Krzysztof is a 10+ year YouTube researcher who spends hours researching, analyzing, and uncovering YouTube trends, challenges, and media.
5. Greensburg, Kansas – May 4, 2007 – EF5
This destructive force of nature was the first officially rated EF5 tornado since the implementation of the Enhanced Fujita scale in 2007.
More importantly, this was the first level-5 rating since the May 3, 1999 Moore, Oklahoma tornado (on Fujita (F) scale).
The supercell structure of this storm was extremely well defined, and it included a massive debris ball within the center that's indicative of severe damage at the surface. This makes perfect sense considering that the twister destroyed about 95% of Greensburg, Kansas, and left nearly a dozen dead with many more injured.
The storm was part of an early May tornado outbreak that spawned over 120 tornadoes, but this was the only EF5 tornado recorded during the outbreak. The damage was extensive: nearly 1,000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.
The true evidence lies in the before and after pictures, in which the before picture shows a lush, growing town and the after a desolate wasteland. Actual video and photo evidence from the tornado was difficult to locate because the night sky combined with the blackness of this extremely large wedge-shaped funnel camouflaged it within the darkness.
Considering the damage caused, the strength of the vortex, and the fact that the tornado went right through the center of Greensburg, the number of fatalities was relatively low compared to what it could have been. Luckily our warning systems have advanced enough for people to have more time to seek shelter before the storm hits.
Max Wind Speed
Approx. $200 million
Max Tornado Width/Duration
1.7 miles/65 minutes
4. Moore, Oklahoma – May 20, 2013 – EF5
Moore, Oklahoma, may be one of the most unluckiest cities in the world as they've seen numerous close calls with the 1999 F5 tornado and the 2013 EF5 nearly crossing identical paths.
The 2013 twister is one of the costliest tornadoes on record, with damages exceeding $2 billion.
It was also responsible for taking the lives of about two dozen people, with hundreds more injured. It wasn't part of a major tornado outbreak however there was a moderate risk of severe weather, including tornadoes, issued by NOAA's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) that day.
Initially this tornado was categorized as an EF-4 ,and an extensive damage survey had to be done in order for an upgrade to be made. This could be difficult because the difference between a high-end EF4 and 5 is usually negligible.
Surveyors often look for things such as the debarking of trees, concrete or brick structures getting wiped away from their foundation, and scouring of the ground.
Max Wind Speed
Approx. $2 Billion
Max Tornado Width/Duration
1.3 miles/35-40 minutes
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3. Hackleburg-Phil Campbell, Alabama – April 27, 2011 – EF5
This tornado was one of the deadliest to strike the United States in the past 15 years, but it was also one of the costliest with well over a billion in damages from this one tornado alone.
It was a multi-county tornado that covered a staggering 132 miles with a max funnel width of 1.25 miles.
However, a lot of the damage occurred while the storm was about 3/4 miles in width, so not all severe EF5 tornados are massive in size.
That's a common myth regarding twisters in general. A large tornado doesn't have to be very powerful, and a smaller tornado doesn't have to be weak.
This tornado was anything but weak, with a max wind speed of around 210 mph, placing it solidly in EF5 territory. The storm itself was part of a massive tornado outbreak in late April that generated over 350 tornadoes over a four-day period, with at least four reaching the highest level on the Enhanced Fujita scale.
This outbreak remains one of the largest and deadliest, though it still falls short of the massive Super Outbreak of April 3–4, 1974 due to the high volume of F4 and F5 tornadoes recorded during that outbreak.
However, this outbreak remains the costliest tornado outbreak and natural disaster in United States history, even after inflation.
Source: Total Damage Estimates
Max Wind Speed
$1.29 billion (2011 USD)
1.25 miles/2 hours 35 minutes
2. Tuscaloosa-Birmingham, Alabama – April 27, 2011 – EF4
It was the most notorious tornado recorded during the record-breaking late April 2011 tornado outbreak, but it wasn't the deadliest. Although the Hackleburg-Phil Campbell twister killed more people, the property damage combined with the death toll made this vortex more destructive.
At the time of this storm's occurrence, it was the costliest tornado on record, with a price tag of $2.4 billion in property damage. It took less than a month for another tornado to beat that record and top this list as well.
The width of this twister was approximately 1.5 miles at its max, and some of the footage of this beast was extremely up close and extensive, making this twister highly visual to the public eye.
The tornado itself was part of a long-lasting supercell that continuously produced strong to violent tornadoes along its path. It wiped out a school, apartment buildings, and a shopping center along its path in parts of Tuscaloosa and the western burbs of Birmingham, AL.
It caused around 65 fatalities with some 1,500 injured.
Damage surveyors awarded this twister with a high-end EF4 rating, though there was controversy because some damage estimators indicated the presence of EF5 damage. The top winds were assessed at around 190 mph, which is about 10 mph short of the highest level.
Like I've said before, those differences are very minor, and it could have easily been categorized as an EF5. Numerous other violent twisters occurred during this outbreak, with a few stronger than this one; however, as is always the case with tornadoes, it's all about the location.
The other EF5 tornadoes were more powerful, but they didn't occur in populated areas, which diminished their impact.
Source: Recovery and Aftermath
Max Wind Speed
$2.4 billion (2011 USD)
1.5 miles/1 hour and 31 minutes
1. Joplin, Missouri – May 22, 2011 – EF5
This was by far the most devastating tornado in the Enhanced Fujita scale era since its establishment in 2007, but it was also one of the top ten deadliest tornadoes in US recorded history.
Wind speeds exceeded 200 mph for a good duration of the storm, especially as it ravaged parts of the most densely populated areas of Joplin.
It's the costliest tornado in recorded history, with an inflated price approaching $3 billion.
It was also a wake-up call to what a destructive tornado could really do if it ever hit a densely populated location like a large city. Tornadoes do not discriminate where they will hit, and eventually a major city could be in the path of an EF4 or 5 tornado.
Another factor that played in role in the devastation was the fact that many Joplin residents did not heed the tornado warnings and sirens despite a lead time of 15–20 minutes. There were even students graduating that day, but they ended the ceremony not too long before the storm struck Joplin High School.
Surveillance footage from the school showed the approach and power of this tornado as it made a direct hit on the school. Numerous other neighborhoods, stores, and businesses were completely destroyed. In fact, some 7,000 homes were destroyed, with a quarter of the city wiped out.
The movie Into the Storm based some of its story on the events of Joplin, particularly the scene with the High School graduation. President Obama toured, surveyed the area, and met with victims while numerous foundation and donation efforts were set up.
Despite the overall downward trend in tornado fatalities over the years, we are still faced with numerous challenges that we've yet to solve. Improving the accuracy of forecasts, building stronger structures, and developing more shelters are some of the best ways we can hold our own against these types of storms.
However, there are things we can't control or stop, and the Joplin disaster was a perfect example of that. Many warnings were ignored because there's still a huge complacency problem regarding severe weather.
We have to change our mindset along with creating better building codes in order to make further progress and lessen the amount of fatalities, injuries, and property costs. It will all depend on how seriously we adhere to mother nature's fury because, like it or not, she will have the last laugh.
Source: Joplin, MO Tornado Facts
Max Wind Speed
158 (+3 indirect)
$2.94 billion (2015 USD)
1 mile/35-38 minutes
It's notorious for being one of if not the largest tornado on record, with a width of 2.6 miles. It also gained fame after causing the deaths of four storm chasers and injuring many more, including the Weather Channel's Mike Bettes and Discovery Channel's star of Storm Chasers Reed Timmer.
In total, it killed eight people, caused 30–40 million in damages, and was thought to have wind speeds of over 296 mph as indicated by Doppler weather radar. Further estimates downgraded the storm to an EF3, mostly due to a lack of damage estimates.
A long-lasting (one-hour) tornado that was responsible for the deaths of 16 people, which made it one of the deadliest in Arkansas history.
It was another borderline-rated tornado with preliminary damage estimates indicative of EF-5 damage due to many foundations being completely wiped away. It was deemed that the anchoring of those structures was lacking in support, meaning even a lower-scale tornado could wipe them out.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on May 25, 2015:
Thank you for reading, I'm from New Jersey so tornadoes aren't really a problem. I would love to live in California although one of my worries is an earthquake even though anything significant is pretty rare. I know the drought has been problematic as well but at least it can't destroy a home like a twister can. Appreciate the feedback.
Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on May 23, 2015:
I don't think I can pick a favorite here. I'm just glad I'm in California, where we have drought and earthquakes but thankfully no tornadoes. I really enjoyed your writing and watching these cool videos too. Great hub.