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Top 5 Deadliest United States Tornadoes of the 2000's

Updated on July 25, 2017
Aftermath of the Greensburg, Kansas EF 5 Tornado.
Aftermath of the Greensburg, Kansas EF 5 Tornado. | Source

5. Greensburg, Kansas - May 4, 2007- EF 5

2013 Moore, Oklahoma EF 5 tornado passing south of Oklahoma City
2013 Moore, Oklahoma EF 5 tornado passing south of Oklahoma City | Source

Greensburg, Kansas

This destructive force of nature was the first officially rated EF 5 tornado since the implementation of the Enhanced Fujita scale in 2007.

More importantly, this was the first level 5 rating since the May 3, 1999 Moore, Oklahoma tornado (on Fujita (F) scale).

The supercell structure of this storm was extremely well defined, and it included a massive debris ball within the center that's indicative of severe damage at the surface. This makes perfect sense considering that the twister destroyed about 95% of Greensburg, Kansas and left nearly a dozen dead with many more injured.

The storm was part of an early May tornado outbreak that spawned over 120 tornadoes, but this was the only EF-5 tornado recorded during the outbreak. The damage was extensive as nearly 1,000 homes and business were either damaged or destroyed.

The true evidence lies in the before and after pictures where the before shows a lush, growing town and the after, a desolate wasteland. Actual video and photo evidence from the tornado was difficult to locate because the night sky combined with the blackness of this extremely large wedge shaped funnel camouflaged it within the darkness.

Considering the damage caused, the strength of the vortex, and the fact that the tornado went right through the center of Greensburg, the amount of fatalities was relatively low compared to what it could have been. Luckily our warning systems have advanced enough for people to have more time to seek shelter before the storm hits.

Source: FEMA Tornado Damage

EF Rating
5
Max Wind Speed
205 mph
Fatalities
11
Damage Cost
Approx. $200 million
Max Tornado Width/Duration
1.7 miles/65 minutes
Miles traveled
28.8
Source Credit: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/Image/ddc/News/Greensburg/GreensburgTornadoFactSheet.pdf

4. Moore, Oklahoma - May 20, 2013 - EF 5

Moore, Oklahoma

Moore, Oklahoma may be one of the most unluckiest cities in the world as they've seen numerous close calls with the 1999 F-5 tornado and the 2013 EF-5 nearly crossing identical paths.

The 2013 twister is one of the costliest tornadoes on record with damages exceeding $2 billion.

It was also responsible for taking the lives of about two dozen people with hundreds more injured. It wasn't part of a major tornado outbreak however there was a moderate risk of severe weather, including tornadoes, issued by NOAA's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) that day.

Initially this tornado was categorized as an EF-4 ,and an extensive damage survey had to be done in order for an upgrade to be made. This could be difficult because the difference between a high end EF-4 and 5 is usually negligible.

Surveyors often look for things like the debarking of trees, concrete or brick structures getting wiped away from their foundation, and scouring of the ground.

EF Rating
5
Max Wind Speed
200-210 mph
Fatalities
24
Damage Cost
Approx. $2 Billion
Max Tornado Width/Duration
1.3 miles/35-40 minutes
Miles Traveled
17
Source Credit: http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/21/us/severe-weather/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

3. Hackleburg-Phil Campbell, Alabama - April 27, 2011 - EF 5

Destroyed neighborhood after Hackleburg-Phil Cambell, AL tornado
Destroyed neighborhood after Hackleburg-Phil Cambell, AL tornado | Source

Hackleburg-Phil Campbell, Alabama

This tornado was one of the deadliest to strike the United States in the past 15 years, but it was also one of the costliest with well over a billion in damages from this one tornado alone.

It was a multi-county tornado that covered a staggering 132 miles with a max funnel width of 1.25 miles.

However a lot of the damage occurred while the storm was about 3/4 miles in width, so not all severe EF-5 tornado are massive in size.

That's a common myth regarding twisters in general. A large tornado doesn't have to be very powerful and a smaller tornado doesn't have to be weak.

This tornado was anything but weak with a max wind speed of around 210 mph placing in solidly in EF-5 territory. The storm itself was part of a massive tornado outbreak in late April that generated over 350 tornadoes over a four day period with at least four reaching the highest level on the Enhanced Fujita scale.

This outbreak remains one of the largest and most deadliest though it still falls short of the massive Super Outbreak of April 3-4 1974 due to the high volume of F-4 and F-5 tornadoes recorded during that outbreak.

However this outbreak remains the costliest tornado outbreak and natural disaster in United States history even after inflation.

Source: Total Damage Estimates

EF Rating
5
Max Wind Speed
210 mph
Fatalities
72
Damage Cost
$1.29 billion (2011 USD)
Max Width/Duration
1.25 miles/2 hrs 35 minutes
Miles Traveled
132
Source Credit: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/bmx/?n=event_04272011hackleburg

2. Tuscaloosa-Birmingham, Alabama - April 27, 2011 - EF 4

Tuscaloosa-Birmingham, Alabama

It was the most notorious tornado recorded during the record breaking late April 2011 tornado outbreak, but it wasn't the deadliest. Although the Hackleburg-Phil Campbell twister killed more people, the property damage combined with the death toll made this vortex more destructive.

At the time of this storm's occurrence, it was the costliest tornado on record with a price tag of $2.4 billion in property damage. It took less than a month for another tornado to beat that record and top this list as well.

The width of this twister was approximately 1.5 miles at its max, and some of the footage of this beast was extremely up close and extensive making this twister highly visual to the public eye.

The tornado itself was part of a long lasting supercell that continuously produced strong to violent tornadoes along its path. It wiped out a school, apartment buildings, and a shopping center along its path in parts of Tuscaloosa and the western burbs of Birmingham, AL.

It caused around 65 fatalities with some 1,500 injured.

Damage surveyors awarded this twister with a high end EF-4 rating though there was controversy because some damage estimators indicated the presence of EF-5 damage. The top winds were assessed at around 190 mph, which is about 10 mph short of the highest level.

Like I've said before, those differences are very minor and it could have easily been categorized as an EF-5. Numerous other violent twisters occurred during this outbreak with a few stronger than this one, however as is always the case with tornadoes, it's all about the location.

The other EF-5 tornadoes were more powerful, but they didn't occur in populated areas, which diminished their impact.

Source: Recovery and Aftermath

EF Rating
4
Max Wind Speed
190 mph
Fatalities
65
Damage Cost
$2.4 billion (2011 USD)
Max Width/Duration
1.5 miles/1 hr 31 minutes
Miles Traveled
80.68 miles
Source Credit: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/bmx/?n=event_04272011tuscbirm

1. Joplin, Missouri - May 22, 2011 - EF 5

Radar showing Joplin, Missouri tornadic supercell  with high reflectivity indicating debris.
Radar showing Joplin, Missouri tornadic supercell with high reflectivity indicating debris. | Source
Damage path of the EF 5 Joplin, Missouri Tornado with red indicating EF 4/5 damage.
Damage path of the EF 5 Joplin, Missouri Tornado with red indicating EF 4/5 damage. | Source

Joplin, Missouri

This was by far the most devastating tornado in the Enhanced Fujita scale era since its establishment in 2007, but it was also one of the top ten deadliest tornadoes in U.S. recorded history.

Wind speeds exceeded 200 mph for a good duration of the storm especially as it ravaged through parts of the most densely populated areas of Joplin.

It's the costliest tornado in recorded history with an inflated price approaching $3 billion.

It was also a wake up call to what a destructive tornado could really do if it ever hit a densely populated location like a large city. Tornadoes do not discriminate where they will hit and eventually a major city could be in the path of an EF-4 or 5 tornado.

Other factors that played in role in the devastation was the fact that many Joplin residents did not heed the tornado warnings and sirens despite a lead time of 15-20 minutes. There were even students graduating that day, but they ended the ceremony not too long before the storm struck Joplin High School.

Surveillance footage from the school showed the approach and power of this tornado as it made a direct hit on the school. Numerous other neighborhoods, stores, and businesses were completely destroyed. In fact, some 7,000 homes were destroyed with a quarter of the city wiped out.

The movie "Into the Storm" based some of its story on the events of Joplin, particularly the scene with the High School graduation. President Obama toured, surveyed the area, and met with victims while numerous foundation and donation efforts were set up.

Despite the overall downward trend in tornado fatalities over the years, we are still faced with numerous challenges that we've yet to solve. Improving the accuracy of forecasts, building stronger structures, and developing more shelters are some of the best ways we can hold our own against these types of storms.

However there are things we can't control or stop, and the Joplin disaster was a perfect example of that. Many warnings were ignored because there's still a huge complacency problem regarding severe weather.

We have to change our mindset along with creating better building codes in order to make further progress and lessen the amount of fatalities, injuries, and property costs. It will all depend on how seriously we adhere to mother nature's fury because like it or not she will have the last laugh.

Source: Joplin, MO Tornado Facts

EF Rating
5
Max Wind Speed
200+ mph
Fatalities
158 (+3 indirect)
Damage Cost
$2.94 billion (2015 USD)
Max Width/Duration
1 mile/35-38 minutes
Miles Traveled
22.1
Source Credit: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/os/assessments/pdfs/Joplin_tornado.pdf

Honorable Mentions

El Reno, Oklahoma - EF 3

It's notorious for being one of if not the largest tornado on record with a width of 2.6 miles. It also gained fame after causing the deaths of four storm chasers and injuring many more including The Weather Channel's Mike Bettes and Discovery Channel's star of Storm Chasers Reed Timmer.

In total it killed eight people, caused 30-40 million in damages, and was thought to have wind speeds of over 296 mph as indicated by Doppler weather radar. Further estimates downgraded the storm to an EF-3 mostly due to a lack of damage estimates.

Vilonia, Arkansas - EF 4

A long lasting (1 hour) tornado that was responsible for the deaths of 16 people, which made it one of the deadliest in Arkansas history.

It was another borderline rated tornado with preliminary damage estimates indicative of EF-5 damage due to many foundations being completely wiped away. It was deemed that the anchoring of those structures was lacking in support meaning even a lower scale tornado could wipe them out.

What's Your Pick for Worst U.S. Tornado?

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    • Chriswillman90 profile image
      Author

      Krzysztof Willman 2 years ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      Thank you for reading, I'm from New Jersey so tornadoes aren't really a problem. I would love to live in California although one of my worries is an earthquake even though anything significant is pretty rare. I know the drought has been problematic as well but at least it can't destroy a home like a twister can. Appreciate the feedback.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I don't think I can pick a favorite here. I'm just glad I'm in California, where we have drought and earthquakes but thankfully no tornadoes. I really enjoyed your writing and watching these cool videos too. Great hub.