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.
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’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, www.marthahutchens.com
After saving for years, Dot Finley's brother finally paid a down payment for his own land—only to be drafted into World War II. Now it is up to her to ensure that he doesn't lose his dream while fighting for everyone else's. No one is likely to help a sharecropper's family.
Nate Armstrong has all the land he can manage, especially if he wants any time to spend with his four-year-old daughter. Still, he can't stand by and watch the Finley family lose their dream. Especially after he learns that the banker's nephew has arranged to have their loan called.
Necessity forces them to work together. Can love grow along with crops?