The 1925 'Tri-State' Tornado

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

On March 18, 1925, a tornado touched down near Ellington, Missouri, just after 1pm. The tornado stayed on the ground for the next three and a half hours, moving through three states and over two major rivers covering 219-miles.

It was the longest continuous path for any tornado in recorded history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The 1925 storm, which was later dubbed the "Tri-State Tornado," was classified as an F-5 storm, the strongest on the scale, meaning its winds reached at least 261 mph. At its largest, the Tri-State Tornado's damage path was as wide as 12 football fields. It killed 695 people and injured 2,000 others.

After it crossed the Wabash River from Illinois into Indiana, the Tri-State Tornado finally dissipated after causing extensive damage in Griffin, Owensville and Princeton.

In Murphysboro Ill., 1,200 buildings were destroyed and 234 people were killed, and in Gorham Ill., every building in town was either destroyed or badly damaged. In total, 15,000 homes were demolished by the tornado in all three states.

The tornado struck in an era when the US Weather Bureau did not issue severe weather watches or warnings. And during that time, the Weather Bureau had a policy not to use the word “tornado” in weather forecasts to avoid causing panic. The official forecast for March 18, 1925, called for “rains and strong shifting winds.” So no one expected or was prepared for a tornado to occur that afternoon.

The size, speed and path of Friday's long-track tornado will be determined in the coming days. And it likely will be studied for decades, like the Tri-State Tornado, on which a formal paper was published in 2013, 88 years after it happened.

Initial reports indicate one of Friday's tornadoes touched down in northeastern Arkansas and then stayed on the ground for some 223 miles before retreating to the sky in Kentucky's Breckinridge County.