Tri-State Tornado destroys Griffin

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By Jamie Grabert

Tis the season for tornadoes, at least if you live in Northern Posey County. While the tornado that struck the night of Feb. 25 was a surprise, it wasn’t an anomaly, but it was a tad early.

Late winter and early spring tornadoes have caused their share of heartache and destruction. On April 13, 1852, a tornado ripped through New Harmony, leaving 16 people dead in its wake. But it was the Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925, that owns the title as the “longest, deadliest twister in American history,” according to Popular Mechanics, leaving 70-76 local people dead.

The March 1925 tornado is considered on the 10 worst natural disasters of the century, carving out a three-state, 291-mile path of destruction.  It remains the most destructive and deadliest tornado in U.S. history.

Timing is everything

The March 18 tornado began three miles north by northwest of Ellington, Missouri, at 1:01 p.m. It struck Griffin, Indiana at 4 p.m. It ran out of stream three miles southwest of Petersburg, Indiana, at approximately 4:30 p.m. According to the National Weather Service, the twister ran continuously for 3.5 hours and has a calculated over land speed of 62 mph on average. It set a speed record of 73 mph at one point. This remains the record.

Weather experts cannot explain how or why this event was so significant, nor can they pinpoint the conditions that led to such a violent storm. They suggest it may have something to do with the jet stream, but that wasn’t identified until after World War II.

Titanic in size and speed

The tornado was considered to be an F5 based on the damage assessment. Wind speeds, based on the rate of movement and amount of damager, were calculated near 300 mph.

The Tri-State Tornado ranged from three-quarters of a mile (3,600 ft.) to over a mile in width.

According to an article in Popular Mechanics, the tornado veered 9 degrees from its course and they noted three individual funnel clouds moving along with the larger twister.

Total destruction

Thirteen counties were hit by this tornado. In 1925, the damage estimate reached $16.5 million. (In converting that to today’s rate, it would equal roughly $230.3 million.

An estimated 15,000 homes were destroyed. Griffin saw 150 homes demolished by the tornado.

The death toll reached 695 with 2,027 reported injuries. The Griffin notes 76 deaths occurred in the town, while researchers suggest it was 71. Newspaper reports from the time suggest 202 injuries.

According to the NWS, 85 farms were destroyed between Griffin and Princeton, Indiana.

Tornado outbreak

It was part of an outbreak of twisters that day. The destruction caused by these tornadoes included damage to 747 facilities (hitting nine schools across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana and killing 69 students). There were nearly 2,300 injuries, the majority of which are attributed to the Tri-State Tornado.

The flood that followed

The Tri-State tornado left a path of destruction due to high winds. But it also brought a flood. According to the State of Indiana, heavy rains followed the tornado, causing flood conditions.

A plaque in the community park states, “Heavy rains caused the Wabash River to flood, and by March 23, 1925, the only way to reach Griffin was by boat or railroad. Within weeks, Griffin was slowly being rebuilt, including a schoolhouse, one church, and a grain elevator. This tornado is still rated the deadliest in U.S. weather history.”