TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Since the year 1950, there have been more than 9,600 tornadoes that have touched down in Texas, causing nearly $7 billion in damages, more than 500 deaths and over 9,000 people injured, according to the El Paso Times’ Tornado Archive.
The National Weather Service says on average 72% of all tornado-related deaths are in homes, with 54% of those fatalities being people living in mobile homes. The NWS also says people in mobile homes are 15 to 20 percent more likely to be killed in comparison to those in a permanent shelter during tornadoes.
Listed below are the top 10 deadliest tornados in Texas since 1900, according to the National Weather Service:
The Waco Tornado (1953)
The deadliest tornado in Texas history took place on Mother’s Day in 1953. It was recorded as an F5 tornado and first touched down north of Lorena and worked its way toward Waco. The radar screen at Texas A&M University showed the tornado developed a hook-shaped echo and was nearly one-third of a mile wide.
As the tornado made its way through Waco, it damaged over 1,000 homes and buildings, destroyed around 2,000 vehicles and killed 114 people. The tornado also injured a total of 597. Several of the survivors had to wait up to 14 hours to be rescued, and some bodies could not be recovered for several days.
In the wake of the deadly tornado, Texas A&M University and the National Weather Service organized the Texas Tornado Warning Conference in June 1953 to create an efficient tornado warning system and prevent death tolls like this one from happening again. The conference led to improved inter-agency communication, early development of the SKYWARN storm spotter program and a national radar network.
The Goliad Tornado (1902)
The second deadliest tornado took place on May 18, 1902. It first touched down about 15 miles southwest of Goliad and moved on a track toward the northeast. It was recorded as an F4 tornado and was about one-eighth of a mile wide.
This tornado had the same amount of fatalities as the Waco tornado, 114, but is ranked second as there were 347 fewer people injured.
Hundreds of buildings in Goliad were destroyed, including several churches. One of those churches was reportedly holding services when the tornado hit, and all 40 worshippers were injured or killed.
The Rocksprings Tornado (1927)
The third deadliest tornado first touched down well south of what is generally considered “Tornado Alley,” three miles northwest of Rocksprings. It was recorded as an F5 tornado and was nearly a mile wide.
As it made its way through Rocksprings, it destroyed 235 of the 247 buildings in the town. It killed 74 people and injured 205. The Edwards County Historical Commission said the highway department reportedly had to use dynamite since so many graves had to be dug.
The Glazier-Higgins-Woodward Tornadoes (1947)
The fourth deadliest tornado took place on April 9, 1947, and traveled through Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. It touched down five miles northwest of Pampa and its funnel was reportedly between one and two miles wide at times. The tornado is believed to have been on the ground for more than 100 miles.
Before reaching Oklahoma, it destroyed the town of Glazier, killing 17 people and injuring 40 more. It also destroyed most of the town of Higgins, killing another 51 people and injuring 232 more. The final total of deaths across the three states was 181 killed and 970 injured.
The Wichita Falls Tornado (1979)
This tornado is widely regarded as one of the most infamous of Texas tornadoes. It was recorded as an F4 tornado and first touched down three miles northeast of Holliday, eventually crossing into Wichita Falls.
It destroyed and severely damaged homes, vehicles and businesses such as Memorial Stadium, McNeil Junior High and the shopping center. The funnel was reported to be half a mile wide at times and traveled into Oklahoma where it eventually dissipated. It left 20,000 people homeless, destroyed over 3,000 homes, caused 1,700 injuries and killed 42 people.
The Frost Tornado (1930)
Tornado number six was recorded as an F4 and touched down in Hill County. As it traveled northeast, it struck the town of Frost and killed 25 of its citizens.
It caused additional deaths in towns south of Rankin and Ennis. The total number of fatalities reached 41 with over 200 more people being injured.
The Karnes-Dewitt Tornado (1930)
This tornado took place on the same day as the Frost Tornado, May 6, 1930. This one touched down in Karnes County and traveled east-northeast three miles south of Runge and dissipated three miles south of Nordheim.
It was recorded as an F4 and along its path, destroyed several weakly-constructed homes and shelters that provided very little safety which led to 36 deaths and 60 people injured. Damage was estimated at $127,000.
The Zephyr Tornado (1909)
The eighth deadliest tornado formed near the town of Zephyr and destroyed large parts of the town during the early morning hours leaving citizens little to see other than vacant lots.
Not much is known of the path the tornado took, but it was rated an F4 and damaged around 50 homes, six businesses, two churches and a high school. It killed 34 people and injured another 70.
The Saragosa Tornado (1987)
This tornado first touched down two miles southwest of Saragosa and moved three miles northeast before it fully dissipated. It was rated as an F4 with a funnel measure of half a mile wide.
It destroyed 80% of the town and killed 30 people while injuring another 121. Twenty-two of the deaths took place at a children’s graduation ceremony being held at the Guadalupe Hall. Most of the people killed were parents and grandparents who were protecting children from the debris with their bodies.
The Jarrell Tornado (1997)
The final tornado on our list happens to be the most recent. It was recorded as an F5 and traveled in an unusual path, moving south-southwest. This tornado has revived studies on the role of gravity waves on thunderstorm initiation.
It killed 27 people and injured 12 more. Hundreds of cattle were also injured and 40 homes were destroyed, with some being completely removed from their foundations.
Texas Tornado Statistics
According to the Texas Almanac, around 132 tornadoes touch down in Texas each year with nearly 63% of them occurring within the three months of April, May and June. The greatest outbreak of tornadoes in Texas happened in September 1967 when 115 tornadoes touched down in the five day span between September 19-23. Sixty-seven of those tornadoes occurred on Sept. 20, which is the record for most tornadoes in a single day in Texas.
1967 holds the record for most tornadoes in a single year, with a total of 232 touching Texas soil. The second-most tornadoes in Texas in a single year happened in 1995 when 223 touched down.
On Dec. 29, 2006, a total of 27 tornadoes occurred, making it the biggest outbreak in December in Texas. December, on average, only has around three tornadoes touch down each year.