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The Deadliest Tornado in U.S. History Blindsided the Midwest in 1925

April 5, 2019 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Overturned trains. Timber found miles away from where it had been stored. Trees felled. Fires and close calls. A letter that flew almost 100 miles. On a normal day in the Midwest in 1925, any one of these stories would have been worthy of front-page coverage. But March 18, 1925 was a day like no other the region had ever seen.

That day, a huge outbreak of tornadoes marched across a swath of the Midwest and Southeast. The largest of them all—the deadliest tornado in United States history—laid waste to parts of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Now known as the Tri-State Tornado, it turned March 18 into a day of gruesome destruction and bizarre survival stories.

It was a rare incident of the most dangerous and destructive type of tornado, and packed newspapers throughout the nation with tales of how nature’s terrifying wrath had uprooted life in sleepy towns with names like Biehle, Murphysboro, and Poseyville—in a time when meteorologists were forbidden from forecasting tornados or even using the word “tornado.”

Sisters Minnie and Rose Hawkins sit amongst the wreckage of their home in Murphysboro, Illinois, in the wake of the 1925 tri-state tornado.

The ban on the word had been in effect since the 1880s, when weather forecasters first began developing methods of predicting tornadoes. At the time, forecasting was in its infancy, and officials worried that meteorologists could not provide adequate forecasts of how a tornado might behave. They also underestimated the public, writes weather historian Marlene Bradford, and felt that telephone operators might panic if they were required to relay news of upcoming storms. “Meteorologists appeared to have reached a consensus that forecasting tornadoes would do more harm than good,” Bradford writes, and the Weather Bureau had an outright ban on the word until 1950.

READ MORE: How the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 Became the Deadliest U.S. Natural Disaster

Nonetheless, such storms were common in the Midwest and on the Great Plains, where thunderstorms and temperature instability feed tornadoes. But though people in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana were used to storms and tornadoes, they had never seen anything like the storm that developed the afternoon of March 18, 1925.

A small tornado that touched down near Ellington, Missouri …read more

Source: HISTORY

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