Each year, the United States experiences an average of 1200 tornadoes.  Most of these storms are weak, with wind speeds under 100 mph.  Many strike in rural areas and cause  little damage, and most have paths well under one mile in length. However, a few of these storms develop into something much more.  For reasons not yet entirely understood, some of these twisters turn into monsters, with wind speeds approaching 300 mph, leaving swaths of destruction and death in their wake.

While many of these tornadoes touch down across the Great Plains, a few have made their way into southern Indiana and central Kentucky over the years.  In an effort to celebrate, remember, and respect our amazing weather, we at the Louisville National Weather Service Forecast Office have made an attempt to gather the ten most significant tornadoes to have struck this region in recorded history into one list.  We present that list here.  It should be understood how difficult it is to confine nearly two hundred years of tornado climatology into a list of just ten single tornadoes; there will no doubt be differences in opinion.  It is also understood that for those who are left to pick through the destruction left in a tornado’s wake or are left to mourn the loss of a loved one taken by nature’s fury, that single storm will forever be the most significant, whether it struck one house or one hundred.   In organizing this list we endeavored to consider several factors, including number of fatalities, estimated wind speed,  path length, and monetary amount of damage.  If you wish to express your feelings about this list, or if you have personal stories or pictures you'd like to share, please e-mail us at w-lmk.webmaster@noaa.gov.  Please let us know if we may include your comments or experience here on this page.

 

1.  Louisville Tornado of 1890

March 27, 1890

Louisville in 1890
Destruction in Louisville Along Main Street Between Eleventh and Twelfth Streets

This F-4 tornado struck Louisville just before 8:00 PM on March 27th, 1890.  It began in extreme western Jefferson County before tracking 15 miles through Louisville and into Clark County, Indiana.  When the tornado lifted, 76 people had lost their lives, with at least 200 more injured. In downtown, the hardest-hit district was from the intersection of Algonquin Parkway and Thirty-Fourth Street northeastward through California and Russell into the west side of Louisville's Central Business District.  The tornado roared into the Ohio River at the foot of Seventh Street, struck downtown Jeffersonville, and turned right and re-crossed the Ohio River coming back into Louisville where it severely damaged the water tower at the end of today's Zorn Avenue.

The worst tragedy of the storm took place at Falls City Hall at 1124 West Market Street.  A lodge meeting was taking place on the second floor of the building, while on the main floor several dozen children were taking dancing lessons with their mothers.  As the great wind slammed into the building, windows shattered and the second floor fell onto the main level, followed by the rest of the building collapsing in on itself.  An estimated 44 men, women, and children perished in the building's rubble, which remains as one of the highest single-building death tolls in the nation.

  

2.  New Albany F-4

March 23, 1917

New Albany in 1917
A Home Destroyed in New Albany

This twister struck just after 3:00 pm on March 23rd, 1917.  It hit a few miles west of New Albany before roaring through the north side of the city and eventually dissipating in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky.  The damage on the north side of New Albany caused nearly $19 million in damage in today’s dollars.  The 400 yard-wide tornado claimed 46 lives over its 15 mile long path, including 8 deaths at a wood processing plant, and 5 deaths at an elementary school.  Several other children were killed on their way home from school.  The high number of fatalities over a relatively short path gives this tornado an average of 1 death every 1/3 mile, and makes it one of the deadliest tornadoes to ever strike the Kentuckiana area.

Photo:  News and Tribune


3.  Brandenberg Tornado of 1974
April 3, 1974
 

Brandenburg in 1974
Destruction in Brandenberg

This was one of the two F-5 tornadoes to strike the NWS Louisville County Warning Area.  The twister touched down during mid-afternoon in the midst of the largest tornado outbreak to ever strike the United States at the time.  The tornado began 5 miles southwest of Hardinsburg, in Breckinridge County, Kentucky.  The funnel clipped the north side of Hardinsburg before moving northeast into Meade County.  As the twister set its sights on the town of Brandenburg, it strengthened into an 800 yard-wide monster.  The tornado ripped a path of destruction through town, destroying 140 buildings and killing over 30 people.  The twister eventually dissipated in Harrison County, Indiana, 32 miles from its starting point.

Photo:  Hancock Clarion

 

4.  1925 F-4
March 18, 1925
Holland, KY, in 1925
This twister began in early evening on March 18th, 1925 in Tennessee before moving through Allen, Barren, Monroe and Metcalfe Counties in Kentucky.  39 people were killed over the tornado’s remarkable 60 mile path, including 27 in northern Tennessee, 4 people in Holland, Kentucky, and another 8 in Metcalfe County.  This F-4 was part of the same outbreak that spawned the famed Great Tri-State Tornado that killed 700 people across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.

 

5.  Tompkinsville Tornado
May 9, 1933
This F-4 monster began its path of destruction near dusk southwest of Tompkinsville, Kentucky before making an incredible 60 mile trek northeast into Russell County, where it was reported to be a mile wide at times.  In Tompkinsville, 60 homes were destroyed and 18 people were killed as the twister moved through.  Fourteen  people lost their lives in Russell Springs, Kentucky.   For much more information, click here.

 

6.  Louisville Tornado of 1854
August 27, 1854
 
This tornado struck downtown Louisville around noon on Sunday, August 27th, 1854.  It first touched down near 25th Street southwest of downtown, and lifted at the intersection of 5th and Main Streets.  Although the tornado was only on the ground for 2 ¼ miles, the twister claimed at least 25 lives.  Many of those who perished were killed in the Third Presbyterian Church, where 55 people were gathered for Sunday church services.  Straight-line winds that accompanied the tornado did significant damage along the Ohio River front, where at least one boat sunk. 

 

7.  Southern Indiana F-5
April 3, 1974
 

Northfield in 1974
A Tossed Car and Toppled Homes After the Super Outbreak

This tornado is the second of two F-5 twisters that struck far southern central Indiana as part of the Super Outbreak on April 3, 1974.  This tornado touched down in the early afternoon hours three miles south of Huffman, Indiana, in Perry County.  This tornado is not only one of the strongest to ever occur in southern Indiana, but was also one of the longest tracking.  The tornado was on the ground for an amazing 65 miles as it tore through rural areas of Perry, Crawford, Harrison, Washington, Clark, and Scott Counties in Indiana.  Miraculously, the half-mile wide tornado missed any large communities and only claimed 6 lives. 

Photo:  Russ Conger/NWS


8.  Hanover College Tornado
April 3, 1974

 Hanover in 1974
An Areial View of Hanover College the Day After the Tornado

This tornado, also part of the Super Outbreak on April 3, 1974, struck just after 2:00 PM.  The twister began just northeast of Henryville, Indiana, and moved northeast as it carved out a 35 mile path of destruction through Hanover and North Madison, before lifting 3 miles west of Cross Plains.  In Hanover, 32 of the 33 buildings on the campus of Hanover College were damaged or destroyed, and hundred of trees were knocked down, resulting in an estimated $10 million in damange.  Fortunately no students were killed.   The storm did claim 11 lives, with 7 of those being lost in the Madison area. 

Photo:  Jim Pirtle, taken from www.april31974.com

 

 

 9.  Central Kentucky F-4
 March 27, 1890
 
This twister occurred just after sunset on March 27, 1890, and was part of the same outbreak that spawned the murderous F-4 that tore through downtown Louisville (see number 1).  This tornado began northwest of Hartford in Ohio County, and tracked an impressive 60 miles through Grayson, Breckinridge, and Hardin Counties, where it dissipated near Rineyville, Kentucky.  Two people were killed in Sulphur Springs, where homes were said to have “vanished”, and another two lives were lost near Rineyville.  Three people were killed near Falls of Rough. 

 

10.  Henryville EF-4
March 2, 2012

 March 2, 2012 in Washington County IN
The Tornado Roars Through Washington County, IN

This early season tornado averaged a forward speed of 60 mph along its 49-mile long path from Fredericksburg, Indiana to south of Milford, Kentucky.  Early in its path it quickly intensified to EF3 strength and ripped asphalt from the ground as it crossed IN 135.  The first EF4 damage was soon thereafter in the Daisy Hill community along the Washington/Clark County line.  The funnel laid bare a path through Clark State Forest and then tore directly into Henryville, still at EF4 strength, destroying the school complex.  The Marysville and Chelsea areas of Clark and Jefferson Counties were next in line and suffered extreme damage.  The twister crossed the Ohio River at Lee Bottom and finally dissipated in central Trimble County, Kentucky.   Eleven lives were lost.

Photo:  Mark Schweiger

 

 

A special acknowledgement to Tom Reaugh for his advice and the invaluable use of his previous tornado climatology research.


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