Joplin Disaster: Tornado Causes Almost Total Destruction

#Joplin Walmart after today's tornado.  on Twitpic

At first, long time residents of Joplin Missouri may have been tempted to compare the twister of May 5, 1971 that tore through 40 blocks of  downtown leaving a trail of destruction to Sunday’s  tornado .  Unfortunately, comparisons to the 40 year-old event would  immediately be abandoned once the immense devastation of the May 22, 2011 (5:41 p.m. CT) tornado became evident.

Representative building damage from the 1971 Joplin tornado. Photo credit: Joplin Public Library Digital Collection

Given a preliminary rating of EF4 , the National Weather Service later upgraded the event to an EF5 with winds in excess of 200 mph.  Reaching up to three-quarters of a mile wide at one point, the storm is estimated to have claimed up to 142  lives and injured at least 750  (as of 5/28).   Unfortunately, the total may continue to climb given that a number of individuals are still considered missing.   

In reality,  proper comparisons put the recent Joplin event as the worst single tornado in the US  since the mid 1940s.  Current figures place the  Joplin tornado as the deadliest single storm since modern record keeping began in 1950.  The National Weather Service has classified it as the  8th deadliest tornado in U.S. history.

While there are are many criteria for ranking the worst tornadoes of all time (and this tornado is still too new to be properly evaluated or ranked, the following links will provide a representative view of the “worst of the worst” tornadoes.

Worst Tornadoes in US History – Deadliest / Costliest Deadliest Tornadoes

Passing directly through Joplin (see figure for estimated path), the tornado uprooted trees, tossed and rolled cars, flattened houses and other wood framed structures and ripped the roof off a hospital.  High resolution satellite images along the path of the tornado can be found at NOAA.  For a comprehensive summary of the 2011 Tornado Season to date, see the NOAA summary.

 An F5 tornadAgain, here is the path of the tornado through Joplin, MO, if... on Twitpico is the highest on the 5-point Enhanced Fujita scale.  EF ratings and the associated 3-second gust wind speeds are shown in the chart that follows at the end of this post.

The latest round of storms and tonardos have all but assured that 2011 will be a significant / major loss year for property insurance companies. Some estimates credit the Joplin tornado alone as destroying up to 2,000 buildings.

EF Rating 3 Second Gust (mph)
0 65-85
1 86-110
2 111-135
3 136-165
4 166-200
5 Over 200



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  1. NOAA Releases 2011 Hurricane Season Predictions | Building Failures Forum - June 12, 2011

    […] Comparing this prediction to the seasonal average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes and the US could be in for another series of disasters on the heels of the record setting tornado season of 2011.  Tornado season  included a record setting string of major severe weather disasters in  Alabama and other states not to mention the devastation of Joplin, Missouri. […]

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