Year of Misfortune: Top 12 Billion-Dollar U.S. Disasters

By Tom Randall - 2011-12-21T20:11:59Z

Photograph by Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times/Redux

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#3 Joplin, Missouri

A twister three-quarters of a mile wide touched down in Joplin before dinnertime on May 22, a Sunday. It etched a wide scar of devastation into the landscape, including damage to thousands of buildings, including the local high school and the city's main hospital. Over five days, 180 tornadoes devastated lives and livelihoods across 15 states.

The Joplin tornado was rated EF5, the most powerful. It contained multiple vortexes -- smaller, internally spinning whirls that add wind force to a twister. In all, 161 people died in Joplin, making it the deadliest single twister since modern record keeping began in 1950. Total losses from five days of storms topped $9.1 billion, with 177 people dead.

The total human toll of 2011 is second only to that of 1925, when the most ferocious tornado recorded wrought a path of destruction 219 miles long across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, leaving 695 people dead. Because storms weren't evaluated with today's rigor, scientists can't be certain whether it was truly a single tornado, or a cluster.

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