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The National Weather Service (NWS) has ranked tornado strength back to 1950 through the use of the Fujita Scale and, since February 2007, the Enhanced Fujita Scale.  The scale divides tornadoes into six strengths, from zero to 5.  Tornadoes that are intense enough to warrant an F4/EF4 or F5/EF5 rating are classified as "violent."  Fortunately, these tornadoes are extremely rare, accounting for only about two percent of all tornadoes.  But when they do strike, they inflict terrible suffering as homes and businesses are destroyed and, often, lives are lost.

Although official NWS tornado ratings only go back to 1950, researcher Thomas P Grazulis compiled a list of all significant tornadoes and assigned them F scale ratings all the way back to 1871.  A significant tornado was one that was of at least F2 strength or resulted in a fatality.

Looking through the records, only three F5 tornadoes have been recorded in Indiana and Kentucky since 1950, and they happened on just one* day:  April 3, 1974.

  • At 2:20pm a tornado touched down in Perry County, Indiana three miles south of Huffman.  It proceeded to the northeast for 62 miles, finally lifting in Scott County.  The storm took a life quickly after forming as it destroyed a mobile home.  While still in Perry County, near Branchville, two more lives were lost as the tornado threw a school bus fifty feet into a ditch.  In Harrison County DePauw was struck and another life lost in a destroyed mobile home, followed by yet another fatality two miles east of Palmyra.  The hamlet of Martinsburg was in the tempest's crosshairs, and 38 of the village's 48 homes were destroyed.  As the storm moved into Clark County the funnel swelled to a mile wide and leveled farm after farm.  The most intense damage was at Daisy Hill, where homes were completely swept away.  The tornado took a total of 6 lives.
  • At 3:25pm Kentucky's only F5 tornado came to earth five miles southwest of Hardinsburg.  It brought F3 level damage to the north side of that town, and destroyed about three dozen homes as it roared through northern Breckinridge County and into Meade County.  The tornado strengthened to F4 around Irvington, and then strengthened further to an F5 monster as it enveloped the Meade County seat of Brandenburg.  128 homes were swept away and 30 businesses were destroyed.  Twenty-eight people died in Brandenburg, with another three fatalities earlier along the path.  The tornado stayed in contact with the ground as it came down the riverbank and crossed the Ohio River.  The funnel was at F4 strength as it entered Indiana and leveled several farms before finally dissipating about a mile northwest of Laconia.  The track was 34 miles long.
  • At 4:10pm a tornado developed two miles north of Rising Sun, Indiana.  It moved northeast and crossed the river into Belleview, Kentucky.  After crossing northern Boone County the tornado crossed the Ohio River once again and entered Ohio where it finally lifted just north of Dent after a 21 mile long track.  The tornado stayed in rural parts of Indiana and Kentucky, but encountered a more urban environment as it moved west of Cincinnati.  Homes were completely swept away and three people were killed on the west edge of the Cincinnati metropolitan area around Sayler Park.
  • *The Dunlap Tornado that struck southeast of South Bend, Indiana on April 11, 1965 is officially rated at F4, but Grazulis feels it should be an F5.

Looking at Grazulis' work with tornadoes prior to 1950, only one additional tornado attained F5 status:

  • On April 1, 1884 at 5pm a tornado touched down three miles northeast of Mechanicsburg, Indiana, and passed directly through Oakville, demolishing 27 of the village's 30 houses.  Meteorologists at the time considered this one of the strongest tornadoes ever witnessed.  Eight people were killed, which was actually a fairly low death count for such a strong 19th Century tornado, thanks to the fact that the tornado was easily visible as it approached.

Track maps (click on the image for a larger version):

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track map

Track map with all counties, all states Track map with all counties, just Indiana and Kentucky Track map with just tornado counties outside Indiana and Kentucky, all counties within Indiana and Kentucky Track map with just tornado counties, all states


Click on the pictures below to learn more about F4/EF4/F5/EF5 tornadoes in Kentucky and Indiana:

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Banner for Violent Indiana Tornadoes


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