Worst Tornadoes In Pennsylvania: Historical Devastation

June 1, 2024

The history of tornadoes in Pennsylvania demonstrates the state's vulnerability to this natural hazard, often resulting in significant casualties and damage. Tornadoes are not only restricted to well-known Tornado Alley areas but also frequently occur in Pennsylvania, especially during the spring and summer months.

## May 31, 1985 Outbreak

One of the deadliest and most significant tornado events in Pennsylvania's history occurred on May 31, 1985. This outbreak affected multiple states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario. In Pennsylvania alone, 21 tornadoes were confirmed, resulting in 65 deaths, over 700 injuries, and considerable destruction, with more than 1,000 homes destroyed and $375 million in damages.

### Notable Tornadoes

During the May 31, 1985 outbreak, several notable tornadoes caused extensive damage:

- **Albion Tornado (F4):** Originating near the Ohio state line, this tornado caused catastrophic damage in Albion and Cranesville, leading to 12 deaths and the destruction of two trailer parks.
- **Atlantic Tornado (F4):** Starting in Ohio, this tornado traversed through Mercer, Crawford, and Venango counties, resulting in 23 fatalities and severe damage to 371 homes.
- **Wheatland Tornado (F5):** Pennsylvania's only recorded F5 tornado devastated the town of Wheatland, resulting in 18 deaths, 300 injuries, and leveling over 100 buildings.

## Other Significant Tornado Events

Several other tornado events have also marked Pennsylvania's history:

### June 23, 1944

This outbreak across West Virginia and Pennsylvania resulted in 151 lives lost. Major tornadoes in western Pennsylvania and a large F4 tracker originating from West Virginia caused extensive destruction.

### July 27, 1994 (Limerick Tornado)

An F3 tornado in Limerick, Montgomery County, resulted in three deaths, 25 injuries, and over $5 million in damages, primarily to the housing development "the Hamlet."

"Joplin High School tornado damage" by Kansas City District is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

### August 21, 1914 (Wilkes-Barre Tornado)

This tornado affected the Heights and Wilkes-Barre township, killing five and causing significant industrial and residential damage.

## Tornado Behavior and Climate Change

Tornadoes exhibit peculiar and variable behavior, with annual totals differing significantly. Researchers have observed a decrease in tornado days but an increase in the number of tornadoes per day. The long-term influence of climate change on tornado behavior remains uncertain.

## Potential Recurrence

Meteorologists, including severe-storm specialist Greg Forbes, acknowledge the possibility of another severe tornado outbreak similar to that of 1985 occurring in the next few decades.

"Tornado damage" by Donald Lee Pardue is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

## Observations and Patterns

Tornadoes have impacted both urban and rural regions across Pennsylvania, causing varying degrees of damage and fatalities. The intensity of these tornadoes has ranged from F3 to the rare F5, which highlights the disparities in damage and fatalities caused by different tornadoes. Beyond loss of life, tornadoes have resulted in significant financial costs related to property damage, industrial disruptions, and community displacement.

## Preparedness and Safety

Tornadoes can emerge suddenly with minimal warning, making preparedness crucial. It is important for residents to plan and rehearse shelter strategies to ensure safety during such events. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other meteorological services provide resources and advisories to help communities stay informed and prepared.

Understanding the history of tornadoes in Pennsylvania underscores the need for preparedness and resilient infrastructure to mitigate future impacts. These historical events offer crucial insights into the behavior of these devastating weather phenomena and their far-reaching effects on communities.

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