Worst Tornadoes In West Virginia: The Shinnston Disaster

June 6, 2024






The Shinnston Tornado: A Historical Perspective

The Shinnston Tornado, which occurred on June 23, 1944, remains one of the most devastating natural disasters to have struck West Virginia. Originating in Shinnston, Harrison County, this catastrophic event left a significant mark not only on West Virginia but also on parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Impact and Damage

The Shinnston Tornado resulted in tragic loss and extensive destruction. It claimed the lives of 153 individuals, with 103 fatalities in West Virginia, 45 in Pennsylvania, and 3 in Maryland. Additionally, 846 people were seriously injured, and 1,686 families were deeply affected by the disaster. The tornado's path, which ranged from 500 to 1,000 feet in width and moved at a speed of approximately 40 miles per hour, caused extensive damage in just under two minutes in Shinnston.

The tornado obliterated 404 homes and damaged an additional 821 buildings. Its path extended beyond Shinnston to areas such as Flemington, Meadowsville, Montrose, and Thomas in West Virginia; Oakland in Maryland; and Chartiers, McKeesport, and Smithfield in Pennsylvania. Ohio experienced a lesser impact from this event.

"Tornado, West Virginia 25202" by jimmywayne 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/.

Detailed Incidents and Notable Accounts

Pleasant Hill

Pleasant Hill was one of the most significantly impacted areas, with approximately 50 homes completely disappearing. The structural damage was unprecedented, with the State Police radio tower broken in half and steel streetcar tracks twisted. Large objects such as a cook stove and a truck with green lumber were found miles away from their original locations.

Remarkable Survival and Oddities

In the wake of the tornado, several remarkable survival stories and odd incidents were reported. A barn disappeared, leaving the horse inside uninjured. Another strange event saw a two-by-four beam fly through a cow in a field. Similarly, while a pig pen vanished, the pigs were later found unscathed. In one instance, a garage was taken by the tornado but the car inside remained undamaged. Severe hail, described as "baseballs," accompanied the tornado, and some bodies were discovered far downstream in the West Fork River.

Unbelievable Accounts

Among the incredible occurrences, items like bonds, checks, and papers traveled distances of 150-200 miles. People reported seeing straw blown through a concrete wall, and personal belongings such as a box containing $750 in bonds were carried away but later returned to their owners.

Personal Tragedies

The tornado brought immeasurable personal tragedies. Charles Carlin’s home saw nine people perishing, and at Y.C. Holsberry's general store, 17 individuals sustained injuries with only three escaping unharmed. In separate incidents, individual homes such as that of the Cox family’s were severely impacted, leading to multiple deaths when their home was swept away.

As the tornado entered the Allegheny Mountains, it eventually dissipated, leaving behind a trail of destruction and an indelible impact on the communities it touched.

This information, attributed to a book by John L. Finlayson and used with permission from George Rice, provides a vivid picture of the Shinnston Tornado's devastating effects. The personal accounts and incredible incidents reported offer a human and dramatic element to the narrative, highlighting the tragic loss of life and widespread property damage.


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