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Strongest tornadoes on record (1 Viewer)

Kory

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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.
Do you have any literature supporting the conjectures that "wet topsoil is more reluctant to be removed?" I have done some research at the university level that suggests the complete opposite as well as a vast majority of literature suggests that wet soil is less cohesive. The mechanism of adding water to pore space causes an equal and opposite force pushing against the grains and those loosening whatever binding mechanism they had.

There's a reason landslides happen much more often in wet vs dry conditions....

http://www.tulane.edu/~sanelson/Natural_Disasters/slopestability.htm
 

Kory

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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.
Is pavement scouring a DI? I don't recall it to be but I could be confused....
 

Daryl

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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

The Columbus tornado was actually only rated F2!One of my all time favorite videos.

 

locomusic01

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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!!

I'd like to contribute more to this thread when I have some time, but this reminded me of something I'd been meaning to share since before TW went offline. I've always been fascinated by debris transport in tornadoes, and I happened to come across some of the most incredible accounts I've ever heard while researching my article on the Tupelo - Gainesville event. I don't have the sources handy so I'm working off memory here and may be a little off on the details, but there are two things that really stood out to me.

The first was the story of a man named Frank Campbell, an African-American WWI veteran who lived on N Spring St., near the hardest-hit area around what was then Gum Pond. He had a heavy, braided military coat that he valued greatly - there's a story, possibly apocryphal, that he'd actually put it on when the storm approached, fearing that the storm would take it from him. His home was destroyed and he was unfortunately killed, but there was no sign of his coat. It was eventually found the next day - more than 50 miles away near the Alabama border! I don't know exactly how much such a coat would weigh, but if you've ever held an older military-style coat, they certainly aren't light. The idea that he'd been wearing it when the tornado hit is unsubstantiated, but there are several accounts attesting that it was indeed found near the AL border.

The second story comes from the rural countryside near the small town of Flintville, TN, south of Lynchburg. At least two tornadoes struck here - neither of which has been officially documented - but what interests me is what happened just before the storm(s) struck. I found one account of a woman who had gone out on her porch to see if she could glimpse the storm (it was dark by this point in the day), only to notice various bits of paper and other debris gently falling out of the sky. Curious, she ventured into a nearby field to see what it was. She found a few bits of paper and, among them, a canceled check. The address? Tupelo, MS. Flintville, it bears mentioning, is nearly 150 miles northeast of Tupelo. And not only were there papers falling from the sky - not entirely unusual with such a violent tornado - but the next day a man found a large, fully intact book from Tupelo in a field near Lynchburg! Transporting a check or a scrap of paper 150 miles is one thing, but an entire book? Pretty amazing.

I also came across a report of someone finding "personal effects" from Tupelo as far away as Cookeville, TN - about 225 miles - but I wasn't able to verify the story or get any other details on what "personal effects" actually meant. Nothing would surprise me with that tornado, though. I actually went into my research believing Tupelo was a violent tornado, but not particularly noteworthy other than the terrible death toll. Boy, was I ever wrong.
 

locomusic01

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So, I certainly wouldn't say it's one of the strongest ever, but I did come across a pretty impressive tornado while doing some research on the Tupelo - Gainesville outbreak. Since the Significant Tornado Events thread is MIA for the time being, I figured this is the next best place to share it. On April 30, 1936, a series of tornadoes struck parts of northwestern Iowa and southern Minnesota. One particularly violent tornado - or, more accurately, a family of tornadoes - tore through the Iowa Great Lakes region and did great damage in Arnolds Park, Terrace Park, Estherville, Ceylon and other small towns nearby. Grazulis, if I'm remembering correctly, rated the event F4. So what makes it worth mentioning here? Well, a few of the accounts I found in my research.

The US Weather Bureau's annual weather review notes that the tornado "tore up more than 800 feet of railroad track" at Estherville. A contemporary newspaper fills in more details, telling of long sections of track being "lifted up bodily" and "wrenched apart" before being flung great distances. Apparently a heavy trestle bridge was also destroyed in this general area. Additionally, "a piece of cement foundation fully 20 feet long and two feet wide was dug out of the ground, carried to the top of a tree and slid down the trunk of the tree taking the bark with it." A number of homes were swept from their foundations along its track, and many trees were stripped bare and mangled. I haven't done a lot of digging for photos yet, but I do happen to have one saved, taken somewhere in the vicinity of Arnolds Park.

mHgBInY.jpg
 
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You have to question the definition of "strongest" tornado. Should a tornado like Joplin that produced only a couple of spots of "EF5" damage be considered a stronger tornado than the Tuscaloosa tornado that produced EF3 to EF5 damage for 80 miles? To me that's the definition of "strong" and puts the Phil Campbell/Hackleburg tornado off the charts with the possible exception of the Tri-State tornado which wasn't subjected to the kind of rigorous inspection as it would be today.
 
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You have to question the definition of "strongest" tornado. Should a tornado like Joplin that produced only a couple of spots of "EF5" damage be considered a stronger tornado than the Tuscaloosa tornado that produced EF3 to EF5 damage for 80 miles? To me that's the definition of "strong" and puts the Phil Campbell/Hackleburg tornado off the charts with the possible exception of the Tri-State tornado which wasn't subjected to the kind of rigorous inspection as it would be today.
The problem is that there isn't much of a correlation between tornado path length and intensity. The Yazoo City tornado in 2010 was one of the longest-tracked tornadoes ever recorded, and left over 30 miles of EF3-EF4 damage. I don't think that automatically makes it stronger than a tornado like the Bowdle tornado in the same year, which clearly left much more severe (arguably just below EF5) damage even though its total path length was shorter than the stretch of EF4 damage the Yazoo City produced and only about one fifth as long as the stretch of EF3-EF4 damage from the Yazoo City tornado.

Now to be fair there actually is a correlation between tornado duration and intensity. Of course, there's no shortage of exceptions, but the majority of EF4-EF5 tornadoes stay on the ground for 30 minutes or longer, and almost all tornadoes that stay on the ground for more than 60 minutes are EF3-EF5. Even this is a long way from perfect, though. The longest duration tornado that can still be argued* to have been one tornado instead of a tornado family would be the 3/3/66 Candlestick Park tornado, which, if it was one tornado, would have been on the ground for somewhere in the realm of 3 hours and 45 minutes, about 20-25 minutes longer than the Tri-State Tornado and a full hour longer than the Hackleburg/Phil Cambell tornado. The damage it left, though, seems to have been less intense than either, with with the 5/25/08 Parkersburg, Iowa tornado being a good comparison. On the flip side, some extremely intense tornadoes have been fairly short-lived, one being the 4/4/77 Smithfield, AL tornado, which was only on the ground for about 20 minutes.

*There is a lot of talk that the Candlestick Park tornado might have been a family of two or more violent tornadoes, but unlike other long-tracked pre-1970s tornadoes it's hardly a settled issue.
 

Peter Griffin

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The most violent motion I have ever seen in a tornado video. Sorta reminds me of the Elie Manitoba tornado. If it had hit more structures at its peak I believe we would have seen some truly incredible damage.

 

ARCC

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The problem is that there isn't much of a correlation between tornado path length and intensity. The Yazoo City tornado in 2010 was one of the longest-tracked tornadoes ever recorded, and left over 30 miles of EF3-EF4 damage. I don't think that automatically makes it stronger than a tornado like the Bowdle tornado in the same year, which clearly left much more severe (arguably just below EF5) damage even though its total path length was shorter than the stretch of EF4 damage the Yazoo City produced and only about one fifth as long as the stretch of EF3-EF4 damage from the Yazoo City tornado.

Now to be fair there actually is a correlation between tornado duration and intensity. Of course, there's no shortage of exceptions, but the majority of EF4-EF5 tornadoes stay on the ground for 30 minutes or longer, and almost all tornadoes that stay on the ground for more than 60 minutes are EF3-EF5. Even this is a long way from perfect, though. The longest duration tornado that can still be argued* to have been one tornado instead of a tornado family would be the 3/3/66 Candlestick Park tornado, which, if it was one tornado, would have been on the ground for somewhere in the realm of 3 hours and 45 minutes, about 20-25 minutes longer than the Tri-State Tornado and a full hour longer than the Hackleburg/Phil Cambell tornado. The damage it left, though, seems to have been less intense than either, with with the 5/25/08 Parkersburg, Iowa tornado being a good comparison. On the flip side, some extremely intense tornadoes have been fairly short-lived, one being the 4/4/77 Smithfield, AL tornado, which was only on the ground for about 20 minutes.

*There is a lot of talk that the Candlestick Park tornado might have been a family of two or more violent tornadoes, but unlike other long-tracked pre-1970s tornadoes it's hardly a settled issue.


I think the point he is making is that he thinks the label "the strongest tornado" should apply more factors than just a small spot of damage not necessarily saying that the path length is a measure of greater intensity.

For instance we can point counter point on EF5 tornadoes in the past twenty years on extreme damage, but if you consider the Hackleburg tornado may have produced more EF5 damage than all the others combined, which is the stronger tornado?
 
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I think the point he is making is that he thinks the label "the strongest tornado" should apply more factors than just a small spot of damage not necessarily saying that the path length is a measure of greater intensity.

For instance we can point counter point on EF5 tornadoes in the past twenty years on extreme damage, but if you consider the Hackleburg tornado may have produced more EF5 damage than all the others combined, which is the stronger tornado?

Right. Rather than spitting out a quick burst of powerful winds, can you imagine the engine those extra long track tornadoes have to have to keep generating winds from 170 mph to more than 200 mph which there's little doubt the Tuscaloosa tornado produced for a lot of the track through the forests to the northeast of town.
 

locomusic01

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You have to question the definition of "strongest" tornado.

Well, there is no real definition, it's just a fun topic to speculate about. "Strongest," to me, would seem to imply greatest peak intensity - most people would probably consider a guy who can bench a max of 600 lbs "stronger" than someone who maxes 400 but can do a bunch of reps - but I think both aspects are equally interesting. I guess it's just a matter of semantics.

Anyhow, while there are a handful of tornadoes I'd consider "stronger" at peak intensity, Hackleburg is maybe the most fascinating modern tornado that I've studied. To have caused so much violent damage over such a broad area is just incredible. Probably only the Tri-State and possibly Woodward tornadoes are comparable as far as well-documented and substantiated events.
 

locomusic01

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Yeah, it was, though a lot of people feel that it should have been rated EF5. I don't, but it was obviously quite close (officially pegged at 190 mph) and you can make a pretty decent case for it.
 
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I think maybe my view on "strongest" tornado may have been a little misunderstood. I didn't mean for it to seem like path length only determined strength. I think it's a combination of damage and longevity. After wrecking the railroad bridge leaving it scattered on the ground and then about 70 miles later tossing railroad cars off their tracks is a show of power not often seen. Someone mentioned the Yazoo City long tracker. After leaving Yazoo City did it go through mostly rural areas?
 
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Yeah, it was, though a lot of people feel that it should have been rated EF5. I don't, but it was obviously quite close (officially pegged at 190 mph) and you can make a pretty decent case for it.
I don't think it necessarily should have been rated EF5, although like you said the damage came pretty close to the threshold in some places, especially in Holt and Concord. For me it's more that I think the was quite clearly at EF5 strength. The tornado's worst damage was probably around the trestle, where there were no nearby EF5 damage indicators. Also, the Tuscaloosa tornado had the highest rotational energy measured on radar (124 kt) as compared to 110 kt for the 2011 El Reno tornado and 99 kt for the Joplin tornado. Obviously, that's no guarantee of the strength of the winds at ground level, but still a good indicator that the tornado was extremely violent.
I think maybe my view on "strongest" tornado may have been a little misunderstood. I didn't mean for it to seem like path length only determined strength. I think it's a combination of damage and longevity. After wrecking the railroad bridge leaving it scattered on the ground and then about 70 miles later tossing railroad cars off their tracks is a show of power not often seen. Someone mentioned the Yazoo City long tracker. After leaving Yazoo City did it go through mostly rural areas?
In that case I actually mostly agree with you. As for the Yazoo City tornado, yes, most of its path was over forests and fields. Even then, the tree damage was severe enough to have been the main reason for the tornado's EF4 rating. A few houses in Yazoo City itself were flattened but most of the building damage was in the mid-range to high-end EF3 range.
 
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locomusic01

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For me it's more that I think the was quite clearly at EF5 strength.

Yeah, I agree. Probably a number of the high-end EF4s on 4/27 attained EF5 intensity at some point or another, but of course it's quite difficult and rare to get the appropriate EF5-supporting DIs collocated with a tornado's maximum intensity.

I think maybe my view on "strongest" tornado may have been a little misunderstood. I didn't mean for it to seem like path length only determined strength. I think it's a combination of damage and longevity. After wrecking the railroad bridge leaving it scattered on the ground and then about 70 miles later tossing railroad cars off their tracks is a show of power not often seen. Someone mentioned the Yazoo City long tracker. After leaving Yazoo City did it go through mostly rural areas?

Rich Thompson created the Destruction Potential Index years ago to better account for this sort of thing. It combines path length, width and intensity (using F/EF rating) into a single metric; it was designed to be used for outbreaks of multiple tornadoes, but it can be used for single tornadoes as well. I used the metric to rank outbreaks + individual tornadoes for a climatology-related blog post I'd started writing a few years ago, but I never got around to finishing it. I still have the lists somewhere but I'm not sure where.

Anyhow, the equation is:
5kz97CG.png


Where n is the number of tornadoes, a is the damage path area (length x width) and F is the F-scale rating. Obviously it's far from perfect since length & width data are sketchy, especially for older events, and width data is usually only given as max width, which may have only occurred over a small part of the total path. And also the fact that an EF(x) tornado certainly doesn't do EF(x) damage over its entire damage path. Often only a very small part, in fact. Still, it's a start as far as accounting for damage area along with intensity.
 

Meteorologist Bobby Best

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Two that have always stayed in my memory since reading about them were the tornadoes in Guin, Alabama and Xenia, Ohio, both part of the Super Outbreak of April 3-4, 1974.

I think (and this is just my personal opinion) that one of the reasons that the Xenia, Ohio tornado, which deserved it's F-5 rating, but one of the reasons it got SO MUCH publicity, more so than some of the other F-5's during that same "Super Tornado Outbreak" was because of the time of day that it struck and a more populated area/community/city/town was effected by that particular tornado.....

As for the Guin, Alabama F-5 from that same "Super Tornado Outbreak" J.B. Elliott was quoted many times as having said that the April 3, 1974 Guin, Alabama F-5 may very well have been the most powerful tornado, to ever hit Alabama!
Of coarse, I've also heard, from sources I trust, that Dr Ted considered rating the Smithfield April 4, 1977 tornado in Jefferson County, Alabama an F-6...... https://www.weather.gov/bmx/event_04041977

I like a quote from another meteorologist, that I have a lot of respect for, and what he has had to say, more recently, on similar topics, in public settings, numerous times; "even if a small EF-1 is coming down your street, headed for your house, THAT is YOUR most powerful tornado!!!
 
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I think (and this is just my personal opinion) that one of the reasons that the Xenia, Ohio tornado, which deserved it's F-5 rating, but one of the reasons it got SO MUCH publicity, more so than some of the other F-5's during that same "Super Tornado Outbreak" was because of the time of day that it struck and a more populated area/community/city/town was effected by that particular tornado.....

As for the Guin, Alabama F-5 from that same "Super Tornado Outbreak" J.B. Elliott was quoted many times as having said that the April 3, 1974 Guin, Alabama F-5 may very well have been the most powerful tornado, to ever hit Alabama!
Of coarse, I've also heard, from sources I trust, that Dr Ted considered rating the Smithfield April 4, 1977 tornado in Jefferson County, Alabama an F-6...... https://www.weather.gov/bmx/event_04041977

I like a quote from another meteorologist, that I have a lot of respect for, and what he has had to say, more recently, on similar topics, in public settings, numerous times; "even if a small EF-1 is coming down your street, headed for your house, THAT is YOUR most powerful tornado!!!

The same storm system that produced the Smithfiield tornado also downed a jet flying from Muscle Shoals, Alabama to Atlanta with a stop in Huntsville in between.

 
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