"On This Day" In Engineering History Blog

"On This Day" In Engineering History

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March 18, 1925 – The Deadliest Tornado in U.S. History

Posted March 18, 2010 11:18 AM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, the Great Tri-State Tornado tore across parts of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, claiming the lives of 695 people and injuring 2,027 more. With a base nearly one-mile wide, America's deadliest tornado traveled at an average speed of nearly 70-mph with top winds estimated at over 300 mph. The image at left is from Griffin, Indiana, a town completely destroyed.

The F-Scale

Although the Tri-State tornado is not rated officially by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), most experts regard it as an F5 tornado, the maximum rating for tornadic intensity on the Fujita Scale. Tetsuya "Ted" Fujita, a Japanese-born meteorologist who majored in Mechanical Engineering at Meiji College, developed the scale that bears his name in 1971, in a published research paper called "Proposed Characterization of Tornadoes and Hurricanes by Area and Intensity".

Warm - Then Deadly

March 18, 1925 began uneventfully, but several eyewitnesses later reported that the morning had been unusually warm. Around 1:00 PM, citizens sighted a vortex northwest of Ellington, Missouri. Although some scientists now claim that the Great Tri-State Tornado was not one but several tornadoes, the Missouri meteorological event was both indisputable and tragic.

After claiming the lives of 32 schoolchildren, the Missouri tornado crossed the Mississippi River into southern Illinois. There, the municipality of Murphysboro alone lost 234 residents, the largest single-city death total from a tornado in American history. Later, when the Great Tri-State Tornado crossed the Wabash River into neighboring Indiana, the town of Griffin (image, top left) was completely destroyed.

Without Warning

The Tri-State Tornado dissipated around 4:30 PM, some 3.5 hours after its initial sighting in Ellington, Missouri. The damage, which totaled $16.5 million (USD) and included the loss of 150,000 homes, would take years to repair. Many survivors remained stunned, in part because the day's weather had begun so beautifully. In a world without televised Tornado Watches and Tornado Warnings, the National Weather Service (NWS) had yet to replace the telegraph as the primary method for communicating weather information. Radar and satellite imagery had yet to be invented either, and many citizens relied upon word of mouth for basic information.

"I don't think anybody knew about the storm," America Welch of Griffin, Indiana later explained. "We didn't have warnings then about the weather".






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