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

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

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

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

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

I. The Deadliest Tornadoes on Record

II. The Longest Tornado Damage Paths

III. The Fastest Tornadoes Ever Recorded

IV. Violent or Unusual Tornado Records

-IVa. The Highest Altitude Violent Tornado

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

-IVc. The Deadliest Hurricane Spawned Tornado

-IVd. The Highest Tornado Fatality Rate

-IVe. The Most Fatalities in a Single Building

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

-IVg. The Fastest Tornado Movement Ever Recorded Using Photogrammetry

-IVh. The Heaviest Object Ever Lifted by a Tornado

V. Graphs

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

Vb. Graph of the Deadliest Tornadoes by Decade

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I.
□ The Deadliest Tornadoes on Record

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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II.
□ The Longest Tornado Damage Paths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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III.
□ The Fastest Tornadoes Ever Recorded

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

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

1a. 70mph+ – April 27, 2011

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

1b. 70mph+ – March 2, 2012

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

1c. 70mph+ – April 3, 1974

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

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IV.
□ Violent or Unusual Tornado Records

IVa. The Highest Altitude Violent Tornado

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

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

IVb. The Deadliest and Most Intense Anticyclonic Tornado Ever Recorded

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

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

IVc. The Deadliest Hurricane Spawned Tornado 

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

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

IVd. The Highest Above-Ground Tornado Fatality Rate

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

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

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

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

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

IVf. The Most Fatalities in a Single Mobile Home Park

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

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

IVg. The Fastest Tornado Movement Ever Recorded Using Photogrammetry

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

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

IVh. The Heaviest Object Ever Lifted by a Tornado

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

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

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

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

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

□ Vb. Graph of the Deadliest Tornadoes by Decade

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

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

Powerful Tornadoes Outside the United States – Violent Tornadoes in France, Russia, South Africa, Poland, Canada and Japan

In 2012, a powerful, long-tracked tornado swept through the Polish countryside - causing one fatality.

In 2012, a powerful, long-tracked tornado swept through the Polish countryside – causing one fatality. Southern Poland is one of several regions across the world that are occasionally prone to violent tornadoes.

□ The United States experiences more violent tornadoes than the rest of the world combined. In spite of this, the atmospheric ingredients needed to form rotating thunderstorms are present across the world. Strong tornadoes have occurred on every continent except Antarctica. Bangladesh has seen more tornado related deaths in the last three decades than the United States, and some of the most violent tornado footage ever recorded has come out of Eastern Europe. Few countries keep meticulous records of severe weather events like the US, so information is limited. With the data available, I have compiled a list of some of the most powerful tornadoes that have occurred outside the United States since 1940.

10. JAPAN – Saroma, Hokkaido – November 7, 2006

There are two known photographs of the Saroma tornado as it tore a narrow but intense path through a residential area in the Wakasa district.

Most tornadoes in Japan form in the outer rainbands of tropical cyclones, though some are spawned within supercell thunderstorms with pronounced hook-echos. On November 7, 2006, an unusual supercell thunderstorm developed over the Japanese island of Hokkaido. A rope-like tornado formed a few miles south of the island’s northern shoreline and tore through two dozen buildings in the Wakasa district of Saroma. Two homes were completely leveled and nine people were killed in the destruction of a two-story pre-fabricated building. Airborne projectiles penetrated the walls and roofs of homes, and cars were thrown more than 30 yards. Damage surveys later determined that the tornado was of borderline F2/F3 intensity in the Wakasa district. The Saroma tornado remains the deadliest tornado to strike Japan in the past 70 years.

The tornado left a narrow streak of damage through a strip of buildings lining a highway. All nine deaths occurred in the destruction of a large pre-fabricated apartment building (visible at bottom left).

Heavy damage in the Wakasa district. Airborne projectiles penetrated buildings and left battering marks on standing structures.

9. POLAND – Zimna/Wodka, Strzelce – August 15, 2008

Two views of a mutli-vortex tornado that caused three deaths in Poland in 2008.

A dozen tornadoes tore through southern Poland in the summer of 2008. The most significant tornado of the outbreak was a large, multi-vortex storm that travelled over 60 miles. The tornado tore through an agricultural area and destroyed dozens of rural homes, killing three people. Vehicles caught in the tornado’s path were swept off roads and mangled. Damage photographs indicate the tornado likely caused damage of low-end F3 intensity, although some unofficial sources cite the tornado as an F4. Geographically, Poland is situated in one of the most tornado prone regions in Europe and is one of the few places outside the United States where large tornadoes occur on a semi-regular basis.

The deadliest tornado during the August 2008 tornado outbreak leveled homes in southern Poland. The tornado hurled vehicles through the air as it crossed a highway near the Slovakian border. Light-poles on the highway were bent to the ground.

Tornado damage in Balcarzowice. (Photo gallery)

8. SOUTH AFRICA – Duduza, East Rand – October 2, 2011

The Duduza tornado killed one person as it tore through rural areas outside Johannesburg. Video of the tornado shows rotation and structure possibly consistent with a storm of F3 or F4 intensity.

A strong tornado developed in rural areas east of Johannesburg in the spring of 2011. The powerful storm tore through a working class neighborhood and destroyed several dozen homes. Some of the buildings devastated by the tornado had thick stone walls that may have added significant structural strength, although the overall construction of the area was substandard. One person was killed and several more were injured. South Africa is one of the few areas outside the US that consistently sees powerful and deadly tornadoes. More than 100 people have been killed by tornadoes in South Africa since 1948.

View of the destroyed homes following the deadly Duduza tornado in South Africa. (Image by Daniel Born)

7. Tsukuba, Japan – May 6, 2012 

In 2012, a powerful tornado left a 10-mile path of destruction north of Tokyo, Japan. The narrow tornado swept over dozens of multi-level apartment buildings and caused more than $50 million in damage.

In 2012, a powerful tornado left a 10-mile path of destruction north of Tokyo, Japan. The narrow tornado swept over dozens of multi-level apartment buildings and caused more than $50 million in damage.

In the late-spring on 2012, a supercell thunderstorm spawned a violent tornado that touched down northwest of downtown Tsubuka City, Japan. The tornado slowly intensified as it twisted through a rural area, uprooting trees and damaging agricultural buildings. Video evidence indicates that the tornado remained fairly narrow, less than 50 yards in width, as roared to the northeast at 30mph. The tornado reached F3 intensity as it tore through an industrial area, destroying wood homes and hurling cars through the air. A teenage boy was killed in the destruction of a home, and more than two dozen people were severely injured. A damage survey later revealed that several homes were swept completely away, though the construction quality did not warrant an F4 or F5 rating. In one area, a home’s concrete foundation was ripped from the ground and flipped upside down (“Quick report on…”, 2012). The severity of the damage was unprecedented in Japan, a nation where few storms surpass marginal F2 intensity.

At left, the Tsukuba tornado swept a small home completely away. At center, the mat foundation of a destroyed home was uprooted from the ground by the tornado's powerful updraft. At right, a tree was debarked - a damage feature rarely seen outside the United States.

At left, the Tsukuba tornado swept a small home completely away adjacent to a five-story apartment complex that was severely damaged. At center, the mat foundation of a destroyed home was uprooted from the ground by the tornado’s powerful updraft. At right, a tree was debarked – a damage feature rarely seen outside the United States.

At center right, view of a home that was swept completely away. The Tsukuba tornado

At center right, view of a home that was swept completely away by the Tsukuba tornado. The primary damage swath was often only 20 yards wide.

6. FRANCE – Hautmont, Nord France – August 3, 2008

The Hautmont tornado was very narrow at certain points in its life and yet strong enough to completely obliterate a two-story home. Most homes in France are built with substantially heavier materials than US homes and may require stronger winds to be destroyed.

During the summer of 2008, a powerful supercell thunderstorm developed over the farmland of northern France. An intense tornado touched down and swept through 12 miles of agricultural land near the Belgium border. The hardest hit town was Hautmont, where three people died and several large homes were completely leveled. The death toll included the town’s deputy mayor and his wife, both of whom were killed when their large home was flattened. The worst damage was generally confined to an extremely narrow path less than 50 yards wide. One unlucky home was almost completely swept away while two neighboring homes remained comparatively unscathed. Additionally, large trees were stripped of leaves and branches and metal posts surrounding a soccer field were bent to the ground.

Some meteorologists believed the tornado deserved an F4 rating, but the ever-conservative French meteorological board gave the tornado an F3 rating. Outside the United States and Canada, the Hautmont tornado likely caused the most intense tornado damage ever clearly photographed.

Heavy damage in Hautmont. Two fatalities occurred in the home at lower right.

5. CANADA – Barrie/Grand Valley, Ontario – May 31, 1985

Aerial view of a narrow path of destruction on Murray Street in Barrie, Ontario.

The Barrie, Ontario tornado left a narrow swath of intense damage on Murray Street, where several homes were completely obliterated. (Image by John Mahler)

On May 31, 1985, an unprecedented outbreak of violent tornadoes swept across Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Ontario. In Ontario, the tornadoes killed 12 people and caused 200 million dollars in damage. The deadliest tornado swept through the town of Barrie at F4 intensity and killed eight people along its six mile path. The deaths included a mother and child who were killed when their Crawford Street home was swept away, leaving nothing but “a concrete pad” (Bruineman, 2010). Vehicles and bodies were blown several hundred yards, and several large factories were completely leveled.

A second violent tornado formed in another massive supercell just south of the Barrie storm and devastated areas near Grand Valley. The Grand Valley tornado travelled 62 miles – the longest path ever surveyed in Canada – and was potentially even more violent than the shorter-lived Barrie tornado. The storm caused F4 damage and killed four people – two deaths occurred in destroyed homes, one in a vehicle and another man died of injuries in a destroyed shed.

Severe damage caused by the 1985 Barrie tornado. An even stronger tornado may have formed in Ontario that day, only a few miles south of Barrie.

4. CANADA – Edmonton, Alberta – July 31, 1987

The most famous view of the Edmonton tornado of 1987. The massive tornado was remarkable for forming so far north – more than 300 miles above the US-Canadian border.

The Edmonton tornado was massive even by tornado alley standards. It remains the northernmost violent tornado in history, and the second deadliest tornado in North America during the 1980’s. It touched down to the south of Edmonton in the community of Mill Woods and roared almost due north through eastern sections of the city. Had the tornado formed a few miles farther to the west, it may have become one of the deadliest and most damaging tornadoes in world history as it would have torn directly through the high-rise district of downtown Edmonton and impacted more than 10,000 homes at F4 intensity. The tornado was at maximum intensity as it passed through an industrial area, completely leveling dozens of large businesses and killing 12 people. The tornado then crossed the North Saskatchewan River and paralleled a housing subdivision, where dozens of homes were destroyed. Near the end of its life, the tornado narrowed and tore through the Evergreen Mobile Home Park, killing 15 people. Overall, the tornado caused 27 deaths and more than 300 million dollars in damage.

Some articles have discussed the possibility that the tornado may have reached F5 intensity. Most of the residential damage caused by the tornado was in the F2/F3 range, primarily because the tornado travelled parallel to a housing subdivision without ever actually passing through it. Damage in the industrial area was more intense and indicative of high-end F4 intensity. No homes were swept away and no vehicles were reportedly carried more than 200 yards, so it is unlikely the tornado will ever be upgraded to an F5.

Two pictures of severe damage in the Edmonton industrial area. At left, the devastated Dillingham and Multech Construction Company. At right, a lumber company that was destroyed. The pronounced wind rowing north of the building is indicative of extreme winds.

The Edmonton tornado had narrowed and was near the end of its life when it struck the Evergreen Mobile Home Park. More than 100 mobile homes were destroyed and 15 people were killed.

3. CANADA – Tecumseh, Ontario – June 17, 1946

The Tecumseh tornado on June 17, 1946, was one of the strongest tornadoes ever recorded outside the United States.

In 1946, an extremely powerful tornado swept through southwest Ontario and caused possible F5 damage in the town of Tecumseh. The narrow and fast moving tornado first touched down in Michigan and rapidly strengthened as it crossed the Canadian border. Seventeen people were killed as homes were reduced to bare foundations. There were multiple deaths in several households and many of the bodies were stripped naked and thrown more than 100 yards. Much like the Elie F5 tornado 60 years later, the Tecumseh tornado was extremely compact and powerful and never took on the “wedge” appearance common to violent tornadoes in the United States. When the Fujita Scale was developed in the 1970’s researchers attempted to rate past tornadoes via the available damage photographs and newspaper reports. The Tecumseh tornado was given an F4 rating but left some damage indicative of F5 strength. One home was so thoroughly destroyed that even its underground basement walls collapsed and were partially blown away.

The home at upper left was destroyed and swept away in the Tecumseh tornado.

View of a home that was completely destroyed by the Tecumseh tornado. The basement walls collapsed, causing a landslide of dirt to partially fill the empty cellar. Though the quality of construction is unknown, damage of this severity hints at possible F5 winds. The narrow tornado was very selective, leaving homes across the street with little damage.

2. CANADA – Elie, Manitoba – June 22, 2007

The Elie, Manitoba tornado was filmed as it ripped an entire frame home from its foundation and tossed it into the air. The tornado meandered around the town of Elie and rapidly strengthened near the end of its life as it narrowed and began to dissipate.

The only tornado outside the United States that has officially been given an F5 rating formed east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the summer of 2007. The storm spun out of a low precipitation supercell and touched down a few miles northwest of the town of Elie. The tornado executed several counterclockwise loops as it meandered to the west of the small community. Near the end of its path, the tornado narrowed and intensified as it turned north towards a row of houses on Elie street. Video footage shows the violent tornado ripping one home from its foundation and lofting it into the air. The videographer also caught a van being hurled more than 200 yards from where it originated. Three homes were swept from their foundations, one of which was later determined to have been well-constructed. The complete destruction of the well-built home and the violent motion recorded on film were the basis of the F5 rating.

Aerial view of three homes that were obliterated by the Elie tornado. The empty foundation at top was the basis of the F5 rating. The tornado was executing a counterclockwise loop and entered the area from top right and exited at bottom.

1. RUSSIA – Ivanovo, West Russia – June 9, 1984

Next to nothing is known about the West Russian tornado outbreak of June 1984. Satellite images show an impressive series of large and well formed supercell thunderstorms the day the outbreak took place in the vicinity of Ivanovo.

Very little information is available on a violent tornado outbreak that swept through areas north of Moscow in the summer of 1984. The Soviet Union had not yet disbanded and few details were leaked to the international media, despite the fact that the outbreak occurred within the home video age. The outbreak was the result of a series of violent supercell thunderstorms that travelled north-northeast at speeds greater than 50mph (Finch and Bikos, 2012). Local newspapers reported that massive hailstone, some over 2lbs in weight, fell over the affected areas.

Sources indicate that 400 people were killed, with most of the fatalities likely the result of a single tornado that tore through the town of Ivanovo. A French research article describes how the tornado threw cars long distances, lifted a 350-ton operating crane and leveled “steel-reinforced” buildings. According to the same article, the Russians unofficially awarded the tornado an F4 rating, although some of the damage was indicative of F5 strength. The article also states that another tornado that affected the town of Kostroma was given an F4 rating but may also have reached F5 strength. An english-language article describes how the Ivanovo tornado scoured pavement from a highway and hurled a 120,000lb water tank several blocks.

Archived satellite images from June of 1984 show an impressive severe weather set up reminiscent of large outbreaks in tornado alley.  If the reports are all true, then the outbreak was an unprecedented event and astoundingly violent for an area generally accustomed to tornadoes only capable of inflicting F1 and F2 damage. Pavement scouring and the movement of massive industrial equipment is likely indicative of winds of F5 intensity. At the same time, media reports from the former Soviet Union are notoriously unreliable, so the available information is by no means “proof” that the outbreak produced tornadoes capable of causing EF5 damage.

Purported photograph of the Ivanovo tornado. Russia rarely sees tornado related deaths, so the 1984 Outbreak was an extraordinarily unusual event. (Finch, 2011)

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□ Over a long enough time scale, over many generations, violent tornadoes undoubtably touch down in every corner of the unfrozen world. Rotating supercell thunderstorms have been documented via doppler radar off the coast of the Hawaiian Islands, far from any traditional continental severe weather setup. The chances of an F5 tornado forming over the open ocean, or England, or Japan, or the rest of the non-arctic landmasses is exceptionally small. But weather patterns, and extreme natural events, are sometimes separated by hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years.

In Hawaii

In March of 2006, an unusual severe weather set-up formed in the open ocean near the islands of Hawaii. Radar documented a well-formed supercell thunderstorm, likely with a large tornadic waterspout, 100 miles off the coast of the Big Island. Such discoveries highlight the existence of strong tornadoes, however rare they may occur, in locations unaccustomed to severe thunderstorms. (Image by Nash, Rydell and Kodama, 2006)