Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The Tri-State Tornado of 1925

by Martha Hutchens

Deposit Photos

In December of 2021, a tornado outbreak so severe that it was predicted two days ahead of time hit the heartland of America. Briefly, meteorologists believed that a single tornado in this system had crossed four states, making it the first quad-state tornado in history. Eighty-nine people died in this storm, including 57 in Mayfield, KY, and 2 in Southeast Missouri near my parents’ home. Needless to say, I was watching the weather rather closely that night.

It turns out that this tornado supercell, as unimaginably violent as it was, did not have a single tornado that crossed four states. It was, in fact, two tornados that together laid down a path of devastation 250 miles long.

So, the tri-state tornado, at 219 miles, is still the longest single tornado path in history. It began in southeast Missouri, crossed the entire state of Illinois, and entered into Indiana before it dissipated. Its ground speed was 73 mph. Its path was over a mile wide at some places.

Deposit Photos

In Missouri, this tornado hit 7 towns, killed at least 12 people, leveled 90% of one town, and damaged at least two schools in other areas. In Illinois, it hit 9 towns, killed 588 people (including 33 deaths at a single school,) almost completely leveling Gorham, Murpheysboro, and De Soto, Illinois. Finally, in Indiana, it killed 95 people, and completely destroyed two more towns.

This single tornado held nearly every single record that a tornado can have for a long time. Fastest, widest, longest, most destruction, most people killed, most children killed at a school, most deaths in a single community—this storm was a monster. One of the strangest things about it was that it didn’t look like a tornado. Eyewitnesses described an “amorphous rolling fog” or “boiling clouds on the ground.” In fact, several farm owners were killed in this storm, an unusual occurrence for this normally weather-wise group. Now, nearly every record has been eclipsed, but not by any single tornado. The only record the Tri-State Tornado still holds is path length, and that has been questioned.

This leads to the thing I find most interesting about this tornado. My husband has always been fascinated by severe storms, so I have watched many documentaries on the subject. One documentary spent most of its time discussing this very storm. During that documentary, many experts claimed that this could not have been a single tornado. It was simply too long. Tornados did not stay on the ground for over 200 miles. Several other historical long-track tornados had proven to be tornado families. At the time of this documentary, no tornado had a confirmed track anywhere near this length. Only four tornadoes had confirmed tracks over 124 miles. Until December 2021. While this did not turn out to be a single, 250-mile tornado, the longest did turn out to be slightly over 165 miles, closer to the tri-state record than we have seen since 1925.


Martha Hutchens is a transplanted southerner who lives in Los Alamos, NM where she is surrounded by history so unbelievable it can only be true. She won the 2019 Golden Heart for Romance with Religious and Spiritual Elements. A former analytical chemist and retired homeschool mom, Martha is frequently found working on her latest knitting project when she isn’t writing.

Martha’s current novella is set in southeast Missouri during World War II. It is free to her newsletter subscribers. You can subscribe to my newsletter at my website,

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  1. Thanks for posting this morning. One tornado or several at once, the devastation must be have been horrific to witness.

  2. this is so interesting about the tornados. our son (now 38) has always been interested in the weather also. at one time he wanted to be a meteorologist. after finding out what they all do all the time, it became not so interesting. but he is still very interested in weather and loves to follow the patterns. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net