Deadliest Tornado in Modern Era Slashes Missouri

May 23, 2011 · 0 comments

It hasn’t even been a month since violent, history making tornadoes made headlines across the United States, and yet here we are with another grim tornado record. The death toll from the violent tornado that shredded as much as a third of Joplin, Missouri, Sunday evening reached 116 Monday afternoon. That makes it the single deadliest tornado to strike the United States since NOAA began keeping reliable records of tornado fatalities in 1950. It took the top spot from the Flint, Michigan, twister of June 8, 1953, which killed 115.

The number of dead in Joplin jumped from 89 earlier in the day as news of recoveries as well as rescues were reported. While the number of dead is fully anticipated to increase, news outlets reported that at least five missing families were found buried alive in the rubble, which stretches block after unrecognizable block across six miles of the southwestern Missouri city of 50,000. More than 500 people in Joplin were injured, and the damage is eerily familiar, looking so much like the utter carnage witnessed in Tuscaloosa  on April 27, 2011, when 65 died in that day’s twister.

The tornado event attributed to the single highest loss of life on American soil is the “Tri-State” tornado of March 18, 1925, which rampaged across southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and into southwestern Indiana. It killed 695 people on its seemingly unending 219-mile journey. But that was prior to our knowledge of families of tornadoes and the cyclical nature of long-lived supercell thunderstorms to form, mature, dissipate, and reform tornadoes, keeping damage paths seemingly continuous.

Prior to the effort by the U.S. Weather Bureau, precursor to the National Weather Service and NOAA, to maintain detailed accounts of tornadoes—and 64 years before yesterday’s event in Joplin—the last single-deadliest tornado in a long list of killer U.S. tornadoes was the 1947 Woodward, Oklahoma, tornado, which claimed 181 lives.

Yesterday there was also one fatality from a destructive tornado that hit Minneapolis, and that and Joplin’s toll combined with last month’s back-to-back tornado outbreaks, plus a handful of earlier tornado deaths this year, brings 2011′s death toll from tornadoes to 482—more than eight times the average of the past 50 years and second (in the modern era) only to the 519 recorded deaths from twisters in 1953. Two-thirds of this year’s fatalities occurred during April 27′s epic tornado outbreak across the South.

The Weather Channel has been providing continuing coverage of the rescue and recovery efforts in Joplin, with one of its crews arriving on scene moments after the tornado. The level of destruction in the city was too much to bear even for one of its seasoned on-air meteorologists. TWC also is reporting along with NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center on the possibility of yet another tornado outbreak, this time in the central Plains on Tuesday.