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Strongest tornadoes on record (2 Viewers)


Dissident Aggressor

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I like to hear peoples' opinions, and one I have found to be in a constant debate is what one considers to be the strongest tornadoes to have touched down are. My short list on the matter of what I consider to be the strongest tornadoes observed are:

*Jarrell, Texas (5/27/1997) - Produced the most intense wind damage ever photographed (in my opinion). Surface of the area affected was changed to a muddy landscape from the ground scoring, homes in the main damage path were cleanly swept from their foundations and pulverized into tiny fragments, asphalt was ripped down to the subgrade; basically caused the context of the textbook definition of an (E)F5 tornado.

*Smithville, Mississippi (4/27/2011) - Numerous well-built, anchor-bolted brick homes were swept away; with plumbing and appliances at home-sites in the worst affected area were "shredded or missing", vehicles were tossed 3/4 of a mile; including an SUV that was thrown into the town's water tower and left a visible dent and a pickup truck that was never recovered, deep ground scoring occurred outside of town, and numerous trees and low shrubbery were debarked and shredded.

*Philadelphia, Mississippi (4/27/2011) - Tornado dug a 2 ft trench into a pasture, leaving nothing but large clumps of dirt and bare topsoil behind, pavement was scoured from roads, and extreme debarking and denuding of trees occurred, some of which were ripped out of the ground and thrown up to 20 yards away.

*Bridge Creek, Oklahoma (5/3/1999) - Many homes were swept completely away, some of which were well-bolted to their foundations, and debris granulation occurred. Severe ground and pavement scouring occurred, trees and shrubs were completely debarked, and vehicles were thrown up to 440 yd from where they originated.
 

Lori

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Jarrell is one I have studied, I believe the slow motion of that monster made damage much worse!! I can't imagine being there as it basically "sat and spun"

What do you think about Joplin, Missouri and Greensburg, Kansas?

I still think El Reno was pure EVIL as well!!
 

Dissident Aggressor

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Jarrell is one I have studied, I believe the slow motion of that monster made damage much worse!! I can't imagine being there as it basically "sat and spun"

What do you think about Joplin, Missouri and Greensburg, Kansas?

I still think El Reno was pure EVIL as well!!
The Jarrell tornado is easily the tornado I have researched most. I have spent hours on end reading about it and the outbreak that spawned it; it is just so fascinating to me. I firmly believe that had Jarrell not moved as slowly as it did, it still would have caused intense damage, just not on the scale that it did. As it stands though, it is the tornado I can comfortably say that under the same circumstances it occurred under, it can be put in any setting and still cause E/F5 damage.

As for Joplin, it was an important tornado, because it pointed out the flaws with the Enhanced Fujita Scale; with too much emphasis on the building codes that widely vary across the country, but I do not see it as more violent than a 'typical' maxi-tornado. As the 2013 wind engineering survey pointed out, most of the impacted structures across the city were fragile; not being able to withstand winds higher than the EF3 range. However, I do not agree that said range should be the final rating. The totality of the damage across the city indicated a violent tornado, and the structural damage to the St. John's Medical Center proved that (that same complex was where the only officially rated EF5 damage occurred), as well as the contextual damage (concrete parking stops being ripped from the ground and thrown, trees being stripped bare, vehicles being severely mangled, etc.).

Greensburg is a tornado I am iffy on. The damage across most of the city appeared to be high-end EF3 to EF4 range, indicating a multi-vortex structure of the tornado. Apparently, seven well-built homes were swept away on opposite ends of the city, but next to every picture I have seen is focused within the city, none of them revealing any foundations that had debris completely swept away, though stripped trees and mangled vehicles are visible.

Which El Reno tornado are you referring to? If it was 2011, I can agree with you, and will give a brief explanation why. If it was 2013, I will say that I believe the storm was highly overrated. The 2011 tornado dealt the EF5 damage one would expect across its path such as sweeping homes away, completely debarking trees, extensive ground scoring, and tossing vehicles long distances; including some that were wrapped around tress and an SUV that had the vehicle body ripped from its frame. However, the most impressive damage that solidified its status as a very strong tornado occurred at the Cactus 117 oil rig. The fact that it knocked over an oil derrick near 2 million pounds and rolled it several times, as well as throwing an oil tanker weighing in excess of 20,000lbs a mile from the production site with no visible impacts on the ground indicate violent wind acceleration.
 

Lori

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I agree with the assessment you made on Joplin and Greensburg, KS.....I think the fact the Greensburg tornado was large enough to damage a whole (yet small) city, is what made it get a higher rating plus being the first of the EF scale 5's....they may have been still working on the science of the enhanced part of the scale.

I was speaking of the 2013 El Reno but I think what makes that storm such a story is some factors, it was HUGE, 2 sets of chasers were hit, one set being killed and that crazy met in Oklahoma encouraged people to leave their homes. However, that tornado still fascinates me, it was a monster that didn't rate a monster. Yet, I don't even remember the 2011 El Reno till someone brought it up a while back!!
 

ARCC

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I think you can make a case for several tornadoes with the strongest winds with several tornadoes having points for them. However if you say the strongest in all aspects, it's the Tri-State and Hackleburg-Phil Campbell tornadoes, and it's not really close.
 

Lori

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I think you can make a case for several tornadoes with the strongest winds with several tornadoes having points for them. However if you say the strongest in all aspects, it's the Tri-State and Hackleburg-Phil Campbell tornadoes, and it's not really close.
Andy, I can't believe I left out Hackleburg-Phil Campbell EF-5, I personally saw that damage as Nathan and I went to carry supplies and to help in Hackleburg, all of my Dad's family are from Hackleburg (his parent's, himself and brothers moved to Talladega County in the last 40's) and miraculously not one of my relatives suffered damage let alone injury!! As Nathan and I drove through the town and surrounding areas, they still hadn't found all those missing, I couldn't take pictures of the damage because I wasn't sure if I might be taking a picture of someone's grave. The damage looked like pictures I've seen of Hiroshima!! Never in my life had I seen such destruction.
However, the worse of destruction and where they believe the tornado became the strongest was 8 miles from Phil Campbell in an area called Oak Grove (that name doesn't escape as a reminder of the Oak Grove near B-ham that was damaged in 1998 F-5), there's an article I'm going to share, (it actually has a picture with a confirmation from TalkWeather), that speaks of all the damage that day, saying that had this not been mostly rural areas, thousands would have perished.

https://extremeplanet.me/2012/09/01/examining-the-phil-campbell-tornado-the-ultimate-ef5/
 

ARCC

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I think it was you Lori, that posted the link to the post where the Crown Vic was thrown over a mile into the pond on the old forum.
 

Justin Gibbs

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Norman, OK
So many in that "Top 20" or so that are almost impossible to pick a clear cut winner from. The Tri-State Tornado, just from the length that it was on the ground at extremely high intensity stands apart, but Hackleburg and some of the other 4-27-11 tornadoes were competitive with it in terms of track and peak intensity. April 2, 2006 (iirc) had some really nasty tornadoes too in northwest TN and far southeastern MO in terms of long track high intensity tornadoes.

What has really been grabbing my attention lately, as we have gotten better at matching ground intensity with radar velocity is how strong many tornadoes would have been had we measured them adequately through the right type of damage indicators being present when they were at peak intensity, or at all. Although we are also learning rapidly more about the weakest of tornadoes (like in QLCS storm systems) and how frequent tornadoes that produce peak winds in the 55-65 mph range may be (and then of course what in the world to do about those from a warning standpoint!)
 

Erramayhem89

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Hard not to mention andover and the bridge Creek and el reno tornadoes. But the 1998 columbus nebraska tornado was a monster too, I think it was only rated an f3 because it didn't hit much but the video and sound of that thing was incredible. I wonder what it would have been rated had it hit more structures

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G920A using Tapatalk
 
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I think one EF5 damage indicator that's given surprisingly little attention is the "incredible phenomena" category. Based on hours and hours of research, I believe incredible phenomena, along with ground/vegetation scouring and wind-rowing/granulation of debris are some of the best indicators of an extremely violent tornado. Just as an example, all four of the EF5 and several of the EF4 tornadoes on 4/27/11 left quite a bit of unusual damage in their path.

Philadelphia, MS - Tossed a strapped-down, double-wide mobile home 300 yards with no evidence of ground impact.
Hackleburg/Phil Campbell/Tanner, AL - A multi-ton steel cargo container was tossed 600 yards, and light debris was blown through steel roofing.
Smithville, MS - Ripped the pipes from sinks and toilets out of the foundations, and rolled scoured pavement into piles.
Rainsville, AL - Dislodged sidewalk blocks, partly uprooted a below-ground storm shelter, and tossed an 800-pound safe marketed as being "tornado-proof" was thrown several hundred feet.
 

Kory

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I don't know if it's just me, but the Philadelphia tornado doesn't seem as impressive as some other EF-4s. It seems to have gotten the EF5 rating based solely off the trench which was dug into a field. 2 problems with that. First, shear strength of soil is GREATLY reduced as water is added. And we had multiple inches of rain prior to that tornado. Therefore, the soil would've been in a weakened cohesive status to begin with. Second, we don't know if prior overworking of the soil occurred. That would also weaken the soil as disturbed soil loses the integrity of undisturbed soil.
 

Tennie

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As for Joplin, it was an important tornado, because it pointed out the flaws with the Enhanced Fujita Scale; with too much emphasis on the building codes that widely vary across the country, but I do not see it as more violent than a 'typical' maxi-tornado. As the 2013 wind engineering survey pointed out, most of the impacted structures across the city were fragile; not being able to withstand winds higher than the EF3 range. However, I do not agree that said range should be the final rating. The totality of the damage across the city indicated a violent tornado, and the structural damage to the St. John's Medical Center proved that (that same complex was where the only officially rated EF5 damage occurred), as well as the contextual damage (concrete parking stops being ripped from the ground and thrown, trees being stripped bare, vehicles being severely mangled, etc.).
The Joplin tornado scenario (i.e. a maxi-tornado going through an area with a lot of rather flimsy construction) is basically, if not a worst case scenario, then certainly up there!:eek:

Which El Reno tornado are you referring to? If it was 2011, I can agree with you, and will give a brief explanation why. If it was 2013, I will say that I believe the storm was highly overrated.
Yeah, it can be a problem distinguishing two notable tornadoes going through basically the same area unless some kind of qualifier is attached to them (e.g. El Reno 2011 and El Reno 2013).

Phil Campbell and Smithville are the stuff of nightmares. EF5 monster wedges moving along at 70mph. The few videos that exist of these beasts are truly terrifying.
Here's the video of WAFF 48's coverage of that tornado:


Note the sequence from 8:18 to 10:24, where the tornado actually comes into view of the SkyCam on WAFF's old radar site, quickly heads straight for the camera, then the feed cuts out; moments later, the radar sweep line suddenly goes crazy as the tornado makes a direct hit on the antenna!
 

Lori

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I've not seen this WAFF coverage....amazing tornado!!

I wonder what the correlation coefficient would have looked like on these 2011 long track tornadoes?? I remember the Red Mountain TV stations in Birmingham, were getting good size debris falling from the sky when the tornado was 15 miles away!!

Y'all check out this last tornado that struck in Alabama in 2011, from what I remember, it wasn't immediately given an EF-5 rating....reading the article and looking at the pictures, is up there in the horror factor.

https://extremeplanet.me/2012/08/15/amazing-images-of-ef5-damage-in-rainsville-alabama-april-27-2011/

Strangely, despite the incredible oddities that occurred at the residence, the trees behind the home seem remarkably intact, and the grass in the foreground does not appear to have been scoured. The foundation is also unusually clean, with most of the debris having been blown 200 yards to the north into a wooded area. Aerial imagery showed noticeable grass and pavement scouring 50ft north of the home, and trees across the street were pulverized in EF5 fashion. Therefore, it seems possible an extremely powerful vortex descended from the tornado and made contact with the ground just north of the home. Damage this selective is extremely rare
 

PerryW

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I like to hear peoples' opinions, and one I have found to be in a constant debate is what one considers to be the strongest tornadoes to have touched down are. My short list on the matter of what I consider to be the strongest tornadoes observed are:
.
I began studying and researching wind damage created by extreme tornadoes and hurricanes in 1974, and during the forty three years since have made my own personalists of which tornadoes were the most intense, but decided a few years ago to leave wind damage analysis to the experts who are known world-wide and legendary.

One thing I learned a long time ago: any tornado with winds over 175-180 mph is a killing machine. They will obliterate any brick or frame home and cause death in nearly every neighborhood they strike. Once winds reach 200 mph, they are unsurvivable above ground level. IMO top end tornadoes max out in the 225-250 mph range and cause incredible damage I saw in portions of Joplin, Missouri and Guin, Alabama, and Birmingham, ALabama in 1977.

All EF4 and EF5 tornadoes are killing machines..........all EF5's are the finger of God. Trying to figure out which of God's Almighty Wraths pured out on a helpless neighborhood, town, or city is the strongest/ most intense is simply simply futile.
 
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I don't know if it's just me, but the Philadelphia tornado doesn't seem as impressive as some other EF-4s. It seems to have gotten the EF5 rating based solely off the trench which was dug into a field. 2 problems with that. First, shear strength of soil is GREATLY reduced as water is added. And we had multiple inches of rain prior to that tornado. Therefore, the soil would've been in a weakened cohesive status to begin with. Second, we don't know if prior overworking of the soil occurred. That would also weaken the soil as disturbed soil loses the integrity of undisturbed soil.
Many leading tornado researchers seem to disagree. Also, most of the more extreme ground scouring left by other tornadoes was preceded by dry conditions (Jarrell, TX, Bridge Creek, OK, Jordan, IA, and Prague, OK). Wet topsoil is apparently more reluctant to be removed from the ground. Also, there were many other extreme intensity DIs in the case of Philadelphia - steady asphalt scouring for example, and a strapped-down mobile home being tossed 300 yards with no evidence of ground impacts. It may not have been quite as intense as the Smithville or Phil Campbell EF5s, but it was still extremely violent, probably in the top 10.
 
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Jarrell is definitely a candidate for the top pick. Even if we adjust for its slow forward speed, which might let Smithville or Phil Campbell take first place, it's still probably close to the top. Slow forward speed might explain the extreme house and vegetation damge, but there's still the issue of the extreme granulation of debris, and the fact that cars and trucks were not only mangled but actually ripped apart with their pieces wind-rowed across fields. The Bowdle, SD tornado on 5/22/2010 had about the same forward speed as the Jarrell tornado but only left mid-range to high-end EF4 damage.

Two other slow-moving tornadoes that did cause similar levels of destruction to the Jarrell tornado, though, were the Pecos County, TX tornado on 6/1/1990 and the Trenton/Culbertson, NE tornado two weeks later on 6/15/1990. The Pecos County tornado caused severe ground scouring leaving behind only a streak of mud and a few rocks with a few mesquite stumps, tore very long (up to 300 ft) streaks of asphalt up from a road, tossed and rolled three 180,000-lbs oil tanks for several miles, completely destroyed several oil pumps, and scoured the concrete out of a drainage ditch. The Trenton/Culbertson tornado, on the other hand, caused extreme granulation of debris similar to the granulation from the Jarrell tornado. Reportedly a combine harvester, several appliances and a cast-iron skillet were granulated into pebble-sized pieces.

Another tornado which doesn't get a lot of attention but was extremely violent (probably on the level of Bridge Creek) was the 5/31/1985 Niles/Wheatland tornado, which swept away large two-story, anchor-bolted houses, leveled a shopping center and truck plant, twisted steel girders like wet noodles and pushed them off the foundations, tossed 75,000 gallon oil tanks hundreds of feet and left many of them crushed and crumpled, scoured pavement from a parking lot, and wedged sections of sheet metal roofing and receipts beneath the edges of the scoured sections.

The Brandenburg, KY tornado on 4/3/1974 was also extremely violent, sweeping away several large and anchor-bolted houses and collapsing the basement walls at one house. It also had by far the highest fatality rate of any tornado in the 1974 Super Outbreak, as well as the second-highest of the outbreak overall even though it only impacted a tiny fraction as many buildings as the Xenia, OH tornado did. The first Tanner, AL tornado on the same day probably also deserves a mention - the house damage wasn't quite as extreme as in Brandenburg, although still easily worse than in Xenia, but the damage trees was impressive (trees were completely debarked and stripped of most if not all of their branches, and plastered with soil and clay scoured from the ground), and there were many "incredible phenomena" along the path (e.g. a bathtub being embedded into the ground and a pump being lifted out of a well).

Judging from damage photos and surveys, I'm guesstimating that the officially-rated F5 tornadoes on 4/3/1974 would have been, in order of intensity:

1. Brandenburg, KY
2. Guin, AL
3. Tanner, AL (1)
4. Xenia, OH
5. Sayler Park, OH
6. DePauw/Daisy Hill, IN
7. Tanner, AL (2)
 

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