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It's been 11 years since a tornado ravaged Missouri — costliest in U.S. history

Sunday, May 22nd 2022, 2:30 am - On this day in weather history, an EF-5 tornado hit Joplin, Mo.

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by Chris Mei from The Weather Network, featuring stories about people, communities and events and how weather impacted them.

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On Sunday, May 22, 2011, at 5:34 p.m., a catastrophic EF-5, multiple-vortex tornado hit Joplin, Mo.

The tornado intensified in strength and size unusually quickly. It began near the Missouri-Kansas state line, close to the end of 32nd Street. It initially started at EF-0 strength, taking down trees.

Courtesy National Weather Service Courtesy of National Weather Service

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Joplin. In response, civil defence sirens sounded in the city 20 minutes before the tornado, but many people ignored the warning.

Joplin, Missouri Courtesy TWN Joplin, Mo. Courtesy of TWN

The tornado quickly grew to EF-1 intensity, destroying trees and power lines in its path. It revved up to an EF-2 strength, damaging homes in a subdivision. The twister continued to grow stronger as it destroyed several homes and cars in another subdivision.


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The vortex damaged the windows, walls, and ceilings of St. John's Regional Medical Center. The life flight helicopter was also blown away. Five people died due to the loss of backup power.

St. Johns Hospital After 5-22 Tornado *"EF-5 damage to the St. John's Regional Medical Center, which later had to be torn down due to deformation of its foundation and underpinning system." Courtesy of Intelati/Wikipedia/CC0*

The tornado continued to flatten neighbourhoods. Many buildings and businesses were also destroyed, including a large church, the Franklin Technology Center, Joplin High School, and the Greenbriar Nursing Home. A total of 21 people died at the nursing home.

Joplin, Missouri Courtesy TWN Joplin, Mo. Courtesy of TWN

It continued at its full EF-5 strength as it continued to flatten familiar businesses like Walmart, Home Depot, and Pizza Hut. It continued to completely destroy a three-storey apartment complex and toss cars on top of each other.

Joplin, Missouri Courtesy TWN Joplin, Mo. Courtesy of TWN

The twister started to diminish in strength and finally lifted at 6:12 p.m. The tornado lasted 38 minutes, travelling a total of 35.6 km. It killed 158 people (plus eight more indirect deaths), injured another 1,150, and destroyed 6,954 homes.

Overall, the 2011 Joplin tornado is the seventh-deadliest tornado in U.S. history. It's also the costliest single tornado in U.S. history: Damages amounted to $2.8 billion.

President Obama greets a tornado survivor on May 29, 2011 *"President Obama greets a tornado survivor on May 29, 2011." Courtesy of Wikipedia*

To learn more about the 2011 Joplin tornado, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

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Thumbnail: Joplin tornado. Courtesy of NWS Springfield

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