Struck Twice: America's F5 Tornado Towns

Nick Wiltgen
Published: May 29, 2013

America's Tornado Magnets

Tornadoes are rare.

Even though hundreds of tornadoes touch down every year across the country, the odds you'll actually be near one are not very great. And the odds you'll actually be hit by one are even lower.

Even in the most tornado-prone zone of the country, a region covering parts of central and western Oklahoma and southern Kansas, a given point on the Earth can expect just one direct strike from a tornado every 1,585 years, on average, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

While the odds increase when talking about larger zones such as neighborhoods and incorporated cities, it's still not as common to see tornadoes as you might think. Countless small communities in Tornado Alley have gone decades without taking a direct hit.

On the other hand, other towns have been notoriously unlucky. Codell, Kan., was famously hit by tornadoes on May 20 in three consecutive years: 1916, 1917, 1918.

Then there are the truly unlucky towns -- the ones that have been hit by multiple violent tornadoes, ranked 4 or 5 on the Fujita Scale (and since 2007, the Enhanced Fujita Scale).

Murphysboro, Ill., is one of those towns. It was devastated by the nation's worst tornado in history, the F5 Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925. Thirty-two years later it took a direct hit from an F4 on Dec. 18, 1957; both tornadoes also struck the neighboring towns of Gorham and De Soto.

One Kansas town very nearly got hit by two F5 tornadoes: Elmont, just outside Topeka, was devastated by an F5 on June 5, 1917; then, on May 19, 1960, an F5 lifted just west of town before the parent cell put down an F4 twister that grazed the northern edge of Elmont.

The Multiple F5 Club

Sorting through an exhaustive list of F5 and EF5 tornadoes since 1880, compiled by Dr. Greg Forbes and complemented by the unofficial Bible of tornadoes, Tom Grazulis's book Significant Tornadoes: 1680-1991, we managed to find just nine communities in the entire country that have been struck by more than one documented F5 or EF5 tornado.

As you are no doubt aware by now, the newest addition to that list just happened recently. The EF5 that struck Moore, Okla. on May 20 came barely 14 years after an F5 tore through that same Oklahoma City suburb on May 3, 1999. As both tornadoes also affected areas within the city limits of Oklahoma City and Newcastle, Okla., those communities also join the exclusive ranks of America's unluckiest tornado towns.

So that accounts for three of our nine unlucky towns. On the next page, we'll see another combination of top-intensity twisters that also put three American towns in this unfortunate club.

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