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Top Ten Deadliest Oklahoma Tornadoes (1875-Present)

 

Rank City/Town Date F-Scale Fatalities Injuries
1 Woodward 04/09/1947 F5 116 782

The most deadly tornado to ever strike within the borders of the state of Oklahoma occurred on Wednesday, April 9, 1947 in the city of Woodward. The Woodward tornadic supercell thunderstorm began in the Texas Panhandle during the afternoon of April 9, 1947, and produced at least six tornadoes along a 220-mile path that stretched from White Deer, TX (northeast of Amarillo) to St. Leo, KS (west of Wichita). While it is still officially attributed to have traveled in a single long track through 3 states, work done by Tom Grazulis of the Tornado Project, and research scientist Don Burgess indicates that a separate tornadooccurred near White Deer, TX, and 4 or more tornadoes occurred near the Oklahoma state line and into Kansas. In addition, the Woodward tornado may have begun closer to Pampa, TX, but there is no corroberating evidence to confirm a damage path in the area.

What is known is that the violent tornado that struck Woodward had a confirmed path that started 3 miles northwest of Canadian, TX. The tornado moved northeast, and continued on the ground continuously for about 98 miles, before ending in Woods County, Oklahoma about 10 miles west of Alva. The tornado was massive, up to 1.8 miles wide, and traveled at forward speeds of about 50 miles per hour. It first struck Glazier and Higgins in the Texas Panhandle, devastating both towns and producing at least 69 fatalities in Texas before crossing into Oklahoma. In Ellis County, Oklahoma, the tornado did not strike any towns, passing to the southeast of Shattuck, Gage, and Fargo. Even though no towns were struck, nearly 60 farms and ranches were destroyed and 8 people were killed with 42 more injured. Moving into Woodward County, one death was reported near Tangier.

The violent tornado (F5 on the Fujita Scale) unleashed its worst destruction on Woodward, striking the city without warning at 8:42 pm CST. Over 100 city blocks on the west and north sides of the city were destroyed with lesser damage in the southeast portion of the town. Confusion and fires reigned in the aftermath with over 1000 homes and businesses destroyed, at least 107 people killed in and around Woodward, and nearly 1000 additional injuries. Normal communications between Woodward and the outside world were not restored for some time and there was great uncertainty as to victim status. In fact, the bodies of three children were never identified, and one child who survived the tornado was lost and never reunited with her family. Help for Woodward came from many places, including units from as far away as Oklahoma City and Wichita. Beyond Woodward, the tornado lost some intensity, but still destroyed 36 homes and injured 30 people in Woods County before it dissipated. The supercell thunderstorm would produce at least another 4 tornadoes near the Oklahoma State line and in southern Kansas.

In all, at least 116 lives were lost in Oklahoma on that fateful night with another 68 deaths occurring in Texas. Never before or since has a tornado been so costly to human life in the Sooner State. Another 782 people were in Oklahoma with 198 injuries occurring in Texas. Damages were estimated at $1.5 million in Texas and $8 million in Oklahoma. The tornado destroyed 507 structures and damaged 803 more in Oklahoma. A  total of 119 structures were destroyed and another 117 were damaged in Texas.

Because of the Woodward tornado and other devastating tornadoes in the late 1940's and early 1950's, and because of new technologies available after World War II, the Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) began a tornado watch and warning program in 1953. Since then, the warning system composed of the National Weather Service, local civil preparedness agencies, and the media has continued to mature and provide better and better information to citizens to help them protect themselves from tornadoes. Because of the strengths of the warning system, tornado death tolls in Oklahoma, and nationwide, have dropped considerably with each passing decade and, hopefully, will continue to decrease.

2 Snyder 05/10/1905 F5 97* 58*

This tornado developed about 2-3 miles southeast of the Frances school house (~3 miles south-southwest of Humphreys) in old Greer County (now Jackson County). Homes were swept away about 14 miles southeast of Altus. From its inception, this tornado moved east-northeast crossing the North Fork of the Red River near the mouth of Otter Creek. The tornado followed very close to Otter Creek curving to the northeast through what is now northern Tillman County (but was still part of Kiowa County at the time). Three people were killed about 6 miles southwest of Snyder. As the tornado continued northeast it struck the city of Snyder at around 8:45 pm CST.

The tornado struck the Snyder beginning in the southwest corner of town and destroyed or damaged homes and other buidlings west of Main Street and and from 6th Street northward through the city. No buildings north of the railroad were left standing. After moving through Snyder, the tornado continued northeasterwardt, destroying a couple of small residences within two miles of the townsite, then lifted about three miles northeast of Snyder.

Note: This tornado was originally thought to have originated near Olustee in Jackson County, but a detailed review and analysis of the data by the NWS Norman staff showed that another tornado probably formed near El Dorado, then crossed over the Red River into northern Wilbarger County in Texas before recrossing the Red River. This tornado then moved northeast hitting the town of Lock before disappating south-southeast of Altus. A new tornado, the tornado that hit Snyder,  then formed in southeastern Jackson County southeast of the first tornado and then crossed into Kiowa County. This tornado moved along Otter Creek before hitting the town of Snyder. A map of the reanalysis is available here.

* Current "official" numbers.

3 Peggs 05/02/1920 F4 71 100

This violent tornado began 2 miles southwest of Peggs, moved northeast, and cut a 3-mile-long, half-mile-wide swath of devastation that included the entire town of 250 people. Around 8:30 pm CST, a loud roar was heard by residents just before the tornado hit Peggs at 8:35 pm CST. The town was almost completely destroyed with only 7 buildings remaining partially intact. Only a small, wood house, used as the city jail and located next to a smashed concrete store, was still standing. A cement block schoolhouse that was located west of Peggs had only partly standing walls after the tornado hit it. The tornado traveled at least as far as the Illinois River to the east of Peggs where a house was demolished. Wheat fields were scoured and trees were carried away by the storm, and scores of livestock were killed or injured. Eleven members of one family were killed by the tornado, and in one smashed house a total of 20 mud-covered bodies were recovered. A total of 71 persons were killed and another 100 were injured by the storm. Thus, nearly 30% of the town's population was killed and another 40% were injured.

4 Antlers 04/12/1945 F5 69 353

This violent tornado was part of an outbreak of devastating severe weather and flooding that occurred in Oklahoma on April 12-15, 1945, and was one of the 5 violent twisters that hit the state on April 12th. The tornado touched down at 5:30 pm CST in about 5 miles southwest of Antlers near the Hall Community in Pushmataha County. The tornado moved to the northeast and struck Antlers, passing from the southwest corner of the town through the northeast portion. It produced a damage swath a half mile wide through both business and residential areas, and devastated about a third of the town. Some areas were swept completely clean of all debris. The tornado then continued for another 20+ miles, striking the One Creek area before dissipating near Nashoba, OK.

The tornado killed 69 persons and injured 353 more people. A total of 379 homes and 254 buildings were destroyed, and 200 more homes and buildings were damaged. Approximately 1500 people were made homeless by the tornado. Damage estimates were at $1.5 million. This tornado might have garnered more state and national media attention had it not occurred on the same day as the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

5 Pryor 04/27/1942 F4 52 350

This tornado touched down 5 miles south of Claremore at about 3:15 pm CST, and moved storm east-northeast through rural parts of Rogers and Mayes Counties before taking aim on the wartime boomtown of Pryor (Pryor Lake). At 3:45 pm CST, the tornado entered Pryor and traveled directly through the main portion of the town, including the principal business section. Its violent winds demolished dozens of frame buildings and several brick buildings, including the First Baptist Church. After leaving Pryor, the tornado caused damage to the northeast of the town, completely wrecking everything in its path before it lifted about 3 miles northeast of Pryor. The damage swath was a quarter of a mile in width, and about a third of Pryor was destroyed by the tornado.

Torrential rains accompanied the tornado and water knee deep surged down the main street. Communication and power lines were wiped out completely for a distance of 16 miles around Pryor and floodwaters interfered greatly with relief and rescue work and resulted in the closing of some of the highways leading into the city.

Several airplane loads of doctors and nurses were rushed from Tulsa and Muskogee to care for the injured. The Oklahoma state highway patrol officials took an active part in the rescue work, and funds for which were made immediately available by the Governor and Federal officials. Hundreds of cars and trucks as well as several pushers and cranes were rushed to the scene by the U.S. Army and the Du Pout Powder Company from the Federal munitions project a few miles south of Pryor. These parties then assisted in search and rescue activities and debris removal.

A total of 49 people were killed in Pryor, with another 3 persons killed to the west-southwest of the town. A total of 350 people were injured with 192 of those being hospitalized. Damages totaled $2.3 million and 500 buildings were damaged or destroyed.

6 Bridge Creek-Newcastle-Moore-Oklahoma City 05/03/1999 F5 36 583

This violent, long-lived tornado was the most infamous of nearly 60 tornadoes that struck central Oklahoma during an unprecedented outbreak on this Monday afternoon and evening of May 3, 1999. The tornado was the 9th of 14 tornadoes produced by a supercell thunderstorm during the tornado outbreak. It formed around 526 PM CST about 2 miles south-southwest of Amber, and grew rapidly to monstrous proportions as it headed NE, paralleling I-44. It moved across Bridge Creek and rural parts of northwest Newcastle, causing continuous F4 and sporadic F5 damage. The tornado was estimated to be a mile in diameter in this area.

It weakened to F2/F3 intensity and narrowed to less than 1/4 mile in width as it crossed I-44 and the Canadian River northeast of Newcastle and entered far south Oklahoma City SW of 149th and May Ave. around 612 PM CST. But it regained F4/F5 intensity and widened again to 1/2 to occasionally 3/4 mile as it moved northeast across south Oklahoma City, entering Moore just west and north of 12th and Santa Fe.

Still moving northeast and still producing F4 and occasional F5 damage, it crossed I-35 at the Shields Blvd. junction and moved into northeast Moore, at which point it weakened slightly to F3/sporadic F4 intensity and began a gradual turn to the left. This turn took the tornado more to the north-northeast as it crossed I-240 between Bryant Ave. and Sunnylane Rd. It crossed southeastern Oklahoma City and entered Del City as an F4 tornado, width 1/3 to 1/2 mile, along SE 44th between Sunnylane and Sooner Rds, and continued north-northeast to the northwestern part of Tinker Air force Base, near SE 29th and Sooner Rd.

Continuing to turn slowly, it moved almost due north but maintained F4 intensity as it crossed I-40 just east of Sooner Rd. and continued north to between SE 15th and Reno Ave. The tornado then weakened rapidly to F0/F1 intensity as it crossed Reno Ave., and at 648 PM CST dissipated about 3 blocks north of Reno between Sooner Rd. and Air Depot Blvd.

Totals from this tornado include 36 direct fatalities (12 in Bridge Creek, 1 in Newcastle, 9 in southern and southeastern Oklahoma City, 5 in Moore, 6 in Del City, and 3 in Midwest City), 5 indirect fatalities during or shortly after the tornado, 583 direct injuries, numerous indirect injuries (too many to count), 1800 homes destroyed, and 2500 homes damaged.

7 Oklahoma City 06/12/1942 F4 35 100

This was the most deadly tornado to strike the Oklahoma City area until the May 3, 1999 F5 tornado. The funnel cut a twisting, erratic path through the southwest part of Oklahoma City. Movement was generally to the northeast, but it often "cut to the east or west". Thirty-five people were killed and 100 person injured, with 29 people being hospitalized, and a total of 110 families were affected by the tornado. A total of 73 homes were destroyed and another 31 damaged, and many outbuildings were destroyed. Numerous automobiles and other vehicles were destroyed or damaged. Most of the damage occurred in the 27-29th Street areas between Portland and Goff Avenues. Damage estimates for this tornado were $500, 000.

8 Cleveland County 04/25/1893 F4 33 ~100

This massive tornado, reportedly over a mile and a quarter wide at one point, moved northeast along a 15-mile path from northwest of Newcastle through what now is part of Moore, and swept away at least 30 homes. Thirty-three people were killed with 11 people dying in one home, 6 in a second home and 4 in a third home. This tornado was one of at least 5 strong/violent tornadoes in central Oklahoma on this day, but the only one within the immediate Oklahoma City area. The local Norman paper reported that residents of Cleveland County were "scared as they had never been scared before." In addition, there was a "general scampering about the county" and a "search for caves was generally inaugerated."

9 Newcastle-South Oklahoma City-Moore 05/20/2013 EF5 24 -

The violent Newcastle-Oklahoma City-Moore tornado was first observed developing at 1:56 pm CST in McClain County about one-half mile south of State Highway 37 in northwest Newcastle to the east of Rockwell Avenue. EF-4 damage was observed soon after the tornado crossed State Highway 37. The tornado continued to expand in size as it approached the Canadian River and moved into Cleveland County.

At 2:04 pm CST, the tornado moved into Cleveland County from McClain County as it moved northeast across the Canadian River near Interstate 44. The tornado then turned more east and then east-northeast after crossing U.S. Interstate Highway 44. EF-4 damage was again observed as it began to move into progressively higher density residential areas approaching May Avenue.

The center of the large tornado path passed near SW 149th Street and Western Avenue. After crossing Western Avenue, numerous buildings were destroyed and horses killed at Orr Family Farm. Two storage tanks estimated to weigh approximately 10 tons were lifted from Orr Family Farm and landed about one-half mile east. Moving east, the tornado destroyed much of Briarwood Elementary School, where the NWS storm survey team rated damage as EF-5. Despite the destruction of this elementary school during school hours, no fatalities occurred at the school.

As the tornado continued to move east and east-northeast, it moved through much more densely populated suburban neighborhoods of southwest Oklahoma City and Moore where violent destruction was widespread. The width of EF-4 and greater damage was up to 250 yards wide as the tornado moved through neighborhoods east of Western Avenue. The first two fatalities occurred in a house in the neighborhood just east of Briarwood Elementary, with another fatality in a house as the tornado approached Santa Fe Avenue.

After crossing Santa Fe Avenue, the tornado moved through more suburban neighborhoods and toward Plaza Towers Elementary School. Damage to the school was extensive and seven children were killed when a wall collapsed at the school. Nine other people were killed in eight different neighborhood homes within one-quarter mile of Plaza Towers Elementary, most occurring just south of the school.

The tornado turned northeast as it approached Telephone Road, made a loop near the intersection of Telephone Road and 4th Street, then moved southeast crossing the interstate. Three people were killed when a convenience store along Telephone Road was destroyed. Crossing Telephone Road, the tornado inflicted significant damage to the Moore Medical Center, a post office and numerous businesses along Telephone Road and U.S. Interstate Highway 35.

Although the tornado was more narrow after crossing I-35, it continued to produce EF-4 damage in neighborhoods east of the interstate as it curved east and then again east-northeast. One fatality occurred at a business just east of the interstate, and one final fatality occurred in a home between Eastern Avenue and Bryant Avenue. Consistent EF-4 damage continued until the tornado passed SE 4th Street just east of Bryant Avenue.

Moving east from Bryant, the tornado continued to produce EF-2 damage with isolated EF-4 damage noted. The density of housing also decreased east of Bryant as the tornado moved east and east-northeast before dissipating east of Air Depot Blvd. between SE 119th Street and SE 134th Street in southeast Oklahoma City. Overall, over 300 homes experienced EF-4/EF-5 damage along the tornado path. Damages with this storm were estimated at $2 billion.

10 Bethany 11/19/1930 F4 23 150

This rare tornado is only 1 of 3 violent tornadoes to have been documented to have occurred during the month of November in Oklahoma since 1900. Between 9:30 am and 9:58 am CST, it moved north-northeast from 3 miles west of the Oklahoma City limits,and hit the eastern part of Bethany. About 110 homes and 700 other buildings, or about a fourth of the town, were damaged or destroyed. Near the end of the damage path, 3.5 miles northeast of Wiley Post Airfield, the tornado hit the Camel Creek school. Buildings blew apart just as the students were falling to the floor and looking for shelter, and 5 students and a teacher were killed. A total of 23 people were killed and another 150 injured, with 77 being seriously injured. Damage estimates were listed at $500,000.


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