On the evening of May 22, 2011, the costliest tornado in the history of the United States produced catastrophic damage in Joplin, Missouri. The EF-5 tornado produced winds over 200 mph, bending and twisting metal, leveling buildings and piling cars on top of each other.
The weather set up set the stage for a very active day for that region, as the environment was primed for severe storm development. An area of low pressure was approaching from the west with a dry line trailing south along with a cold front. There were three different air masses present ahead of the low-pressure system. Where those air masses met is referred to as the triple point. Conditions were ripe in that area for tornado development. Joplin was, unfortunately, perfectly positioned in this region for a severe weather event.
At 5:17 pm, a tornado warning was issued for a rotating supercell. 17 minutes later, a tornado touched down in the western city limits of Joplin. The tornado was on the ground for nearly 40 minutes producing a 22-mile-long damage path.
At the tornado’s most intense moments, winds were in excess of 200 mph and were a mile wide. It was in the locations where the most intense winds occurred, that buildings were destroyed and metal beams were bent and twisted.
Above is a look at some of the images of the catastrophic damage that Joplin observed. St. John’s Medical Center took a direct hit from the tornado. Cars were tossed around and piled on top of each other, with many having debris pierced through them. Large metal support beams within the parking garage were curved, twisted and distorted.
Some other locations that saw significant damage were Joplin High School, East Joplin Middle School and St. Mary’s Catholic Church. These structures experienced significant structural damage or were destroyed. At the church, the only thing left standing was the steel cross and a small portion of the metal roof. At the schools, walls collapsed and the middle school was destroyed.
The EF-5 tornado that ripped through the Joplin community claimed the lives of 158 people, making it the seventh-deadliest tornado in U.S. History. The deadliest tornado was the Tri-State tornado on March 18, 1925. There were also over 1,000 reported injuries directly associated with the tornado.
While it may not rank as the deadliest, it still remains to be the costliest tornado in history when nearly 7,000 homes and buildings were destroyed totaling $2.8 trillion. To put the Joplin tornado in perspective, the second-costliest storm was the deadly Tuscaloosa tornado on April 27, 2011. The damage cost associated with that tornado was $2.4 trillion.
2023 Tennessee Valley Tornado Update:
Here in North Alabama, specifically in the National Weather Service of Huntsville Forecast Office area, there have been a total of 13 tornadoes so far this year. These are the most tornadoes in this area since 2020 and we still have plenty of 2023 to go. The total tornado count for all of both 2022 and 2021 was eight, which we quickly passed in early March. The worst tornado so far in our area was an EF3 tornado that tracked through the Hazel Green Community northeast before lifting near Elora, Tennessee. Here in the Tennesee Valley, tornadoes can happen any time of the year but they are more common in the spring and fall.
The state of Alabama as a whole has seen a total of 54 tornadoes so far this year. Stay with the Weather Authority when severe weather strikes for the most up-to-date information.