88th Anniversary of the worst tornado in U.S. History


Today marks the 88th anniversary of one of the worst tornadoes in U.S. history, and it happened right here in the Tri-State.  Don Parke sent several pictures of the devastation in Griffin, Indiana.  Here is a view of the Bethel Township School that was leveled by the storm


Here is another view of Griffin just after the tornado swept through on that balmy March day.


The track of the tornado took it from near Ellington, Missouri to Princeton, Indiana where it heavily damaged Baldwin Heights School on the city's south side.

I attended a seminar about the Tri-State tornado a few years back and heard renowned meteorologist Chuck Doswell describe that day.  He and another retired meteorologist from the University of Oklahoma did an extensive research project to try to determine if the tornado was on the ground continuously, or if it hopped up and down as several different tornadoes.  By talking to eyewitnesses and piecing together other data, they determined that the tornado was likely on the ground continuously for nearly 4 hours over a path of  219 miles. An unprecedented path width for a single tornado, likely of F-5 strength. You can read their account of the tornado below:

"For thousands of residents in Southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois, and Southwest Indiana, the days following March 18, 1925 must have been horrendous. Hundreds of lives had been taken and thousands were injured or left homeless. With so many fatalities, so many injuries, so much destruction, and so many lives torn apart, it was now time to clean up the mess that nature had left behind. But this was much easier said than done—for it would take months to rebuild what had been demolished in less than 4 hours. Let's take a brief look at what happened years ago, on that dreadful day of the Great Tri-State Tornado.

It all started around 1:00 p.m. just northwest of Ellington, Missouri, where one farmer was killed. From there, the tornado raced to the northeast, killing two people and inflicting $500,000 in damage upon Annapolis and the mining town of Leadanna. Departing the Ozarks, the storm headed across the farmland of Bollinger County, injuring 32 children in two county schools. By the time the tornado reached the Mississippi River bordering Perry County, eleven Missourians had perished.

The devastation mounted in southern Illinois, as the entire town of Gorham was demolished around 2:30 p.m. There, 34 people lost their lives. During the next 40 minutes, 541 people were killed and 1,423 were seriously injured as the tornado tore a path of destruction nearly one mile wide through the towns of Murphysboro, De Soto, Hurst-Bush, and West Frankfort. In eastern Franklin County, 22 people died as the town of Parrish was virtually wiped off the map. The tornado proceeded unabated across rural farmland of Hamilton and White Counties, where the death toll reached 65.

After taking the lives of more than 600 Illinoisans, the storm surged across the Wabash River, demolishing the entire community of Griffin, Indiana. Next in line were the rural areas just northwest of Owensville, where about 85 farms were devastated. As the storm ripped across Princeton, about half the town was destroyed, with damage here estimated at $1.8 million. Fortunately, the twister dissipated about ten miles northeast of Princeton, sparing the community of Petersburg in Pike County. In the aftermath, the death toll mounted to 695 people—at least 71 of those were in Southwest Indiana. Property damage totaled $16.5 million—nearly 2/3 of that was in Murphysboro alone."

It's hard to imagine the impact of a storm of this magnitude today, considering the greater population density.  Some of the fatalities would likely be avoided by advanced technology to track and warn for the tornado, but it's safe to say it would be even more catastrophic if it happened today.