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Tri-State Twister Was U.S.'s Deadliest

Updated March 18, 2015

By WeatherBug Meteorologists


Just after 1 PM on March 18, 1925 a tornado touched down in Ellington, Missouri, one that would go down in history. So began a three and a half hour nightmare that residents of three states would not soon forget.

The official National Weather Service (then called the U.S. Weather Bureau) forecast for that day called for "rains and strong shifting winds". This was back in a time before tornado watches or warnings. Before Doppler radar.

Newspapers, U.S. Postal Service and word of mouth were the primary modes of news and weather communication in those days. Unfortunately, those methods failed to save the lives of the 695 people the massive tornado claimed.

The tornado traveled through southeastern Missouri, reaching the Mississippi River and crossing over into Illinois around 2:15 PM. It was shortly thereafter that the tornado began the most destructive and deadliest stretch of its 219 mile path.

Reported to be over a mile wide at times, the tornado tore through the towns of Gorham, Murphysboro, De Soto, West Frankfort and Parrish, Illinois. 541 people were killed and 1,423 were injured during the 40 or so minutes it took the tornado to tear through those towns.

Just before 4 PM the tornado crossed the state line into Indiana. Here it leveled the town of Griffin, traveled through Owensville, before finally dissipating northeast of Princeton around 4:30 PM.

It has been determined that the tornado produced F5 damage on the Fujita scale that was developed many years later. Winds may have topped 300 miles per hour.

To this day, it is not clear if this event was the work of a single tornado or if the parent storm produced several tornadoes. A damage survey conducted shortly after the storm revealed a continuous and unbroken damage path. This would suggest one continuous tornado, although several funnels occurring at the same time were observed at various points along the damage path.

Photos courtesy of National Weather Service, Paducah, Kentucky. Photos by Jackson County Historical Society, Murphysboro, Illinois.

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