I need your help to document the deadliest tornado ever 🌪

I need you to become a paying supporter so I can write a book.

Specifically, I want to write the world’s first in-depth narrative story about the Tri-State Tornado.

That specific tornado shatters a lot of records. It is the second-deadliest in the world, and the deadliest in US history. It tore across Missouri, Southern Illinois, and southern Indiana in March 1925. Other tornados happened in the same unsettled region that day, including in Kentucky, Tennessee, and much of the south from Louisiana to Georgia. But none of those events captured the nation’s attention quite like the “Tri-State Tornado”.

March 2025 marks the 100 year anniversary of the weather event. Much of the details surrounding it are becoming lost to history, but the impact of the tornado has not. Schoolchildren still write reports and do science fair projects about this tornado, but they’re learning and citing the clinical figures. Like how many dollars in damage it did. This isn’t great.

To put it the tornado in perspective:

  • The scant few surviving children who remain today are likely near the end of their lives today. Their accounts are soon to be lost to history.
  • This tornado wiped entire families and generations from the earth.
  • Several schools had their roofs and walls torn off or blown on to students. The deadliest tornadic death event at a school in US history happened in De Soto, Illinois. Much of our tornado preparedness you and I remember from school came from this single event.
  • Garrett Crews was a teenager in De Soto, Illinois when the tornado hit his high school. He recalled, “Down in the northeast corner … there was a girls’ toilet. And I recall seeing a girl come out of the toilet — the wind picked her up, just head-high or so, and blew her more or less straight to the fence on the north side of our school building. She was found dead in the fence.”
  • The economy in some towns never recovered and we still feel this today. The economic gap after mills and factories were so completely destroyed many people just up and left and never came back.
  • In towns where the tornado touched down, few buildings were left untouched. But in Annapolis, Missouri, a home owned by an elderly woman was left unscathed. The woman, however, had to survive a new threat menacing what was left: devouring fires fueled by strewn furnaces and boilers.
  • President Coolidge, in an era before FEMA, sent his condolences and a $100 donation to the Red Cross. It was up to the Red Cross to administer aid.
  • Companies around today had an immediate impact. Upon hearing of the damage from Princeton, Indiana and points in Southern Illinois, William Fortune, director of Red Cross Relief at Indianapolis, received a telegram requesting 600 tetanus shots. Fortune spun into action and contacted Eli Lilly and Co.. Lilly called in their entire force to prepare the life-saving fluid around-the-clock. With relief trains clogging what rail lines were left in the area, Fortune contacted Brigadier Dwight Aultman, in charge of nearby Fort Benjamin Harrison. His request: can he take an airplane loaded with serums to the southern Indiana and Illinois towns in dire need? It was the first emergency aid flight in US history.

The existing books on that topic don’t delve much into the science of the weather. How did the resulting air masses converge where it did? Has anything like it happened since? We hear about the Palm Sunday tornadoes, and the 2011 Super Outbreak in the south. But the Tri-State still breaks records, was still stronger, and deadlier.

And no existing book accounts for the stories of the people involved. Whereas most books focus on where the storm hit and what infrastructure costs were, I’m much more interested in people’s response.

The train depot at Annapolis, Missouri was hit by the storm. The booth ticket agent W.C. Gunther sat in remained intact. But the waiting room for patrons was not. He used his cash drawer to carry water to extinguish fires threatening the lives of the patrons trapped within.

And why did so many farmers—most of whom were surely adept at recognizing danger in the air—pay so little attention to the storm in the middle of the afternoon? One reason might be because at a mile wide, the tornado was so violent and expansive the rain, debris, and dust it blew up just looked like a “big, foggy sky”. They had no idea they were staring straight at a tornado until some, like Jackson County, Illinois Sheriff’s Deputy George Boland got out of his patrol car, walked into the street, looked up, and swiftly got sucked into the twister never to be seen again.

An entire nation mobilized in ways we barely imagine today. Railroad companies scrambled specials where people along the route loaded them with whatever supplies they had lying around. Everything from shoes to cabbages. On their way back, newfangled refrigerator cars would be loaded again. This time with the bodies of victims.

Radio networks appealed to anyone with special skills in medicine or nursing to load up on nearby relief trains. The first left Chicago at 1 pm the day after, organized by the Chicago Herald and Examiner. The special was packed with reporters, two hundred doctors and nurses, and four cars full of supplies sufficient to establish a tent city. The iron hospital was placed under the command of Dr. Thomas A. Carter. Dr. Carter had no idea he was going to find hospitals so overrun with patients many had to seek medical care as much as two or three hundred miles away.

Showing my work with supporter exclusives

This is a major project. The stories I’ve collected so far took hours of reading and research. The volume of information is immense and I need to immerse myself even more.

Virtually every newspaper in the country sent a reporter for weeks after the storm and I need to read all of them. And I need to interview survivors and their children for stories, call and visit every historical society for records across three states, and sift through countless photos, journals, and diary entries.

Plus, I need to become a semi-pro meteorologist to understand how so much of nature’s fury converged with the force of God’s own thunder in this one narrow track.

Most nonfiction books start with a proposal to a publisher. Unless you’re a no-name like me. I have to submit a proposal and drafts in order to get any attention.

If this story sounds interesting to you and you want to read a book that makes the movie Twister look like a cloudy Friday afternoon, I need you to become a Supporter. It’ll help me, you know, live. And help me show support for the project.

In exchange:

  • I’ll share exclusive snippets and field notes I find along the way.
  • With enough support, I’m planning on recording a special podcast series to talk about the effort, what challenges I and the thousands of people in the path of this tornado are up against.
  • My tentative goal is to work on a pace of about a chapter a month after more significant research is compiled.
  • You’ll have my undying gratitude. Assuming this book gets published, I’ll mention your name in the acknowledgements and secure a first-edition for you.

You can become a supporter here. If I can get about $500 a month in recurring support, I can make this work and will be beyond thrilled.

If you choose to be a Super Nice Supporter you can set a custom amount, even up to and beyond $100! You can cancel anytime, and I’ll work to make sure you don’t feel like this is money wasted.

If I never hit the fundraising goal, I’ll at least put together a short story and be honest in my progress.

Do you have information on the tornado?

If you have photos or family stories from grandparents or other survivors of this twister, contact me.


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About JUSTIN HARTER

Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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