The Great Tri-State Tornado of 1925


Tornadoes are some of the most powerful and destructive weather events of Earth; they are storms that develop a whirling funnel of air that touches the ground. In class, we’ve learned that tornadoes usually develop/emerge from severe thunderstorms. Also, we know that the majority of tornadoes strike the United States in a region known as “Tornado Alley;” this region consists of all the Mid West states (see figure 3). Ironically enough, the Tri-State Tornado hit this “Tornado Alley.” The Great Tri-State Tornado of 1925 was one-of-a kind and will never be forgotten by all of those who survived it. This unique tornado occurred at about 1:01 pm on March 18 of 1925 and abated at about three and a half hours later. The Tri-State Tornado was labeled "tri-state" due to the fact that it passed through three states. These three states included: Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana (see figure 1). In these three states, the tornado affected thirteen counties and about nineteen communities in total. Most scientists concur that along most of its path, the Tri-State Tornado met the test of an F5 rating; meaning that the estimated wind speed reached up to 261-318 mph, which caused the "incredible damage." For example, it obliterated well-constructed houses and left only foundations. The Fujita Scale determined this F5 rating. (See Figure 1a). Professor T. Theodore Fujita of the University of Chicago created the Fujita Scale.

Figure 1a: The Fujita Scale


The Tri-State Tornado began its path North-Northwest of Ellington, Missouri at about 1:01 pm. At that time, this tornado "touched down" three miles North-Northwest of Ellington. It is estimated that the duration of the tornado was three and a half hours which was sufficient time to completely destroy some communities. The average speed was of about sixty-two miles per hour but it set a record of seventy-three miles per hour when it was between Gorham and Murphysboro. The total length (path) that this tornado covered was that of two-hundred nineteen miles. Out of the three states, Illinois proved to be the most affected by this monstrous tornado.


After the tornado had touched Ellington, Missouri, it passed through the community of Annapolis and then moved on to Leadanna (a mining town). In this area, two lives were taken; seventy five were injured; and had about five hundred thousand dollars in losses. Moving on to the counties of Bollinger and Perry, one child was killed in a rural wooden school and thirty two children were injured as two schools were almost completely destroyed (4). In total, in Missouri there were eleven total deaths with at least seventy five injured individuals in Leadanna and thirty two children in the county of Bollinger.


Fig 2: Destruction left by the Tri-State Tornado in Murphysboro, Illino

As I already mentioned, out of all three states, Illinois was the one who suffered the most. The town of Gorham was virtually destroyed at about 2:30 pm; over half of its population was either killed or injured. In this town, thirty four people died and at least seven of those deaths occurred at a school. Moving on to Murphysboro, which set a record for a single community were two hundred and thirty four deaths occurred (see figure 2), at least twenty five in three different schools were included in that number. It is said that these three schools had been built with stone and brick and so those who were trapped in there were crushed under the tumbling buildings (4). Murphysboro’s losses, alone, were of about ten million dollars. Now, near De Soto, sixty nine people were killed. The communities of Parrish and the Northwest part of West-Frankfort had twenty two deaths each and West-Frankfort had about eight hundred thousand dollars worth of damages. And, in Hamilton and White County, there were another sixty five deaths; there were several deaths in three different rural schools in White County. Added up together, there were about six hundred deaths in the most affected state: Illinois.


Indiana had seventy one deaths which included several children who were walking home from school. The entire community of Griffin was destroyed; one hundred and fifty homes were completely destroyed. The tornado continued its monstrous path through Owensville were about eighty-five farms were destroyed. And finally, when it reached Princeton, about half of this community was completely devastated and its losses had a total of about one million, eight hundred thousand dollars. The Tri-State Tornado finally abated at about ten miles Northeast of Princeton.


The Great Tri-State Tornado set many records including that of six-hundred-ninety-five deaths; this was a record for a single tornado. Out of those six-hundred and ninety five deaths, Illinois had six hundred casualties. As previously stated, the community of Murphysboro set a record for a single community where two hundred and thirty four deaths took place from such a disaster (6). The community of De Soto also set a record for the storm; this record was for the thirty three deaths at the De Soto school. You may ask why would this number would be so significant as to set a record; well, it was assumed that only bombing and gas explosions had taken higher school tolls, not such storms as this one.


Back in the 1920’s, there was no tornado forecast because the US Weather Bureau forbade government meteorologists to use the word “tornado” in forecasts or in official reports (4). They’re fear was that such a word might alarm their citizens and diminish the general flow of commerce. The Weather Service forecasters of that time didn’t have the necessary technology to help predict, identify, and possibly track sever weather. Those three states did not have NOAA Weather Radio, regular radio, and television stations to provide the public with information. The local Weather Forecasters had an idea of what was to come but they had no way of truly determining the strength of the storm and no idea of the devastation that it would cause (4). According to a report from a team of engineers in 1925, it was precisely these factors that made the tornados as destructive as they were. The lack of proper technology to determine the tornado forecast and the lack of warning allowed the tornado to destroy more than it should. Deaths occurred because people didn’t know the massive tornado with its storm was moving at high speeds in their direction. If those areas would have had a good warning system, many tornado warnings would have been given out, “the local radio and television meteorologists would add their touches to repeated break-ins of normal programming” (4); and lastly, and most importantly, many of the people killed and injured would have had the time to seek suitable shelter from the Tri-State Tornado. Structural engineers also deemed that poor construction techniques and the lack of adequate shelter contributed to the destruction of life and property. As you can see, many things could have been done to mitigate this natural disaster; unfortunately, they lacked the necessary technology that we, nowadays, can count on.

Long Lasting Effects

The Great Tri-State Tornado’s immense and monstrous power basically wiped out plants and animals in its path of destruction. Being the deadliest tornado in the United States, the Tri-State tornado killed 695 people and injured 2,207. About 15,000 homes were destroyed leaving many homeless and in danger of turning to crimes such as stealing to survive. As you all know by now, many towns were completely devastated by this natural disaster and it took them months to recover or never recovered at all. A great example of this is the town of Parrish; it became a “ghost” town after it was destroyed. Populations and jobs decreased massively in numbers; survivors had to deal with this in many different ways. I think that the longest effect that this horrible event will have in people is that it was emotionally devastating for those who lost their friends and family; a pain that would and will always be there.


The Great Tri-State Tornado was and is one of the worst tornado disasters in the U.S. history. As it is expected and known, this tornado will never be forgotten. Even to this day, several counties still celebrate the anniversary of this monstrous tornado. To end this, I will give u a brief summary of what this tornado did. The total death toll was six hundred and ninety five people and the total cost in damages was about $16,500,000; the majority of those damages were in Murphysboro. There were two thousand and twenty seven injuries and about fifteen thousand homes were destroyed. Without a doubt, this tornado was one-of-a kind, but there is no guarantee that one as such will not happen again. At least we know that we have some technology that will not allow such aftermaths as the one in 1925.

Figure 1

Path of Tri-State Tornado, March 18, 1925

Figure 2

Figure 3

"Tornado Alley" (Mid West states)

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