10 Incredible Videos Captured Inside a Tornado


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: 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)


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Part II
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