Sunday's killer tornado in Joplin was rated an EF-4, but the lives it has claimed already rivals the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history. Its current death toll of 116 and climbing is one more than the 1953 "Beecher Tornado" which was actually rated an F-5 on the old Fugita scale. The scale has since been adjusted, but the general idea is the same, anything rated three or higher is an intense tornado that has the potential to stay on the ground for awhile and kill many. That's just what this one did.
(Sunrise on May 24th in Joplin, MO where officials say people may still be alive under the rubble, and rescue operations continue)
Here is the list of top 10 deadliest U.S. tornadoes before the Joplin twister. It's current position on the list is #9, bumping Flint's Beecher tornado to the 10 spot on the all time list. One more death (which is almost a certainty) will tie it with Wisconsin's New Richmond tornado of 1899. Until now, the Beecher tornado was the last single U.S. tornado to kill more than 100 people. Joplin is also the first twister to crack the top 10 list since 1953. Why? Because better construction and improved warnings have tended to keep tornado deaths down in recent decades. The Flint tornado of 1953 was part of a deadly season, which saw 519 deaths. It was that deadly season the prompted the development of weather radar, so forecasters would actually be able to see the storms coming, rather than just rely on reports from the ground.
(The Coldwater Road area in Flint in 1953 was devastated by what was, up until now, the 9th deadliest tornado in U.S. history)
Despite the improvements in technology, the 2011 season will go down in infamy, and taking more lives than many thought possible again due to these improvements, as a volatile mix of terrible circumstances and timing have resulted in the deaths of 454 people killed 50 deadly tornadoes in the deadliest season since 1953.
Stories of the Flint tornado have remained for decades, passed down through the generations. Pictures and stories are all that remain, as the 60th anniversary approaches in Flint. But the hearts and minds of those survivors are no doubt with the residents of Joplin now, as they relive the horror that they experienced over five decades later.
If you want to help victims of the Joplin tornado you can contact the Greater Ozarks Regional chapter of the American Red Cross. You can also join the Joplin tornado recovery page on Facebook.