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The tri-state tornado of 1925 was record breaking to the country, and horrific to those in its path of destruction. With a death toll totaling at least 695 people, and over 2,000 other injuries, the tri-state could have been one of the most devastating tornadoes in America's history.
Tearing through southern regions of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana on March 18, 1925, the great tri-state tornado lasted about three and a half hours. From the time it touched down three miles northwest of Ellington, Missouri at 1:01 p.m. to the 4:30 p.m. dissipation southwest of Petersburg, Indiana, it covered a 219-mile path of continuous destruction. A total of 15,000 homes were demolished along with several schools, businesses, and some whole communities. The tornado's speed averaged around 62 miles per hour, and reached a record speed of 73 miles per hour between the Illinois communities of Gorham and Murphysboro.
As far as specific weather conditions go for that time period, data was sparse due to lack of weather observation stations, making forecasts pretty vague. The lowest pressure measured on a barograph trace, located at the Old Ben Coal Mine in West Frankfort, Illinois, was 28.87". During the day, the surface low pressure present in southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas tracked northeast and its warm front advanced north, which allowed the Gulf's warm moist air to enter into the tri-state area. The morning of March 18, temperatures that started out in the 50's reached 60's over a large portion of the tornado track by 1 p.m. Some temperatures even reached mid 70's near Cairo, Illinois by 4 p.m. that day.
Many scientists often find themselves wondering if the tri-state tornado was really a single massive tornado or if it was part of a family of tornadoes that continuously evolve from one supercell to another. Only one factor stands in the way of this theory and that is a cyclical supercell usually has breaks in its destructive path. The tri-state tornado's path of damage appeared to be continuous despite two slight decreases in the destruction. One of which was near the onset of the storm, and one near the demise. No matter which is believed, one thing is for certain, and that is a storm like the tri-state tornado could very well happen again, but there is no telling when or where it may occur.
Historically the tri-state tornado will be known for the longest continuous contact on the ground, the third fastest tornado traveling speed, a continuous destructive path, and a record three and a half-hour life span.
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The reconstruction of what the tornado had left behind took hard work and much time. Some communities, having most residents killed or injured, became ghost towns where the survivors relocated elsewhere. Several mass burials were planned in towns where the loss of life was greatest. Federal, State, Military, Red Cross, and Civic organizations came together, bringing food, money, clothing, shelter, medical assistance, and even caskets to the victims.
Although the tri-state tornado was a rare event, many survivors of the storm lost everything from family members to neighbors, to personal belongings and even a place to call home. But one thing that would not be lost is the memory of what happened that spring day in 1925.