatalities.

At left, the remains of the Hoffman mansion, which was swept down to its baseboards, leading to several fatalities. At right, a field that was "stripped bare" just east of town. (Mississippi State Geological Survey, 1936)

At left, the remains of the Hoffman mansion, which was swept down to its baseboards. Homes across the street suffered relatively modest damage. At right, a field that was “stripped bare” just east of town. (Mississippi State Geological Survey, 1936)

5. Hudsonville, Michigan – April 3, 1956

The Hudsonville never took on the "wedge" shape typical of most F5 tornadoes and instead appeared as a large funnel, often with two or more vortexes visible at once. (Image by Marvin Bueker)

The Hudsonville tornado never took on the “wedge” shape typical of most F5 tornadoes and instead appeared as a large funnel, sometimes with two or more vortices visible at once. (Image by Marvin Bueker)

□ In the spring of 1956, one of the most violent tornadoes ever documented touched down far outside tornado alley in the outskirts of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thousands of residents across the area witnessed the widely visible funnel as it turned to the north-northeast at nearly 50mph. The first instances of F5 damage occurred only five minutes after touchdown as the tornado crossed New Holland Street. Several newly built homes in the area were swept completely away, leading to the storm’s first fatality. Heavy pieces of furniture from the destroyed residences were thrown several hundred yards at high speeds, leaving long gouge marks in the ground upon impact. Aerial views of ground scouring indicate that the tornado intensified even further as it continued towards the west side of Hudsonville. The storm was well into the F5 category when it crossed the intersection of Van Buren Street and 40th Avenue. Seven homes within a 100-yard wide streak nearly vanished without a trace. The Oostendorp home was swept completely away along with the flooring and plumbing fixtures, leading to the deaths of the homeowner and his infant son (1956tornadoes). Vegetation around the home was scoured from the ground or left clinging by only a few roots, whereas neighboring homes only 60 yards to the east were left damaged but still standing.

The tornado maintained its strength as it crossed Port Sheldon Street near Elmwood Lake. Approximately fifteen homes were considered destroyed in this area. Four fatalities occurred in one home that was swept completely away. The underground basement of the home where the fatalities occurred was swept clean of furniture and personal affects. Debris from obliterated structures was whipped into long lines of wind rowing that extended more than a half mile through the surrounding fields. A car that had been driving on Port Sheldon Street was hurled several hundred feet, killing the two occupants. In total, 13 deaths were reported in the Hudsonville area.

After crossing the Grand River, the tornado swept through rural areas near the town of Standale, where four people died (Sheboygan Journal Wisconsin, 1956). The tornado would continue for another 40 miles through sparsely populated areas north of Grand Rapids. The final fatality occurred near Comstock Park, where several homes were leveled to the ground. Photographs indicate that the tornado narrowed into a long, snake-like funnel in the latter stages of its life before finally dissipating. Overall, the tornado caused 18 deaths and completely obliterated nearly 100 homes.

The remains of a home that was swept completely away by the tornado. Vegetation around the bare foundation was scoured from the ground, and the fallen tree trunk behind the home was debarked and stripped of branches. (Image by )

The remains of a home where a man and his young son were killed. Vegetation around the bare foundation was scoured from the ground and the fallen tree trunk behind the home was debarked and stripped of branches. Much of the furniture and debris from the home was found more than a quarter mile away. Amazingly, the homeowner’s wife and daughter survived the tornado, though both were critically injured. (Image by Thelma Bakker)

Extreme damage to cars near Port Sheldon Street. Vehicles in the 1950's were significantly heavier and, theoretically, more difficult to damage than contemporary light-weight cars. Two fatalities occurred when a car was swept off of Port Sheldon Street and thrown more than 100 yards. (Images by Thelma Bakker)

Extreme damage to cars near Port Sheldon Street. The mangled car at right originated from a home where four fatalities occurred. (Images by Thelma Bakker)

Aerial view of F5 damage to two homes along BLANK street. The tornado's narrow path is made visible by streaks of pronounced wind rowing, an indicator of extreme intensity.

Aerial view of F5 damage to two homes along 40th Avenue. The tornado’s narrow path was made visible by streaks of pronounced wind rowing, an indication of extreme intensity. Similar wind rowing was photographed throughout the tornado’s damage path. All of the photographs used in this section came from 1956tornadoes flickr page, which is the single best resource for information and imagery on the Hudsonville tornado.