If you’re from the midwest, there are just certain things you know and understand and one of those things is tornadoes. You grew up having tornado drills, you know what a tornado siren sounds like, and you know that you don’t need to panic unless the sky turns green. But did you know that it took a massive tri-state tornado for tornado sirens to become a thing? Let’s dive into it.
The year was 1925 and as you can guess from the name, this tornado was so enormous that it affected three states (Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana). And as you can imagine a tornado this size caused a lot of tragedy as well, as it made its way through countless towns, it destroyed the lives of nearly 700 people.
The tragedy began around 1 PM local time in a town known as Ellington, Missouri. The weather forecast had been normal up until this point, but there was a reason for that. The weather forecast didn’t tell of any severe storms and especially didn’t dare utter the word tornado because not only was tornado forecasting not really a thing, the word ‘tornado’ had been banned from weather forecasts since the 19th century to “prevent panic”. The storm moved quickly through Missouri, eventually crossing the Mississippi, moving into Illinois and doing the most damage here killing 600 people, eventually crossing the Wabash River, then moving into Indiana, and eventually dissipating around 4:30 PM.
The winds reached about 300 MPS classifying this tornado as an EF5, the strongest tornado out there; it lasted 3.5 hours and traveled 219 miles, setting records in both duration and distance. Aside from the nearly 700 the storm left dead, there were another 2,000 surviving injured survivors, and even more folks left without food and homes.
Now, there are no photographs nor is there any video footage of this tragic storm, however, it was described as an “amorphous rolling fog” and “boiling clouds on the ground”. Over the years meteorologists have argued a number of theories. One is that there is no possible way a single tornado could have continuously gone on for so long and remained so strong throughout, another theory is that it was actually a tornado family that made its way through the area meaning there were multiple single tornadoes, and the most recent study concludes that “the 174 mi (280 km) segment from central Madison County, Missouri to Pike County, Indiana, was the result of one continuous tornado, and that the 151 mi (243 km) segment from central Bollinger County, Missouri to western Pike County, Indiana, was very likely the result of a single continuous tornado.” (source)