This is the final part of five in my ranking of the top 25 tornadoes of the EF scale era. The top four tornadoes all happened within less than one month in 2011.
5. Yazoo City, MS – April 24, 2010 (EF4 rating) Path 149.25 miles; Maximum Width 1.75 miles; 10 Fatalities; 146 Injuries
After a very slow start, the tornado season of 2010 ramped up with several outbreaks, starting with a major outbreak on a high risk Saturday in Mississippi. The most impressive of these was an EF4 tornado that struck numerous cities, the most notable being Yazoo City, on the morning of April 24th. What made this tornado even more noteworthy was it’s path – a staggering 149.25 miles – and it’s width – at times reaching 1.75 miles! This is the longest path for a tornado according to tornadohistoryproject.net since a November 1992 EF3 in North Carolina that was on the ground for 160 miles. Wrapped in rain, there is surprisingly little quality video or photos of this tornado – but it gained additional fame when it was featured in an episode of Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers titled “Why We Chase”.
4. Tuscaloosa, AL – April 27, 2011 (EF4 rating) Path 80.7 miles; Maximum Width 1.5 miles; 64 Fatalities; 1,500 Injuries
You could probably make a case for any of the top four tornadoes in this list to be number one. The April 27, 2011 Super Outbreak was the tornado event of the last 40 years, possibly the last century – and the live TV coverage of a monster tornado approaching and plowing thru a significant metropolitan area like Tuscaloosa was shocking and historical. Several other major tornadoes had already touched down on April 27th, but they had hit much smaller population centers. ABC 33/40’s James Spann was outstanding in his coverage of the outbreak (as were numerous meteorologists from other networks) and the below video shows live coverage as the tornado plows thru Tuscaloosa.
After plowing thru Tuscaloosa, the tornado continued on the ground, growing in size and becoming more rain-wrapped as it approached the suburbs of Birmingham – raining debris from Tuscaloosa on the area. Other communities like Concord and Pleasant Grove were also devastated. In all, 64 people were killed and roughly 1,500 were injured. The 64 fatalities from this one tornado would be the most since 1955 – but another tornado slightly earlier in the outbreak, not nearly as publicized, would kill even more. At 2.4 billion dollars in damage, this tornado set a new record for most expensive tornado in U.S. history – but that mark would be eclipsed within less than a month by another historic tornado event. The tornado occluded not far after Birmingham, and the parent supercell put down another strong EF4 tornado – the Shoal Creek-Ohatchee tornado rated #14 on this list. The final “high-end EF4” rating drew much controversy and many believe this tornado should be rated EF5.
3. Joplin, MO – May 22, 2011 (EF5 rating) Path 22.1 miles; Maximum Width 1.2 miles; 158 Fatalities; 1,150 Injuries
April 2011 set a record for most tornadoes in the United States – largely in part to the April 27 Super Outbreak – but May was historically low in it’s tornado activity, until the May 21-26 tornado sequence. A few tornadoes, one rated EF3, hit mostly in Kansas on Saturday, May 21st… then the probabilities for tornadoes increased for Sunday, with a large section of the Midwest at 10% tornado probabilities and some towards Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois at 15%. Another EF1 tornado caused a fatality in the suburbs of Minneapolis, but it was a supercell near the border of southeast Kansas moving into Missouri that would become historic for all the wrong reasons.
The tornado is listed officially touching down at 5:34pm just west of Joplin, Missouri, and video shows how fast it went from a small funnel to a monstrous wedge. It quickly became rain-wrapped as it approached the city – one which had grown largely complacent to tornado warnings and sirens over the years. The results were disastrous – the 158 fatalities were the most, by far, for any tornado since 1947. More than 1,000 were injured and the cost of the damage is a record-setting three billion dollars, surpassing the Tuscaloosa tornado from less than one month prior. The Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes and crew arrived in Joplin minutes after the tornado and live coverage showed the emotions and severity of what had just happened. St. John’s Regional Medical Center was in the direct path, and six died there – with the hospital eventually being torn down and re-built.
You could easily argue this tornado should top the list, simply based on the highest fatalities and highest cost – but the top two tornadoes could have exceeded Joplin’s devastation had they gone thru similar population.
2. El Reno, OK – May 24, 2011 (EF5) Path 41 miles; Maximum Width 1.2 miles; 9 Fatalities; 70 Injuries
While almost everyone knows about the Joplin tornado, few outside of the weather community know that a potentially more dangerous tornado and likely more impressive and powerful tornado touched down in Oklahoma just two days later. The tornado probabilities for May 24, 2011 over Oklahoma were noticeably higher than two days prior – a whopping 45% – leading to a High Risk day. A strong EF3 tornado was recorded by many chasers in the Canton Lake area of Oklahoma, then as multiple supercells formed to the south, the tornado of the day formed in Caddo County. A large tornado was on the ground for nine miles (also rated EF3), then after occlusion, a monster touched down that stayed on the ground for 65 miles, often wrapped in rain, more than a mile wide, causing extreme damage rarely seen. The communities of El Reno, Piedmont and Guthrie all had near misses with this colossus, but for the most part the tornado stayed out of heavily populated areas just north of Oklahoma City. Still, nine were killed by the tornado.
Other strong tornadoes touched down after this just south of the Oklahoma City metro area, including two rated high-end EF4 – but again, these struck areas with less population and only one person was killed. During the night another large EF4 tornado struck the community of Denning, Arkansas – killing four and injuring many.
And at #1 – Hackleburg-Phil Campbell, AL – April 27, 2011 (EF5 rating) Path 132.1 miles; Maximum Width 1.25 miles; 72 Fatalities; 145 Injuries
While the Tuscaloosa tornado and aftermath was getting most of the attention after the April 27, 2011 Super Outbreak, it was this tornado that occurred in the northern part of Alabama earlier in the event that was the most lethal, and in my opinion the most powerful and impressive overall tornado likely since the 1925 Tri-State Tornado. This area is no stranger to violent tornadoes, and some of the most impressive tornadoes from the April 3, 1974 Super Outbreak devastated communities like Guin and Tanner.
Touching down at 3:05pm in Marion County, Alabama this fast-moving tornado stayed on the ground for 132 miles and well over two hours, producing more F5/EF5 damage than has been recorded in any previous tornado. The tornado plowed into Hackleburg (destroying a Wrangler jeans plant) and then Phil Campbell at EF5 intensity, leaving at least 45 dead. It then reached peak intensity in Oak Grove, where damage was rated “well into the EF5 range”. The tornado continued, causing extreme damage and more fatalities in Mount Hope, Moulton and Trinity and cutting power from the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant (which was narrowly missed from a direct strike). Tanner, in Limestone County, was struck again at high EF4/EF5 intensity, and the tornado continued into Harvest causing major damage. The tornado continued over the border into Tennessee for several miles before finally dissipating after it’s historic march.
The first video below captures the tornado (around the 7:00 mark) as it moves through Limestone County, and the two additional videos are great examples of the tornado’s strength, even from considerable distance. Pictures show damage in Hackleburg and Phil Campbell.
***Sources include ExtremePlanet.me, Wikipedia, spc.noaa.gov, YouTube (TVNweather), YouTube (Admin Rustrod), YouTube (Bamawxcom), YouTube (joshtv5), YouTube (Tornado Alley Video), YouTube (John Brown), YouTube (TVNweather).