If there’s one thing that’s comforting about the news that a tornado is on the horizon, it’s the knowledge that climate change hasn’t created a super tornado just yet, so when you get hit, it’ll be the same kind of whirlwind that plagued your parents and grandparents. Considering that the wind speeds of a tornado can exceed 300 miles an hour, that these storms can travel over a hundred miles, and that the United States is hit with more than 1,000 tornadoes on any given year, the knowledge that cyclones aren’t getting worse (yet) might be cold comfort. Even without the help of climate change, a strong tornado is still a terrifying thing. Just ask the people who have seen the worst of a tornado up close and personal.
10. June 8, 1953
The tornado that touched down outside Flint, Michigan in 1953 was the worst tornado of the last half-century. Until the tornado that screamed through Joplin, Missouri, the June 8, 1953 cyclone was the worst in recent memory. The funnel cloud of the storm was reportedly a half mile wide and ran along the northern part of Flint for more than 27 miles. In the end, 116 people lost their lives and nearly a thousand people had been injured.
9. June 12, 1899
On the evening of June 12, at the end of the nineteenth century, a tornado swept across Lake St. Croix toward the town of New Richmond, Wisconsin. The twister surprised a crowd of people leaving the last performance of a traveling circus. Along the way, the devastating storm destroyed more than 300 buildings and killed 117 people. The close-knit community saw 26 families lose more than one person. One-quarter of those families saw the deaths of four or more. The swath of destruction left by the storm was more than 3,000 feet long.
8. April 24, 1908
In 1908, the area spanning Louisiana and Georgia was battered with a series of tornadoes that ultimately took the lives of more than 324 people. Though the entire storm season was tough for the area, most of the calculated destruction came on April 24, when an F4 tornado traveled from Weiss, Louisiana to Wayne County, Mississippi, a distance of more than 150 miles. One hundred forty-three people were killed by the tornado as it traveled. Another 800 were left injured. Before the storm, Purvis, Mississippi had 150 free-standing houses. Afterward, it had seven.
7. May 22, 2011
Most will remember the havoc that rained down on Joplin, Missouri in May of 2011. Now known as the single costliest tornado in the history of the United States, the Joplin tornado killed 158 people, the most deaths from a single tornado in more than sixty years. When the winds finally died down, more than 15,000 vehicles had been destroyed or gone missing. Some were crushed, some twisted into unrecognizable lumps, some wrapped around trees, and some picked up and carried off to fates unknown.
6. April 9, 1947
In 1947, the tornado that formed in the Texas panhandle started bad and got worse. After nearly wiping two small Texas towns off the map and killing 69 people along with it, the tornado swept into Oklahoma, tracking nearly 100 miles before it slammed into the town of Woodward, Oklahoma. More than 100 city blocks were destroyed and 107 people were killed. When the tornado finally slowed down west of Alva, Oklahoma, 181 people had been killed.
5. April 6, 1936
It seemed that the gods had it out for Gainesville, Georgia on the morning of April 6. On the morning of April 6, 1936, two powerful tornadoes collided with one another above the city and proceeded to wreak havoc for the next several moments. The tornado destroyed four square blocks of the city in minutes. Gainesville’s active business district was utterly destroyed; dozens of workers lost their lives as buildings collapsed around them. Ultimately, 203 people lost their lives.
4. April 5, 1936
Just one day before Gainesville, Georgia was hit with destruction, Tupelo, Mississippi’s number came up. The twister that struck Tupelo, Mississippi on April 5, 1936 was only on the ground for 15 miles. Over that short distance, the storm carved a half-mile-wide swath of damage across the city, ripping apart more than 200 homes. Entire families were killed in the storm. Ultimately, 216 lives were claimed.
3. May 27, 1896
When it formed over Tower Grove Park and moved into downtown St. Louis, the tornado that touched down May 27, 1896 was already shaping up to be nasty. As it skipped across the Mississippi River it continued to destroy buildings in East St. Louis, as well. By the end of the twister, almost 9,000 buildings had been destroyed and 255 people had lost their lives.
2. May 7, 1840
The damage caused by the tornado that touched down near the Mississippi River on May 7, 1840 may forever be underestimated when totals are calculated. The cyclone formed along the River, sinking dozens of flatboats along the way. After moving 20 miles north to the town of Natchez, the tornado turned abruptly and decimated the city itself. More than 317 people supposedly died, but historians suspect it could have been more as records from the era aren’t considered especially reliable.
1. March 18, 1925
Now known as the Tri-State tornado, the cyclone that ranged from Missouri to Illinois to Indiana killed twice as many people as its closes contender. The devastating storm traveled for more than three and a half hours before it finally dissipated. Four towns were more than ninety percent destroyed. The town of Parrish, Illinois was so badly wrecked that the townspeople simply gave up and moved out, leaving the remains abandoned. At the end of the storm, 695 people across 19 separate communities were proclaimed deceased.