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.

Featured Blogs

Incredible Rainstorm in Southern France

By Christopher C. Burt
September 19, 2014

Torrential rainfall Tuesday through Thursday morning (September 16-18) in the Languedoc Region of southern France has resulted in flooding that has killed at least four people with two others still missing. The rainfall rates during the storm were phenomenal.

Edouard Dying; Fung-Wong Floods Manilla

By Dr. Jeff Masters
September 19, 2014

The Atlantic's strongest and longest-lived named storm of 2014, Edouard, is near the end of its life. Passage over waters cooler than 23°C (73°F) have resulted in the loss of all of Edouard's heavy thunderstorms, and satellite images show that Edouard is just a swirl of low clouds. Edouard will likely be declared dead by Saturday morning.

Live Blog: Tracking Hurricane Arthur as it Approaches North Carolina Coast

By Shaun Tanner
July 3, 2014

This is a live blog set up to provide the latest coverage on Hurricane Arthur as it threatens the North Carolina Coast. Check back often to see what the latest is with Arthur. The most recent updates are at the top.

Tropical Terminology

By Stu Ostro
June 30, 2014

Here is some basic, fundamental terminology related to tropical cyclones. Rather than a comprehensive and/or technical glossary, this represents the essence of the meaning & importance of some key, frequently used terms.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.