Any major tornado is a newsworthy event, but some truly horrific storms linger in the public consciousness. The most powerful storms remain known long after they dissipate, while a camera in the right place at the right time may render another funnel cloud famous. The most infamous tornadoes are noteworthy for the lives they took and for those who might have died needlessly.
On March 18, 1925, a powerful tornado touched down near Ellington, Missouri, and moved quickly to the northeast, devastating towns in its path. The storm stayed on the ground for three and a half hours, passing into Illinois and Indiana before dissipating. The storm killed 695 people and injured more than 2,000, making it the deadliest tornado in American history.
Palm Sunday Tornado
On April 11, 1965, a tornado outbreak struck the Midwest, spawning at least 47 funnel clouds. The swarm of tornadoes killed 271 people in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Meteorologists identified the storm outbreak as potentially severe, but the system for providing warnings to citizens was woefully inadequate and inconsistent, and many victims never received any warning at all. The preventable deaths and injuries prompted the U.S. Weather Bureau to develop a standardized tornado watch and warning system that has remained in use ever since.
April 26, 1991, saw a tornado outbreak ranging from the Gulf Coast to South Dakota, with at least 54 confirmed tornadoes. When an F5 tornado struck Andover, Kansas, multiple citizens captured the event with their camcorders, making this the most photographed tornado to date. One of the most famous films of the event involved a photographer taking shelter underneath a highway overpass with other drivers as the storm roared through.
Bridge Creek Tornado
On May 3, 1999, a tornado tore through Bridge Creek outside of Oklahoma City. The twister caused more than $1 billion in damage, and during its 38 minutes on the ground, it struck a portable Doppler weather station. The anemometer recorded a wind gust of 512 kilometers per hour (318 mph) as the funnel passed over, marking the highest wind speed ever officially recorded in a tornado.
2011 Super Outbreak
Late April 2011 saw a particularly unsettled air mass dominate the eastern half of the country. Between April 25 and 28, 358 confirmed tornadoes touched down, with four classified EF5 on the Fujita scale. At least 324 people died during the outbreak, according to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, with 238 of the deaths occurring in Alabama. The 2011 Super Outbreak remains the most prolific tornado outbreak on record.
- NOAA: National Weather Service: NOAA/NWS 1925 Tri-State Tornado Web Site--Startling Statistics
- NOAA: National Weather Service: Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak
- NOAANews: NOAA Remembers the Midwest's Deadly 1965 Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak
- KSAL: 20th Anniversary of Devastating Tornado Outbreak
- Centers for Disease Control: Tornado Disaster -- Kansas, 1991
- NOAA: National Weather Service: Frequently Asked Questions About The May 3, 1999 Bridge Creek/OKC Area Tornado
- NOAA: Storm Prediction Center: 2011 Killer Tornadoes
- AccuWeather: One Year Later: Tornado Super Outbreak of 2011
- Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images