The Worst and Biggest Tornadoes

Most tornadoes only last a few minutes and are relatively weak. But in rare cases, tornadoes are much stronger and cover distances of several hundred kilometers. Here’s an overview of the most destructive and biggest tornadoes in the world:

Most fatalities worldwide

April 26, 1989 – Daulatpur–Saturia Tornado – Bangladesh

The deadliest tornado ever raged over Bangladesh with the order of F3.5 on the Fujita Scale. The corresponding wind was calculated around 210-260mph. Over 1300 people lost their lives. The tornado further injured over 12,000 and devastated more than 20 villages. Over 80,000 people became homeless. The tornado’s extreme degree of damage can be attributed to two facts:

  1. Bangladesh is located in the Ganges-Brahmaputra river mouth, just a few meters above sea level. The fatal consequence: Heavy thunderstorms, from which tornadoes develop, can easily flood large parts of the country with their enormous precipitation.
  2. The hurricane hit people completely unexpectedly. No previous warnings were issued.

Deadliest tornado in the United States

March 18, 1925 – Great Tri-State Tornado – USA

The Tri-State Tornado swept three miles and a half over a distance of 219 miles across three US states: Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. It materialized at one o’clock in Ellington, Missouri. Traveling at speeds of 62-73 mph, the storm completely destroyed a number of towns, caused 695 deaths and injured over 2,000 people. The town Murphysboro was the hardest-hit area in the tornado’s path, with 234 fatalities.

The Tri-State Tornado was just one of eight tornadoes that killed together a total of 747 people that day. Today, however, it is also doubted that the Tri-State Tornado was actually a single tornado. Findings from recent weather records and research suggest that a tornado that endures as long as the Tri-State Tornado rather resulted from a cyclical super-cell than a single massive storm.

The longest and most expensive tornado

April 25-28, 2011 – Super Outbreak – USA

In the Super Outbreak, the largest known tornado outbreak, a total of 360 tornadoes raged over 3,200 miles in 21 states in the Southern, Midwestern, and Northeastern US. The Super Outbreak included 22 F3, 11 F4 and four F5 tornadoes. The highest winds were measured at 210mph.

At the height of the eruption, 207 tornadoes raged in one day (April 27). The life-threatening event lasted 72 hours, the last tornado dissolved only in the afternoon hours of April 28. This tornado left 348 casualties and 2,775 people were injured. The state with the most deaths (238) was Alabama. Total property damage after 72 hours was $10.8 billion.

The Fastest Tornado

May 3, 1999 – Bridge Creek–Moore Tornado – Oklahoma City, USA

On May 3, over 70 tornadoes moved across Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Worst hit was the region around Oklahoma City and the storms were later on referred to as the Oklahoma Tornado Outbreak. In a F5 tornado in Bridge Creek, a wind speed of 301mph (+/- 20mph) was measured, setting a record for the highest wind speeds ever measured globally. The outbreak killed 48 people, and caused a total property damage of $ 1.2 billion.

The most unpredictable tornado

May 20, 1916, May 20, 1917, May 20, 1918 – Cyclone Day – Codell, USA

Tornadoes are still very difficult to predict. A tragic example of the absolute unpredictability of storms is the small town of Codell (Kansas) which got hit by a tornado three years in a row on the very same day of the year! The first two tornadoes (F2 and F3 respectively) struck in the evenings of May 20 in 1916 and 2017, causing damage that was confined mainly to farm buildings. On the same day in 1918 however, the third one arrived as a F4 and wiped out the entire town, leaving behind not only property damage but also 10 people dead.

References: World Meteorological Organization, Planet Wissen , Weather.gov , Britannica.com , NOAA.gov , Wikipedia , CjOnline.com