Remember When: Tri-State Tornado of 1925

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

Tornado damage in Griffin, Indiana.

Soldier standing on Main Street in Griffin, Indiana, 1925. Source: UASC, Don Blair collection, MSS 247-5765.

Over the years, Indiana has had its fair share of weather stories such as the Blizzard of 1978, the Great Ohio River Flood of 1937, the 1974 Tornado Outbreak, just to name a few. Back in 1925, Doppler radar was not used, and weather was unpredictable, it still is today but has changed in the last hundred years. Back in March 1925, one tornado changed the course of history and not only affected one community but crossed over 200 miles of land. This was the Tri-State Tornado of 1925.

Picture it, March 18, 1925: Ellington, Missouri. It was a peaceful day until around 1:00 PM. The weather began to change, and a major storm was coming, causing the residents to panic. The National Weather Service in St. Louis and Paducah, Kentucky issued tornado watches for parts of “… southwest Missouri, southern Illinois, southwest Indiana, and portions of adjacent Kentucky” (National Weather Service Heritage, n.d.). A tornado formed, and no one knew what was going to happen next. Due to the lack of technology and resources for forecasting the weather, this tornado was basically unknown to most people. Once it touched down in Ellington, Missouri, the storm took its own course and many people did not know what was going to happen next.

Cars driving through Griffin, Indiana for tornado relief, 1925.

Tornado relief in Griffin, Indiana, 1925. Source: UASC, Don Blair collection, MSS 247-5757.

The tornado would move northwest and barreled through Missouri, affecting six more towns in this path. The storm did not stop there and continued into Illinois and crossing the Mississippi River. Once in Illinois, the tornado hit nine more towns, destroying the towns and killing hundreds of people. The last town affected by the tornado was Crossville, on the banks of the Wabash River. The tornado was about to hit Indiana.

Once the tornado crossed the Wabash River, it moved north and struck the town of Griffin. Photographs from the Don Blair collection at the University Archives and Special Collections at the University of Southern Indiana show the tornado’s destructive power in Griffin. The town was destroyed, and the residents of Griffin had to rebuild. The tornado did not last much longer: by 4:30 PM, the tornado dissipated in Pike County, Indiana.

In the wake of this tragedy, the tornado set numerous records, which have not been broken as of 2020. It is unknown if the 1925 Tri-State Tornado was one tornado or multiple tornadoes; however, the tornado is the longest continuous storm in US history at three and a half hours long. The tornado was estimated to have been 3/4-mile average path (at one point, a mile wide). This storm has the highest number of causalities in US history at 695 deaths. Over 2,000 people were injured and approximately 15,000 houses were destroyed in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.

  • Tri-State Tornado: At 4:00 PM on March 18, 1925, a tornado arrived in Indiana after devastating parts of Missouri and Illinois. The town of Griffin was destroyed; the Owensville area and Princeton suffered heavy losses. Hundreds were injured; 76 were killed. Within hours, help came from nearby towns, the American Red Cross, and Indiana National Guard.
  • Tri-State Tornado: 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. After a year, much of the town was rebuilt, including a schoolhouse, one church, and a grain elevator. This tornado is still rated the deadliest in US weather history.
  • Memorial honoring the lives lost in Griffin, Indiana.

If you are interested in learning more about the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, the University Archives and Special Collections (UASC) housed in the David L. Rice Library at the University of Southern Indiana, has over twenty photographs from the Don Blair collection from Griffin, Indiana in the aftermath and recovery efforts of the 1925 Tri-State Tornado. If you would like to read more about the Tri-State Tornado, UASC and Rice Library has printed book and electronic books on the tornado such as:

References Consulted

Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2020, March 24). Tri-State tornado of 1925. Encyclopaedic Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Tri-State-Tornado-of-1925

Grabert, J. (2017, March 28). Tri-State Tornado destroys Griffin. Mount Vernon Democrat. https://www.mvdemocrat.com/content/tri-state-tornado-destroys-griffin

National Weather Service. (n.d.). 1925 tornado. https://www.weather.gov/pah/1925Tornado_ss

National Weather Service Heritage (n.d.). The Tri-State tornado of 1925. https://vlab.ncep.noaa.gov/web/nws-heritage/-/the-tri-state-tornado-of-1925

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