Worst Tornadoes in Oklahoma: A History of Destruction

May 31, 2024

The Woodward Tornado of April 9, 1947, remains one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in Oklahoma's history, claiming 116 lives and injuring 782. This F5 tornado carved a 220-mile path through the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, and Kansas, with its widest point reaching 1.8 miles. Woodward bore the brunt of its fury, losing over 1000 structures and experiencing a near-total communication breakdown post-tornado. The aftermath necessitated aid from distant cities, and damage was estimated at $8 million in Oklahoma alone. This disaster spurred the development of modern tornado watch and warning systems by the National Weather Service.

Snyder Tornado, 1905

Date & Scale

The Snyder Tornado struck with an F5 intensity, resulting in 97 fatalities and 58 injuries. Originating near Humphreys, the tornado moved northeast, devastating homes southeast of Altus before impacting Snyder directly. The destruction suggested involvement of multiple tornadoes, combining paths for maximum effect.

Impact on Snyder

The town of Snyder faced massive damage, with post-tornado aid and reconstruction efforts attempting to restore normality. The tornado’s legacy remains as one of Oklahoma’s early and most destructive tornadic events.

Peggs Tornado, 1920

Date & Scale

The Peggs Tornado, rated F4, struck on May 2, 1920. The town of Peggs was nearly leveled, with 71 fatalities and 100 injuries recorded. This loss accounted for over 30% of the town's population, making it one of the deadliest tornadoes in Oklahoma’s history.

Destruction Path

The tornado's path began southwest of Peggs, decimating the town and its surroundings, including livestock and infrastructure. The community faced monumental challenges in recovery due to the significant loss of life and property.

Antlers Tornado, 1945

Date & Scale

On April 12, 1945, an F5 tornado descended upon Antlers, resulting in 69 fatalities and 353 injuries. Originating 5 miles southwest of the town, it caused extensive damage to both business and residential sectors, leaving 1500 people homeless.

Concurrent National Events

The destruction was briefly overshadowed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's death, highlighting the tornado's historical context amidst national news.

"Car Mangled by Tornado, Oklahoma City 1999" by StevenM_61 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

Pryor Tornado, 1942

Date & Scale

The Pryor Tornado of April 27, 1942, was an F4 tornado that devastated the town, leading to 52 deaths and 350 injuries. The tornado’s path ruined Pryor's central business area and caused massive flooding, complicating rescue efforts.

Economic and Structural Impact

The total damage was estimated at $2.3 million, with a significant loss of communication and power over a large area. External aid played a critical role in recovery.

Bridge Creek-Newcastle-Moore-Oklahoma City Tornado, 1999

Date & Scale

On May 3, 1999, an F5 tornado ravaged areas including Oklahoma City, resulting in 36 fatalities and 583 injuries. The extensive path caused widespread damage, with economic losses estimated at $1 billion.

Path & Destruction

The tornado's long track exhibited varied intensity in destroyed and damaged properties, underscoring the severe weather patterns typical of Oklahoma’s tornado season.

"Oklahoma Tornado Postcard" by Stabbur's Master is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

Oklahoma City Tornado, 1948

Date & Scale

In 1948, an F4 tornado struck Oklahoma City, causing 35 deaths and 100 injuries. The tornado followed an erratic path through the city’s southwest, resulting in significant damage to homes and vehicles, with costs reaching $500,000.

Cleveland County Tornado, 1897

Date & Scale

The 1897 Cleveland County Tornado, rated F4, caused 33 fatalities and roughly 100 injuries. Its 15-mile destructive path significantly impacted rural areas and homes.

Rural Impact

Numerous fatalities occurred in single-family homes, illustrating the vulnerability of rural communities to powerful tornadoes.

Newcastle-South Oklahoma City-Moore Tornado, 2013

Date & Scale

Striking on May 20, 2013, the EF5 tornado caused 24 deaths and 212 injuries, heavily damaging residential areas and schools. The event’s total damages were estimated at $2 billion.

"Oklahoma Tornado Postcard" by Stabbur's Master is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

Bethany Tornado, 1950

Date & Scale

The 1950 Bethany Tornado, rated F4, led to 23 fatalities and 150 injuries. Its path caused significant impact on the town's structures and infrastructure.

General Takeaways

Prevention and Warning Evolution

The establishment of modern tornado warning systems, driven by historical events, has significantly reduced tornado-related fatalities through technological advancements.

High Fatality Rates

Some tornadoes caused exceptionally high death tolls, particularly impacting smaller towns with limited warning and mitigation measures.

Response and Aid

Effective disaster response typically involved statewide and national agencies providing critical assistance, highlighting community resilience and collaboration.

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