Remembering the tornado that crossed three states

March 18 is an infamous day in meteorological history. It was on this day in 1925 that the nation’s deadliest twister occurred. The tornado begin at around 1:00 in the afternoon and finally lifted around 4:30! Imagine what so many folks were going through 95 years ago right now.

Recall that date. There was no such thing as a weather radio. In fact, there wasn’t much in the way of any kind of warning available. A lot has changed in the past 95 years!


This was also during an era when the use of the word “tornado” was forbidden in any forecast. The government felt that word incited too much panic. Therefore, the forecast called for “rains and strong shifting winds.”

The tornado-producing supercell developed in southeastern Missouri and continuously produced damaging tornadoes for 219 miles across three states (Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana). This earned the storm the title “Tri-State Tornado”.  Perhaps it was one single tornado or a family of tornadoes? We may never know. Since there were no radars at that time we have limited info on the storm itself.


Recall the recent Nashville tornado was on the ground for 60 miles. Can you imagine 219 miles of that destruction? To make matters worse, the Tri-State tornado peaked at F-5 strength, the strongest tornado possible.


This storm produced a tornado (or tornadoes) continuously for 3.5 hours.  To make matters even worse, the storm was moving at speeds of 60-70 mph. By the time you saw the storm coming on the horizon, it was already upon you.

The death toll hit 695 (at least), with 234 deaths from Murphrysboro, Illinois alone. That is a record for a single community.

The most deaths to occur at a school was another record set this day. Thirty-three people perished at a school in De Soto, Illinois. A record we never want to see broken.

The only saving grace from this storm is that is occurred during the daylight hours. The death toll might have been much higher if this had occurred in the middle of the night.

The top 10 deadliest tornadoes in US history are shown below. Doppler radars were installed from the late 80s and throughout the 90s. Doppler allows meteorologists to “see” the wind inside a storm, which allows much better warning and tracking of tornadoes. Tornado deaths dropped dramatically with the invention of radar and better education. Joplin, Missouri is the deadliest tornado in the modern Doppler era.


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