News reports portray a dreary start to March 18, 1925 with heavy rain in the morning but nothing that would foretell the disaster that was to come. Before the day was over, parts of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana would be torn asunder and nearly 700 people would be dead.
Today marks the 85th anniversary of what we now call the Tri-State Tornado. The deadly twister was of the likes that had never been seen before – and hasn’t been seen since. That morning, the U.S. Weather Bureau’s forecast called for “rains and strong shifting winds.” Nothing that would indicate the horror that was to come.
The first reports of the tornado happened at 1:01pm near Ellington, Missouri. As it moved to the northeast the twister tore through the towns of Annapolis, Redford, Cornwall, Biehle, and Frohna. By the time it exited Missouri, 11 people were dead.
Illinois bore the brunt of the tornado as it continued on its deadly path. It crossed the Mississippi River and tore through Gorham, Johnston City, Murphysboro, De Soto, Hurst-Bush and a half dozen other Illinois towns. Entire towns were reduced to rubble, over a thousand people were injured and 613 people in the state were dead.
Far from over, the twister crossed into Indiana where the towns of Griffin, Owensville, and Princeton were hit. 71 people are thought to have died in the state.
The horror finally came to an end at 4:30pm, three and a half hours after it started. The tornado dissipated southwest of Petersburg, Indiana but not until after it had covered a path of at least 219 miles and left death and destruction the entire way. From southeastern Missouri, completely across southern Illinois and into southwestern Indiana, the tornado was the longest tracking twister ever recorded.