17 Most Devastating Tornadoes In History

Nature’s fury is terrifying, and tornadoes are among the most deadly natural phenomena. These 17 deadly tornadoes highlight nature’s power and the resilience of humans in the aftermath of such devastation.

1. Oklahoma Tornado, 2013 – A Trail of Destruction in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma Tornado of 2013
Image Credit: Ks0stm/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.

The 2013 Oklahoma tornado was an unforgettable event for its sheer scale and impact. Spanning nearly 20 miles, this EF-4 tornado, with winds exceeding 166 mph, devastated Moore, Oklahoma, and its surrounding areas. The damage was catastrophic, claiming 24 lives and injuring over 230 people, while leaving behind an apocalyptic landscape of ruin.

2. The Tri-State Tornado, 1925 – America’s Deadliest Tornado

The Tri-State Tornado
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The United States witnessed its deadliest tornado on March 18, 1925. The Tri-State Tornado, an F5 twister, lasted for 3.5 hours across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, claiming 695 lives. Its unprecedented power doubled the fatalities of the previous record-holding Great Natchez Tornado of 1840.

3. Manikganj, Singair, and Nawabganj Tornado, 1973 – A Tragedy Across Towns

Two tornadoes touching down
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

On April 17, 1973, the Manikganj, Singair, and Nawabganj tornado struck Bangladesh, leaving a death toll of 681. This powerful tornado destroyed nine towns, including the complete annihilation of Balurchar village. Some unofficial death tolls estimate the fatalities at over 1,000.

4. The Valletta, Malta Tornado, 1550s – A Historic Disaster

Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Dating back to the 1550s, the Valletta tornado in Malta is one of the earliest recorded devastating tornadoes. Striking the Grand Harbour of Malta, it caused over 600 deaths, a significant toll considering the era’s limited disaster response capabilities.

5. The Sicily Tornado, 1851 – A Waterspout Turned Deadly

The Sicily Tornado
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In December 1851, the Sicily Tornado began as a waterspout before making landfall and causing devastation. Details are sparse due to the time elapsed, but the tornado resulted in around 500 fatalities, marking it as one of the deadliest in European history.

6. The Narail-Magura Tornado, 1964 – A Forgotten Catastrophe

The Narail-Magura Tornado
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Narail-Magura Tornado of April 11, 1964, in Bangladesh is shrouded in obscurity, yet its impact was undeniable. With around 500 fatalities and entire villages like Bhabanipur wiped off the map, this tornado is a stark reminder of nature’s unpredictable fury.

7. Tupelo-Gainesville Outbreak, 1936 – A Series of Destruction

gainsville tornado 1936
Image Credit: The Atlanta Constitution. (7 April 1936). Newspapers.com.

The 1936 outbreak centered around Tupelo, Mississippi, and Gainesville, Georgia, involved at least two F5 tornadoes. This series of twisters and accompanying flash floods resulted in 454 deaths, marking it as one of the most destructive tornado events in the Southeastern United States.

8. Dixie Outbreak, 1908 – A Multi-State Tornado Event

Dixie, 1908
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The Dixie tornado outbreak of 1908 spanned 13 states with 31 tornadoes, causing at least 324 deaths. This event is remembered for its widespread impact across the midwestern and southern United States.

9. Great Natchez Tornado, 1840 – A Mississippi River Tragedy

Great Natchez
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Great Natchez Tornado of 1840, known for its devastating path along the Mississippi River, claimed at least 317 lives. It’s particularly notable for the high number of fatalities among enslaved people working on plantations.

10. St. Louis Tornado, 1896 – Urban Destruction

St. Louis Tornado
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

An F4 tornado in 1896 caused significant damage in St. Louis, Missouri, and East St. Louis, Illinois. This tornado, part of a larger outbreak, resulted in 255 deaths and extensive urban destruction.

11. Glazier-Higgins-Woodward Tornado, 1947 – A Tri-State Cyclone

Glazier-Higgins-Woodward Tornado
Image Credit: NOAA.

In 1947, a supercell generated 12 tornadoes across Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The most destructive was an F5 tornado causing 181 deaths, highlighting the perilous nature of tornadoes in the Great Plains.

12. Joplin Tornado, 2011 – A Modern-Day Disaster

Joplin Tornado
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The 2011 Joplin tornado, an F5 event, is known as the costliest tornado in U.S. history. It caused 158 deaths and $2.8 billion in damages, emphasizing the increasing impact of tornadoes in modern times.

13. Palm Sunday Outbreak, 1965 – A Devastating Series of Tornadoes

Palm Sunday Outbreak
Image Credit: NOAA.

The Palm Sunday Outbreak of 1965 was a tragic event marked by 51 tornadoes across the Upper Midwest, notably impacting Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Over 260 people lost their lives, and 3,400 were injured. The lack of an efficient warning system at the time contributed significantly to the high casualty rate. This event led to major changes in tornado warning systems in the United States.

14. Super Outbreak, 1974 – Unprecedented Tornado Activity

Super Outbreak 1974
Image Credit: NOAA.

The 1974 Super Outbreak remains the worst tornado outbreak in U.S. history. Over 16 hours, nearly 150 tornadoes touched down across 13 states, resulting in 330 deaths and over 5,484 injuries. The most notable tornado ravaged Xenia, Ohio, destroying half of the town. This outbreak underscored the need for advanced forecasting technology, which now provides longer lead times for warnings.

15. Oklahoma Outbreak, 1999 – A Fierce Tornado in Tornado Alley

Oklahoma Outbreak
Image Credit: NOAA.

The Oklahoma Outbreak on May 3, 1999, saw at least 45 tornadoes, with the most violent being an F5 tornado near Oklahoma City. This tornado caused extensive damage, stripping asphalt from roads and uprooting vegetation. It led to 47 deaths and over 775 injuries. The early warning systems were credited for preventing an even higher death toll.

16. La Plata, Maryland Tornado, 2002 – The Strongest in Maryland’s History

La Plata, Maryland Tornado
Image Credit: NOAA.

In 2002, La Plata, Maryland, experienced its strongest recorded tornado. Originating from a supercell thunderstorm, the tornado damaged or destroyed over 600 buildings and caused three deaths and 122 injuries. The tornado’s path stretched about 113 kilometers, showcasing the potential for large-scale destruction even on the East Coast.

17. Havana, Cuba Tornado, 2019 – A Rare Event with Destructive Force

Havana Tornado
Image Credit:Admiral RedDog, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The 2019 Havana tornado was notable for its rarity in Cuba. With winds up to 100 kilometers per hour, it caused significant destruction, uprooting trees, and demolishing homes. The tornado resulted in three deaths and 172 injuries, underlining the unexpected nature of tornadoes even in regions where they are less common.

Website | + posts

Katy Willis is a writer, lifelong homesteader, and master herbalist, master gardener, and canine nutritionist. Katy is a preparedness expert and modern homesteader practicing everyday preparedness, sustainability, and a holistic lifestyle.

She knows how important it is to be prepared for whatever life throws at you, because you just never know what's coming. And preparedness helps you give your family the best chance to thrive in any situation.

Katy is passionate about living naturally, growing food, keeping livestock, foraging, and making and using herbal remedies. Katy is an experienced herbalist and a member of the CMA (Complementary Medical Association).

Her preparedness skills go beyond just being "ready", she's ready to survive the initial disaster, and thrive afterward, too. She grows 100% organic food on roughly 15 acres and raises goats, chickens, and ducks. She also lovingly tends her orchard, where she grows many different fruit trees. And, because she likes to know exactly what she's feeding her family, she's a seasoned from-scratch cook and gluten-free baker.

Katy teaches foraging and environmental education classes, too, including self-sufficient living, modern homesteading, seed saving, and organic vegetable gardening.

Katy helps others learn forgotten skills, including basic survival skills and self-reliance.

She's been published on sites such as MSN, Angi, Home Advisor, Family Handyman, Wealth of Geeks, Readers Digest, and more.

Leave a Comment