Joplin, Missouri
May 22, 2011
>200 MPH (>320 KM/H)
158 deaths, 1,110 injuries
Damage Costs
$2.8 billion
Areas Affected
Jasper and Newton County, Missouri (mostly the city of Joplin)

The Joplin, Missouri tornado was a catastrophic EF5 tornado which devastated the city of Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011. It was part of a late-May tornado outbreak and reached a maximum width of almost 1 mile (1.6 km).

The tornado killed 158 people and injured over 1,000, and caused $2.8 billion dollars in damages, the costliest in United States history. It was also the seventh-deadliest tornado to strike the United States.


The tornado initially touched down just east of the Missouri-Kansas state line near the end of 32nd Street at 5:34 pm CDT (22:34 UTC) and tracked due east, downing a few trees at EF0 intensity. Eyewitnesses and storm chasers reported multiple vortices rotating around the parent circulation in that area. Civil defense sirens sounded in Joplin 20 minutes before the tornado struck in response to a tornado warning issued by the National Weather Service, but many Joplin residents didn't hear them. The tornado strengthened to EF1 intensity as it continued through rural areas towards Joplin, snapping trees and power poles and damaging outbuildings. Widening, the tornado then tracked into the more densely populated southwest corner of the city near the Twin Hills Country Club. It heavily damaged several homes at a subdivision in this area at EF1 to EF2 strength. The tornado continued to strengthen as it ripped through another subdivision just east of Iron Gates Rd. Numerous homes were destroyed at EF2 to EF3 strength at that location, and multiple vehicles were tossed around, some of which were thrown on or rolled into homes.

The now massive wedge tornado then crossed S. Schifferdecker Ave., producing its first area of EF4 damage as several small but well-built commercial buildings were flattened. Consistent EF4 to EF5 damage was noted east of S Schifferdecker Ave and continued through most of southern Joplin. Numerous homes, businesses, and medical buildings were flattened in this area, with concrete walls collapsed and crushed into the foundations. A large steel-reinforced step and floor structure leading to a completely destroyed medical building was "deflected upward several inches and cracked". Steel trusses from some of the buildings were "rolled up like paper", and deformation/twisting of the main support beams was noted. Multiple vehicles were thrown and mangled or wrapped around trees nearby. Several 300-pound concrete parking stops anchored with rebar were torn from a parking lot in this area and were thrown up to 60 yards away. Iowa State University wind engineer Parka Sarkar was able to calculate the force needed to remove the parking stops and found that winds exceeding 200 mph were needed to tear them from the parking lot. Damage became remarkably widespread and catastrophic at and around the nearby St. John's Regional Medical Center, which lost many windows, interior walls, ceilings, and part of its roof; its life flight helicopter was also blown away and destroyed. Six fatalities were reported there, and the nine-story building was so damaged that it was deemed structurally compromised, and was later torn down. An engineering survey of the building revealed that the foundation and underpinning system were damaged beyond repair. According to the NWS office in Springfield, Missouri, such extreme structural damage to such a large and well-built structure was likely indicative of winds at or exceeding 200 mph. Vehicles in the hospital parking lot were thrown into the air and mangled beyond recognition, including a semi-truck that was tossed 125 yards and wrapped completely around a debarked tree. Wind-rowing of debris was noted in this area, and additional concrete parking stops were removed from the St. John's parking lot as well. Virtually every house near McClelland Boulevard and 26th Street got flattened; some were swept completely away, and trees sustained severe debarking.

As the tornado tracked eastward, it maintained EF5 strength as it crossed Main Street between 20th and 26th Streets. It heavily damaged every business along that stretch and several institutional buildings were virtually destroyed. It tracked just south of downtown, narrowly missing it. Entire neighborhoods were leveled in this area with some more homes swept away, and trees were stripped completely of their bark. At some residences, reinforced concrete porches were deformed, or in some cases completely torn away. Damage to driveways was noted at some residences as well. Numerous vehicles were tossed up to several blocks away from the residences where they originated, and a few homeowners never located their vehicles. A large church, Greenbriar Nursing Home, Franklin Technology Center, St. Mary's Catholic Church and School, and Joplin High School were all destroyed along this corridor. No one was in the high school at the time; the high school graduation ceremonies held about 3 miles (4.8 km) to the north at Missouri Southern State University had concluded shortly before the storm. Pieces of cardboard were found embedded sideways into stucco walls that remained standing at Joplin High School. Steel beams and pieces of fencing were deeply embedded into the ground in fields near the high school as well, steel fence posts were bent to the ground in opposite directions, and a school bus was thrown into a nearby bus garage. The Greenbriar Nursing Home was completely leveled, with 21 fatalities occurring there alone. As the tornado crossed Connecticut Ave further to the east, it destroyed several large apartment buildings, a Dillon's grocery store, and a bank. Only the concrete vault remained at the bank, and a wooden 2x4 was found speared completely through a concrete curb at one location as well. The tornado then approached Range Line Road, the main commercial strip in the eastern part of Joplin, flattening additional neighborhoods along 20th Street. The now heavily rain-wrapped tornado continued at EF5 intensity as it crossed Range Line Road. In that corridor between about 13th and 32nd Streets, the damage continued to be catastrophic and the tornado was at its widest at this point, being nearly 1 mile (1.6 km) wide. As the tornado hit the Pizza Hut at 1901 South Range Line Road, store manager Christopher Lucas herded four employees and 15 customers into a walk-in freezer. Since the door could not shut, he wrapped a bungee cable holding the door shut around his arm until he was sucked into the tornado, killing him. The tornado completely destroyed Walmart Supercenter No. 59, a Home Depot, and numerous other businesses and restaurants in this area, many of which were flattened. Numerous metal roof trusses were torn from the Home Depot building and were found broken and mangled in nearby fields. Cars that originated at the Home Depot parking lot were found hundreds of yards away. Asphalt was scoured from parking lots at Walmart and a nearby pizza restaurant, and large tractor-trailers were thrown up to 200 yards away. An Academy Sports + Outdoors store along Range Line sustained major structural damage, and a chair was found impaled legs-first through an exterior stucco wall at that location. A nearby three-story apartment complex was also devastated, and two cell phone towers were found collapsed onto the remains of the apartments. Numerous cars were thrown and piled on top of each other, 100-pound manhole covers were removed from roads and thrown, ground scouring occurred, and a Pepsi distribution plant was completely leveled in this area as well. Additional calculations of the manhole covers in Joplin by Parka Sarkar revealed that winds had to have exceeded 200 mph for the manhole covers to be removed. Many fatalities occurred in this area, and damage was rated as EF5.

Extreme damage continued in the area of Duquesne Road in southeast Joplin. Many houses and industrial and commercial buildings were flattened in this area as well. The industrial park near the corner of 20th and Duquesne was especially hard hit with nearly every building flattened. Several large metal warehouse structures were swept cleanly from their foundations, and several heavy industrial vehicles were thrown up to 400 yards away in this area. One of the many warehouses affected was a Cummins warehouse, a concrete block and steel building which was destroyed. The last area of EF5 damage occurred in the industrial park, and a nearby Fastrip gas station and convenience store was completely destroyed. Many homes were destroyed further to the east at EF3 to EF4 strength in a nearby subdivision, and East Middle School sustained major damage.

The tornado then continued on an east to east-southeast trajectory towards Interstate 44 where it weakened; nonetheless, vehicles were blown off the highway and mangled near the U.S. Route 71 (Exit 11) interchange. The damage at and around the interchange was rated EF2 to EF3. The weakening tornado continued to track into the rural areas of southeastern Jasper County and northeastern Newton County where damage was generally minor to moderate, with trees, mobile homes, outbuildings, and frame homes damaged mainly at EF0 to EF1 strength. The tornado lifted east of Diamond at 6:12 pm CDT (23:12 UTC) according to aerial surveys. The tornado's total track length was at least 22.1 miles (35.6 km) long. Overall, 6,954 homes were destroyed, 359 homes had major damage and 516 had minor damage, 158 people were killed, and 1,150 others were injured along the path. A separate EF2 tornado touched down near Wentworth from the same supercell about 25 miles (40 km) east-southeast of Joplin.

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