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The Great 1925 Tri-State Tornado

Muncie Morning Star newspaper showing "Latest Tornado Death List 848" as a headline.
Headlines after the storm gripped the entire nation. It would take days before a final death and injury tally was recorded.

A new book about the Great Tri-State Tornado of 1925 is coming on July 15, 2024.

On March 18, 1925 an incredibly rare tornado of unimaginable size, scope, speed, and power stormed over Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. Covering 219 miles in 3.5 hours at an average speed of 62 MPH, 19 communities in 13 counties were nearly or completely obliterated within seconds.

The Tri-State Tornado was massive, at over 3/4 of a mile wide on average, with some accounts at 1 mile wide. It reached a top of speed of 73 MPH forward motion with winds believed to be in excess of 300 MPH at times. What was described then as “The Great American Tornado” is now known as the Tri-State Tornado of 1925.

This single tornado holds numerous records for:

  • Longest track at 219 miles
  • Longest time-on-ground at 3.5 hours
  • Deadliest tornadic death event at schools
  • Deadliest overall
  • Even the lowest pressure ever recorded on a barograph at 28.87″ in West Frankfort, Illinois.

For 3.5 hours of continuous devastation, the people of the Midwest were caught entirely by surprise in the middle of a random Wednesday in March. Schools, buses, offices, restaurants, and homes turned from safe places to live and work into tombs and morgues within seconds.

The Great Tri-State Tornado by Justin Harter
Cover of the Report of the Chief Weather Bureau in 1925-26
The National Weather Bureau barred the use of the word “tornado” in 1925.
  • Babies were torn from their mother’s arms in Annapolis, Missouri.
  • Kids fell through collapsing school buildings in De Soto and Murphysboro, Illinois.
  • Children and families were blown up and out of their houses into fields and ponds in Gorham, Illinois.
  • Fires raged block-by-block in Princeton, Indiana.
  • In Griffin, Indiana an entire town blown down was washed away after torrential floods encircled the city, cutting it off from aid for days.

The response and recovery was swift, but not in any way recognizable to us today. The economic toll is still noticeable in cities and towns in the storm’s track today, 100 years later.

No other historic event has captivated me as much as the stories of fear, heroism in our nation’s response, and nature’s unbridled fury quite like this one.

I hope you’ll love reading it as much as I enjoyed writing about it,

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The Tri-State Tornado is America’s single deadliest tornado


Estimated damage cost if the event happened today, including medical and long-term rebuilding efforts.


People killed, including 234 in Murphysboro. The most of any North American tornado and the most of any local community on record.


Injuries, with hundreds taken to hospitals as far away as St. Louis, Chicago, Evansville, and Louisville for treatment.

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