The Tornadoes of 2021

map of tornado activity

For many Americans, 2021 was an unusual, unsettling, challenging year. For tornadoes, it was fairly average (statistically).

Of 1,280 confirmed tornado reports:

  • 523 (40.8%) were rated EF0
  • 431 (33.6%) were EF1
  • 102 (8%) were EF2
  • 21 (1.6%) were EF3
  • 3 (0.23%) were EF4
  • none were EF5
  • 200 were unrated

103 tornado-related deaths were confirmed in the United States in 2021.

Tornadoes were not confirmed in Idaho, Maine, Oregon, and Vermont. The other 44 contiguous states all had at least one tornado.

Major 2021 Tornadoes (EF3-EF4)

24 tornadoes were rated EF3 or higher in 2021.

January 25 — An EF3 tornado with winds up to 150 mph hit Fultondale and Center Point, Alabama, killing one.

February 15 — Around midnight, an EF3 tornado destroyed dozens of homes in the Ocean Ridge Plantation subdivision near Sunset Beach, North Carolina, with three fatalities.

March 25 — A major outbreak brought four EF3 tornadoes to Alabama and one EF4 to Georgia. The first EF3 destroyed homes in southern suburbs of Birmingham. The second one hit Ohatchee, killing six. Another EF3 cut an 80-mile long swath, hitting Sawyerville, Greensboro, and Brent. The EF4 hit Newman, Georgia, killing one.

April 10 — Around 2 AM, an EF3 destroyed mobile homes in Waxia, Texas, killing one.

April 27 — A multiple-vortex EF3 hit Truscott, Texas, causing significant property damage but no fatalities.

June 20 — A low-end EF3 tornado stuck the Chicago suburbs of Naperville, Woodridge, and Darien, damaging or destroying many homes and injuring eleven (but no deaths).

July 14 — A large, multiple-vortex EF3 destroyed a farmstead near Lake City, Iowa, and caused damage in the town itself.

July 29 — An EF3 tornado struck the Trevose and Bensalem suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, damaging homes and businesses.

September 1 — Born from Hurricane Ida, an EF3 tornado touched down near Harrisonville, New Jersey, destroying one home and a barn, with other houses damaged.

October 24-25 — An EF3 tornado severely damaged or destroyed several homes and businesses in or near Farmington and St. Mary, Missouri. It crossed the Mississippi river and hit Chester, Illinois, damaging homes, businesses, and a nursing home. To the south, another EF3 struck the Missouri towns of Fredericktown and Junction City, destroying homes and businesses.

December 10-11 — An EF3 tornado damaged or destroyed multiple homes near Defiance, Missouri, killing one person. A second EF3 tornado destroyed an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, killing six employees.

An EF4 tornado caused major damage in the Arkansas towns of Monette, Leachville and Trumann, destroying many homes and businesses. One warehouse in Trumann was completely destroyed except for the two Atlas Safe Rooms which survived. The tornado crossed into Missouri, where homes were swept completely away near Braggadocio, and semi-trucks were thrown from roadways near Hayti. After crossing the Mississippi River into Tennessee, it destroyed many structures at a resort along the shores of Reelfoot Lake, and in Samburg. A total of seven people were killed by this tornado.

A second violent EF4 tornado caused catastrophic damage and 56 fatalities as it tore through the Kentucky towns of Cayce, Mayfield, Princeton, Dawson Springs, and Bremen.  Thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed, many of them leveled or swept from their foundations. Mayfield suffered near-total destruction, with 22 deaths in Mayfield alone.

In the early morning hours, Bowling Green, Kentucky sustained major damage from a third EF3 tornado. It damaged or destroyed homes, townhouses, apartment buildings, and businesses, including the GM Corvette Assembly Plant. A fourth EF3 tornado destroyed a dairy farm, homes and mobile homes, chicken houses, and a metal truss tower near Russellville.

A fifth EF3 tornado caused severe damage to homes in Kenton, Tennessee before destroying homes and businesses in Dresden. It crossed into Kentucky and hit the town of Pembroke. Yet another (sixth) EF3 tornado destroyed houses, tossed vehicles, and killed one person near Saloma, Kentucky.

All told, this one outbreak produced 71 tornadoes (six EF3s and two EF4s) and killed 88 people (72 by EF3s and EF4s).

In Closing

85% of all tornado fatalities in 2021 occurred in the major multi-state outbreak of December 10-11. Most of those deaths were caused by EF3 and EF4 tornadoes.

Tornadoes can form at any time of the year, in most areas of the United States — not just in the region known as Tornado Alley. Make sure you’re prepared.

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