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.

Featured Blogs

Atlantic Tropical Depression #2 Weakens to TROF as it Heads for Caribbean

By Dr. Jeff Masters
July 23, 2014

Warmest Days of the Year for the U.S.

By Christopher C. Burt
July 9, 2014

NOAA recently produced an interesting map showing when the hottest day of the year is likely to occur in the contiguous U.S. Complimenting this map is one produced by Brian Brettschneider of Borealis Scientific, LLC, which illustrates the date of summer’s midpoint (peak of summer average temperatures) which was reproduced in my blog posted last August. Brian has also produced maps of such for the Fall, Winter and Spring seasons. There is also some other great material from Brian herein.

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.