On March 18, 1925, a dark “smokey fog” touched down approximately three miles northwest of Ellington, Missouri, and it would become known as the Tri-State Tornado. By all accounts, the Tri-State Tornado was one for the record books.
The Tri-State Tornado is the U.S. record holder for the longest tornado track (219 miles), most deaths in a single tornado (695), and most injuries in a single tornado (2027). While it occurred before modern record keeping, it is considered by all accounts to be an F5/EF5 Tornado. It crossed the three states, thus its namesake “Tri-State,” tearing through thirteen counties of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. It crossed over and destroyed or significantly damaged nine towns and numerous smaller villages.
The resulting map perhaps shows why this tornado was so deadly. First off was the speed of the tornado. The average speed across its life span was an astonishing 62 miles per hour, with forward speeds, at times, reaching 73 mph. Also worth noting is that the tornado followed a slight topographical ridge with a series of mining towns perfectly aligned on the path.
Crossing the Mississippi river, the tornado struck the town of Gorham, Il. Gorham was a town of about 500 people; of those 500, 37 were killed and 250 injured. One notable effect in Gorham was the grass being torn from the ground in a gully on the east of town. The next town was Murphysboro. Eugene Porter reported the tornado to be “about a mile wide.” The town of Murphysboro suffered heavy losses, with 234 casualties reported along with 623 injuries. About 100 square blocks of the town were destroyed along, with another 70 by a fire after the tornado.
Perhaps the most spectacular show of power came from the next town in line, DeSoto, Il. Trees were snapped off at knee height, and stumps were ripped from the ground. No structure was left standing in the tornado’s path. Of the 69 people killed in DeSoto, 33 were killed in a school.
|A child and puppy atop the wreckage of a home in Murphysboro, Ill., after the tri-state tornado ripped through town March 18, 1925.|
Next up, West Frankfort was a mining town, and most men worked in the mines. The miners went to the surface to see the problem when the electricity went out. The miners came to the surface of a destroyed landscape. Most of the 148 deaths and 400 injuries in West Frankfort were women and children, given the men were in the mine.
A man in Parrish, Illinois, survived the tornado by clinging to a railroad track while the town was destroyed. 46 people died, and at least 100 were injured here. Between Gorham and Parrish, 541 lives were taken.
The tornado continued northeast, and most farms and an occasional schoolhouse or general store were destroyed over the next hour.
The total time on the ground of the Tri-State tornado was 3 hours and 30 minutes. During that time, it traveled 219 miles and killed 695 people, most of them in Illinois.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D