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May's 10 Worst Tornado Outbreaks

Nick Wiltgen
Published: May 1, 2013

5. May 31, 1985: Niles, Ohio / Wheatland, Pa.

Ohio Dept. of Transportation, District 4

Park Plaza in Niles, Ohio, was reduced to rubble by an F5 tornado May 31, 1985.

30 tornadoes (U.S.) | 76 deaths | 876 injuries | $1.22 billion

While this outbreak produced fewer tornadoes than any outbreak on our list, it was a very potent one. Of the 30 tornadoes, 20 were "significant" (F2 or stronger) and at least six were at least F4 strength - including a monster F5 that affected parts of two states.

That F5 started near Charlestown in northeast Ohio and tracked 47 miles, causing severe damage in several communities. Newton Falls, Ohio, was virtually leveled. In Niles, Ohio, the Top of the Strip Mall was demolished by F5 winds, causing most of the eight Ohio fatalities.

This twister crossed the state line into Pennsylvania and slammed Wheatland with F5 damage. To day this is the only (E)F5 tornado in Pennsylvania history. Seven people died, and the town's economy was virtually wiped out as 95% of Wheatland's industry was destroyed, taking 500 jobs with it in a town of barely 1,000 people.

All of the F4 tornadoes on the U.S. side of this outbreak were either partially or entirely in the state of Pennsylvania. One of these tracked 69 miles and destroyed some 88,000 trees as it reached a maximum width of over 2 miles.

More tornadoes hit Pennsylvania on this day alone than had ever previously struck the Keystone State in an entire year.

The outbreak also affected southern Ontario province of Canada, where about a dozen tornadoes struck, killing at least a dozen people, the worst tornado event since the April 1974 Superoutbreak.

Next, we head back to Oklahoma.


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