The Joplin, Missouri, EF5 Tornado of May 22, 2011

First Tornado in Fifty Years to Kill 100+ People Decimates Joplin

This remarkably destructive tornado was the deadliest in decades……

Early stages of the Joplin Tornado captured by Basehunters

Chase Logs

The storm chase logs of this tornado led by our experts

National Centers for Environmental Information reports:

This is the beginning of the EF-5 tornado that impacted a large portion of the city of Joplin.

This tornado started in the very extreme northern portions of Newton County initially touching down one half mile southwest of the intersection of JJ Highway and Newton Road in Newton County. Several large trees were toppled before the tornado crossed into Jasper County and portions of south Joplin.

National Weather Service survey teams rated the tornado that tracked across the southwest through east central portion of Joplin, Missouri, as an EF5 tornado. Maximum winds were estimated to have exceeded 200 miles per hour. The tornado had a maximum width of one mile and an overall path length of nearly 21.6 miles, nearly nine miles of which occurred in Jasper County.

The tornado killed 158 directly, three indirectly, and injured over 1150 people. Sadly, on May 24 a police officer who was volunteering from another department, was struck by lightning while serving in the response efforts and later died. Equally, a 56 year old man who had been included as a direct fatality was later determined to have died of a heart attack. Over 10,200 people filed for disaster assistance following the tornado.

The EF-5 rating (greater than 200 mph wind speeds) was mainly arrived at by the total destruction of vehicles, including some vehicles tossed several blocks and semi trucks thrown a quarter of a mile. Parking stops weighing over 300 pounds and re-barred into asphalt were uprooted and tossed. Other factors in the rating included damage to reinforced concrete structures, and that St. John���s Hospital building structure was compromised.

Seven thousand homes were severely damaged or destroyed and another 900 damaged. Other substantial buildings damaged or destroyed included the Joplin High School and Technical Center along with five other city schools. Numerous retailers including Home Depot, Sports Academy, Dillons, and Walmart were also destroyed. The most substantial building impacted was St John's hospital which will be razed due to the tornado. It was calculated that 2 million cubic yards of debris is attributable to the storm across its relatively short length on the ground.

The tornado initially touched down one half mile southwest of the intersection of JJ Highway and Newton Road in Newton County where several large trees were toppled.

The tornado rapidly intensified as it moved toward the intersection of Country Club Drive and 32nd Street where it crossed into Jasper County. Damage became more widespread as the tornado crossed Maiden Lane, breaking nearly all windows on three sides of St. Johns Hospital as well as damage to the roof and exterior walls on several floors. Two patients on oxygen were indirectly suffocated when the generator and a backup generator were damaged after power was cut off. Three additional patients may have succumbed similarly though sufficient data as to the cause of death was not available. An additional indirect fatality occurred due to psychological trauma.

The tornado further intensified as it destroyed homes and businesses to the immediate east and north of the hospital. A church school was completely destroyed with the exception of a portion of the sanctuary. Significant damage to the Greenbriar Nursing Home resulted in the death of 20 mostly elderly patients.

The tornado continued to destroy hundreds of frame homes between 32nd and 20th Streets, leading to nearly a fifth of the deaths. Three story apartment complexes had the top two floors removed; other two story complexes were partially leveled. Fourteen deaths occurred in apartments along the track. Eleven additional deaths occurred in churches along this path. There were two fatalities in a mobile home (Joplin has a city ordinance prohibiting mobile home parks).

Well built structures that were heavily damaged or destroyed along this area included the Joplin High School, Franklin Technical Center and Irving Elementary, all of which were free of students due to the weekend. The tornado also damaged three additional elementary schools. A bank was totally destroyed with the exception of the vault. A large grocery store was also destroyed.

The tornado crossed Rangeline Road near 20th Street. Damage included significant to complete damage to several restaurants and large long-span retail buildings; including Home Depot, Sports Academy and Walmart in this area. Twenty deaths occurred indoors or in the parking lots of these structures. Semi trucks on the back side of Walmart were thrown more than a quarter mile.

The tornado continued to move eastward along and south of 20th Street destroying numerous warehouse style facilities, a portion of Joplin East Middle School, and residences through Duquesne Road.

The tornado continued destroying numerous homes as it began weakening. It turned southeast toward Interstate 44 where it threw several semi trucks as it crossed the interstate and moved into Newton County at 32nd Street just west of Kodiak Road.

The tornado crossed back into northern Newton County while slowly weakening to an EF-2. As the tornado weakened it damaged several structures including a warehouse, several homes and outbuildings. Significant tree damage was also noted.