Most violent tornado in history?

Oct 14, 2015
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Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Tornadoes are rated by the damage they cause, not by their rotational signatures. If the strongest tornado ever recorded were to sit over an empty plot of dirt and not hit anything, it'd be rated EF0-EF1, regardless of how strong it actually was. In order for a tornado to be rated EF5, it has to 1) Hit a structure well-built enough to require EF5 level winds to sweep it off the foundation and 2) Actually be producing EF5 level winds at the time the tornado crossed over the structure, as EF5 level winds only occur for a very brief period of time and over a very small area in the majority of tornadoes that earn the rating. The only instance I can think of in which a tornado was rated EF5 due to damage not inflicted on structures was the Philadelphia tornado from 4/27/11, due to the fact that it dug a 2 feet deep trench through a field.
Thanks for the reply. I guess this was just too obvious for me to realize - I would have guessed it would have had something to do with the reliability or consistency of rotational strength.
I know this dead horse has been beaten to a pulp already, but it does seem very odd that the experts who rate tornadoes would ignore objective indicators of strength in favour of subjective indicators of strength.
I've also heard it said that Greensburg (2007/05/04), Bridge Creek (1999/05/03) and Andover (1991/04/26) were probably not the most violent tornadoes of the outbreaks that spawned them in terms of absolute strength, just the most damaging. I'll try to get a link to the source (I think it was from ustornadoes.com).
 
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Jan 12, 2015
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I'd imagine it's got to be the Tri-State tornado, depending on where you fall on the path length debate. I don't think the 235 or 219 mile lengths are accurate, but even the conservative ~174-mile length that's well-documented would surely be the leader in the clubhouse. That'd probably put it somewhere just short of three hours. The Yazoo City EF4 was on the ground for very close to three hours as well, IIRC. The long-track Brandon, MS F4 on 11/21/92 was on the ground for just over 2.5 hours. There was a very slow-moving tornado in southwest Manitoba back in July of this year that was alleged to have stayed on the ground for 2.5 to 3 hours, but I haven't heard much more about it and haven't really looked into it. 1947 Woodward was likely on the ground for 2-2.5 hours, maybe a bit more depending on exactly where you put the touchdown and dissipation. Those are ones that come to mind, I'd have to think about some others.



The Tuscaloosa radar presentation remains the most impressive I've ever seen, especially just east of Holt. Equal parts horrifying and awe-inspiring.

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One that I've brought up occasionally in other threads is a massive wedge near Mullinville, KS on May 23, 2008 (otherwise known as the Quinter Wedgefest), which got lost in the mix that day but was really impressive.

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I'd make an argument for the Tipton-Elmer tornado from this year to be up there with Tuscaloosa and Quinter for the most impressive radar signature I've ever seen personally. I unfortunately never took a screenshot of it, but it was by far the most textbook tornado signature I've seen in the time that I've been able to comprehend and decipher radar data.

And BTW, You're locomusic from one of the other boards right? Nice to see some familiar people around! (I'm rolltide_130 BTW. Heh)
 
Jan 12, 2015
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11
Thanks for the reply. I guess this was just too obvious for me to realize - I would have guessed it would have had something to do with the reliability or consistency of rotational strength.
I know this dead horse has been beaten to a pulp already, but it does seem very odd that the experts who rate tornadoes would ignore objective indicators of strength in favour of subjective indicators of strength.
I've also heard it said that Greensburg (2007/05/04), Bridge Creek (1999/05/03) and Andover (1991/04/26) were probably not the most violent tornadoes of the outbreaks that spawned them in terms of absolute strength, just the most damaging. I'll try to get a link to the source (I think it was from ustornadoes.com).
I think a main issue is that, while radar has become much more accurate at giving an approximation of a tornado's strength, we still don't have enough data solely from radar to accurately rate a tornado. There was a case in Texas this year (I can't remember what town it was) in which there was an absolutely violent signature on radar, but there were only a few brief tornadoes reported, and they were all rated EF0-EF1.

As for your statement regarding those storms, you very well could be correct, although it's practically impossible to know for sure. The Mulhall tornado from the Bridge Creek outbreak was another exceptionally violent tornado that day, and the tornadic wind field was the widest measured on radar, coming in at somewhere close to 4 miles wide I believe, although the official width was much narrower than that. I'll look for some articles on that later on.
 
Mar 3, 2012
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I'd make an argument for the Tipton-Elmer tornado from this year to be up there with Tuscaloosa and Quinter for the most impressive radar signature I've ever seen personally. I unfortunately never took a screenshot of it, but it was by far the most textbook tornado signature I've seen in the time that I've been able to comprehend and decipher radar data.

And BTW, You're locomusic from one of the other boards right? Nice to see some familiar people around! (I'm rolltide_130 BTW. Heh)
Yup, that's me. I think I must have been in the hospital during the Tipton tornado, because I only vaguely remember it. Tried to get the archived data via HDSS but they don't seem to have that time period for some reason. Definitely a very impressive presentation, though.

I've also heard it said that Greensburg (2007/05/04), Bridge Creek (1999/05/03) and Andover (1991/04/26) were probably not the most violent tornadoes of the outbreaks that spawned them in terms of absolute strength, just the most damaging. I'll try to get a link to the source (I think it was from ustornadoes.com).
That's quite possible (though I'm not sure I'd put Bridge Creek in that category - people tend to forget just how incredibly violent it was), and not entirely uncommon. Xenia was almost certainly not the most violent tornado of the 1974 Super Outbreak (at least in my opinion), yet it became by far the most well-known because it happened to strike a large town and caused a lot of damage and fatalities. Tuscaloosa sort of became the defining tornado of the 2011 Super Outbreak, yet while it was obviously an incredibly violent and devastating tornado, several others that day were even more exceptional in terms of intensity and/or path length. At least two or three other tornadoes on 3/18/1925 may well have been as violent as the Tri-State as far as maximum intensity, but they were obviously overshadowed (for good reason). My research has led me to suspect that at least one of the tornadoes on 4/5/1936 may have been on par with the Tupelo tornado, yet few people even know there were other tornadoes that day. In fact, if you go back and look at virtually any significant outbreak, you'll likely find little-known tornadoes that may very well have been as violent as any of the others that occurred, but they happened not to strike anything substantial.

I don't remember if it was on this forum or another one, but there was a thread on this topic some time ago - "Forgotten tornadoes" or something to that effect, I think. It's an interesting topic, and one with plenty of fuel for debate.
 
Nov 11, 2009
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Michigan
I know people have different opinions. There have been many violent tornados such as El Reno and others. What is the general consensus of the most violent tornado in US history?

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I think the Andover, KS Killer Tornado on april 26, 1991 is. go!!!!!!!!! andover! :)
 

calvinkaskey

Guest
Feb 17, 2014
384
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Any research or thinking into side clouds being an indicator of like ef-6 type winds? Descriptions of the Great Tristate tornado are a boiling mass. In the most extreme low pressure tornadoes I'd expect the low pressure to cause side clouds or maybe a better term accesory cloud cover. Was the Joplin tornado rain wrapped or was it covered in these type clouds when it hit? MAYBE SIDE VORTICIES also.

The Joplin tornado video around 1 minute in the video shows a whole area of cloud base lowering.

Not as good example but similar with the at 3 minutes.


5:30 on video


Not sure if anyone chased this one but yeah f-2 doesnt seem right.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNOlL5tWxTg
Same tornado 4:45
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRFVrTCsMYY

Tuscaloosa 2:00 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIHRCDcJJEw
 
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Aug 9, 2012
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Macomb, IL
stormoptics.smugmug.com
I'm sure the term "most violent" is open to wide interpretation is even many different opinions. However my choice would be the Andover, Kansas F5 on April 26, 1991 as far as "visual violence". The upward motions and visible dynamics with these types of tornadoes always blow my mind, especially in this particular video. I suppose one could include the Tuscaloosa, AL EF4 on April 27, 2011 as well (really any big tornado from that day!):



Here is the Tuscaloosa, AL tornado, I can't recall seeing a video of a tornado that featured as well defined of "horizontal vortices" as what this tornado produced. Check it out:

 

calvinkaskey

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Feb 17, 2014
384
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I'm sure the term "most violent" is open to wide interpretation is even many different opinions. However my choice would be the Andover, Kansas F5 on April 26, 1991 as far as "visual violence". The upward motions and visible dynamics with these types of tornadoes always blow my mind, especially in this particular video. I suppose one could include the Tuscaloosa, AL EF4 on April 27, 2011 as well (really any big tornado from that day!):


If you scroll over to 5:40 on the Andover video there are what look like the whale teeth of a cloud delineation from a gust front that forms around the tornadic circulation. Is there a name for that feature? You see it also in the Moore, Ok 2013 Ef-5

Again with El Reno tornado,

 
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calvinkaskey

Guest
Feb 17, 2014
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Here is the Tuscaloosa, AL tornado, I can't recall seeing a video of a tornado that featured as well defined of "horizontal vortices" as what this tornado produced. Check it out:
From before 2:22 to about 2:49 you can see a horizontal funnel. I think the measured wind speed was about 284mph at one time.
 

John C

Enthusiast
Apr 7, 2014
7
4
1
Jarrell tornado would by my #1 pick. One of the pics in this thread shows a foundation where the sill plates that were anchored to the foundation
were torn away from their anchor bolts.

In a NOAA Assessment published in April of 1988, there's a pic taken by NWSFO Austin/San Antonio showing a concrete home foundation swept clean
with the plumbing pulled out of the concrete.
 

Gene Pyeatt

Enthusiast
Dec 6, 2020
1
0
1
Dallas Texas
Does anybody know what happened to the links below? It appears the website is no longer available. Have this articles been re-posted to another site? They were very informative and I would like to save the content.


Thanks!


Here's an interesting "top 20." This writer only considers tornadoes that occurred since Fujita's time (thus this is his list of the top 20 most violent tornadoes since 1970) and only considers tornadoes that were killers. Still, he makes a compelling case for why each one deserves its place on the list. To start from the bottom and work your way up, scroll to the bottom of each post:

http://extremeplanet.me/2012/11/27/...he-strongest-tornadoes-ever-recorded-part-iv/

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I found his method of comparing degrees of ground scouring and vegetation damage interesting...thoughts?
 
Oct 10, 2004
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Madison, WI
Smithville and Jarrell each did some of the most extreme damage ever surveyed. Here's an excellent in-depth writeup on Smithville:


Interesting to note that they were at opposite extremes of the forward speed spectrum (60-70 MPH vs ~5 MPH). I believe they each would still have been exceptionally violent had they moved at a more "average" speed, though.
 
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Oct 10, 2004
1,264
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36
Madison, WI
Does anybody know what happened to the links below? It appears the website is no longer available. Have this articles been re-posted to another site? They were very informative and I would like to save the content.


Thanks!
It's back up at a different link:

 
Jun 4, 2018
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Altus, OK
Smithville and Jarrell each did some of the most extreme damage ever surveyed. Here's an excellent in-depth writeup on Smithville:


Interesting to note that they were at opposite extremes of the forward speed spectrum (60-70 MPH vs ~5 MPH). I believe they each would still have been exceptionally violent had they moved at a more "average" speed, though.
I just finished reading that Smithville write up. I had heard of the SUV that got bounced off the water tower, but the rest of it...just wow. And adding in the stories of people on the ground really made it hit home. It wasn't just a write up or a damage survey, it was a tragic story of lives shattered. Thank you for sharing that @Andy Wehrle.
 

Michael Igbinoba

Enthusiast
Aug 24, 2020
1
1
1
Matteson, IL
I also heard about the Guin F5 of April 3rd, 1974, which apparently cleared off a house foundation, and proceeded to scatter it, while still moving at a decent pace. That's easily one of the worst pieces of damage evidence I have ever heard of. Unfortunately, there are no pics for me to share here so you guys can see, but that is what the damage survey team reported.
 
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C M May

Enthusiast
Nov 11, 2022
4
0
1
S/W Ohio
This topic is one of those that will always be open to interpretation. The Tri-State Tornado caused major damage while having an incredible forward speed while a tornado such as Jarrell caused complete destruction while moving very slowly. I've always wondered how much that has to be taken into account.
Regarding your thoughts on Jarrell…granted I’m not an expert so take my comments in the spirit of “seeking education” here. I’ve heard folks mention Jarrell could have been F3-ish (1997 before EF of course) but it’s slow forward speed….etc…. My first (uneducated) thought is , well sure it contributed. But a high end Cat5 hurricane has upper F-EF5 winds. In a hurricane, any particular structure might also be subject to F/EF3 type winds for 30 minutes or more and you don’t see damage like what Jarrell did afterwards. I know the wind dynamics are different. But similar to a high end tornado event survey. Where the rating is between a 4 and a 5, the rating will be in the conservative side because of building construction etc…. valid points by the way. It doesn’t mean the tornado “didn’t” have F/EF5 winds. Just means the structures impacted couldn’t possibly warrant a higher rating.
Im curious what you more experienced folks think about the Jarrell storm and whether or not the damage could have been done by a non F/EF5 storm due to wind duration. Certain videos of the Jarrell tornado show absolutely incredible upward movement and horizontal vortices. Traits usually associated with violent tornadoes. Thoughts?
 
Sep 26, 2022
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Allendale, Michigan
Regarding your thoughts on Jarrell…granted I’m not an expert so take my comments in the spirit of “seeking education” here. I’ve heard folks mention Jarrell could have been F3-ish (1997 before EF of course) but it’s slow forward speed….etc…. My first (uneducated) thought is , well sure it contributed. But a high end Cat5 hurricane has upper F-EF5 winds. In a hurricane, any particular structure might also be subject to F/EF3 type winds for 30 minutes or more and you don’t see damage like what Jarrell did afterwards. I know the wind dynamics are different. But similar to a high end tornado event survey. Where the rating is between a 4 and a 5, the rating will be in the conservative side because of building construction etc…. valid points by the way. It doesn’t mean the tornado “didn’t” have F/EF5 winds. Just means the structures impacted couldn’t possibly warrant a higher rating.
Im curious what you more experienced folks think about the Jarrell storm and whether or not the damage could have been done by a non F/EF5 storm due to wind duration. Certain videos of the Jarrell tornado show absolutely incredible upward movement and horizontal vortices. Traits usually associated with violent tornadoes. Thoughts?
the main reason why is a lot of wind-sheer (change in wind direction.) the house should stay put for a good long while in say, 90-120 mph winds going in a straight line. while it is 100% true that the wind speed played a role, a change in wind direction with winds that strong is like a dummy in a high speed car crash: the impact destroys it.
think of it like a man breaking down a door, if you gently put pressure on it, it wont budge no matter how hard you press on it. BUT if you use a sudden force, (like kicking it) it should break within a couple of hits. What jarrell did is that it kicked the door CONSTANTLY with the force of a superman punch.
 
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Jamie H

EF0
Feb 25, 2022
36
38
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United Kingdom
Regarding your thoughts on Jarrell…granted I’m not an expert so take my comments in the spirit of “seeking education” here. I’ve heard folks mention Jarrell could have been F3-ish (1997 before EF of course) but it’s slow forward speed….etc…. My first (uneducated) thought is , well sure it contributed. But a high end Cat5 hurricane has upper F-EF5 winds. In a hurricane, any particular structure might also be subject to F/EF3 type winds for 30 minutes or more and you don’t see damage like what Jarrell did afterwards. I know the wind dynamics are different. But similar to a high end tornado event survey. Where the rating is between a 4 and a 5, the rating will be in the conservative side because of building construction etc…. valid points by the way. It doesn’t mean the tornado “didn’t” have F/EF5 winds. Just means the structures impacted couldn’t possibly warrant a higher rating.
Im curious what you more experienced folks think about the Jarrell storm and whether or not the damage could have been done by a non F/EF5 storm due to wind duration. Certain videos of the Jarrell tornado show absolutely incredible upward movement and horizontal vortices. Traits usually associated with violent tornadoes. Thoughts?
There is a critique of the rating in a paper here: https://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/Legacy/TN/nbstechnicalnote1426.pdf

I haven't read it myself so can't vouch for it, but it may be interesting.
 
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C M May

Enthusiast
Nov 11, 2022
4
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1
S/W Ohio
There is a critique of the rating in a paper here: https://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/Legacy/TN/nbstechnicalnote1426.pdf

I haven't read it myself so can't vouch for it, but it may be interesting.
It really doesn’t tell us much more than we know currently. But at the time I’m sure it was groundbreaking. The last few pages do she’s light on (at least to me) why we haven’t seen many tornadoes rated EF5 and haven’t seen one in 9 years. There’s a reason why the ratings tend to lean more conservative in high end events and I believe this explains why.