The 10 Costliest Tornadoes

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This post comes from Barbara Marquand at partner site Insure.com.

The May 20 Moore, Okla., tornado is a reminder of how violent thunderstorm season can be. Disaster modelers estimate damage will top $2 billion, possibly making it the costliest U.S. tornado of all time.

The twister touched down in the southern Oklahoma City metro area and in 40 minutes cut a destructive swath 17 miles long and up to 1.3 miles wide — almost the size of Manhattan. Winds of up to 210 mph ripped through Briarwood Elementary School, leveled Plaza Towers Elementary, wrecked some 12,000 homes and tore off the top floor of Moore Medical Center. Twenty-four people lost their lives, including seven children at Plaza Towers.

Tornadoes are the second costliest type of disaster in the United States, having caused $130.2 billion in insured losses from 1992 to 2011, more than five times that of earthquakes and fires combined. Only hurricanes and tropical storms, which caused $161.3 billion in insured losses in those years, are more destructive overall.

Home insurance covers tornado damage; you do not need a special tornado policy. However, you do need a sufficient amount of dwelling coverage to recover if your house is leveled. It’s always a good time to double-check your coverage amount. Here’s information on tornado cleanup and insurance claims.

Here’s a look at the 10 costliest tornadoes before this year and since 1950, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center. Figures are adjusted for inflation to 2011 dollars.

No. 10: Oklahoma City, May 8, 2003

$435.3 million

The region has seen more than its share of violent weather. Three tornadoes swept through the southern section of the metro area, including the suburb of Moore, in the evening. The most violent of the twisters ripped through a General Motors plant, damaged hundreds of homes and leveled an office park, hotels and restaurants. Dozens of people were injured, but no one was killed.

No. 9: Windsor Locks, Conn., Oct. 3, 1979

$776.4 million

Tornadoes are rare in Connecticut, and powerful ones are rarer still. The Windsor Locks twister struck without warning and wiped out dozens of homes along an 11-mile path. Winds ripped off a hangar roof at the Bradley Air Museum and scattered two dozen planes like tiddlywinks. Granger Elementary School was shut down for weeks because of structural damage. Three people died, and some 500 were injured.

No. 8: Grand Island, Neb., June 3, 1980

$779.9 million

The terrible evening storm produced seven tornadoes in three hours. Three of the twisters were notable because of their clockwise rotation — almost all tornadoes in the Northern Hemisphere turn counterclockwise. The outbreak killed five people, injured 200 and destroyed almost 500 homes and 50 businesses. The disaster inspired a book and a made-for-television movie, “Night of the Twisters.”

No. 7: Wichita Falls, Texas, April 10, 1979

$862.8 million

This giant tornado, part of the Red River Valley outbreak that struck western North Texas and southern Oklahoma, killed 42 people and injured 1,700 others. Three funnels combined into one with winds exceeding 250 mph. The milewide tornado destroyed some 2,000 homes and laid waste to one-fifth of the city.

No. 6: Omaha, Neb., May 6, 1975

$1.05 billion

Late in the afternoon, the tornado touched down just south of Omaha and moved northeast through the heart of the city. The twister killed three people and injured 133 others as it carved a 10-mile path through residential neighborhoods and business districts. The tornado swiped a hospital, destroyed a school and post office, pounded almost 300 homes to splinters and rubble and damaged 1,400 others.

No. 5: Xenia, Ohio, April 3, 1974

$1.14 billion

The Xenia twister was the most destructive in a two-day outbreak of 148 tornadoes across 13 states. The tornado touched down at 4:30 p.m. southwest of the city and cut a 32-mile path through Xenia and Wilberforce, killing 32 people and injuring 1,300 along the way. The tornado wiped out hundreds of homes, nine churches and seven schools and tore off the roof and blew out the windows of the Greene County Courthouse. It also destroyed buildings on the Wilberforce University and Central State University campuses and struck a train passing through town, tossing over seven railroad cars and blocking Main Street.

No. 4: Oklahoma City, May 3, 1999

$1.35 billion

The recent disaster in Moore was an eerie reminder of this tornado, which cut a similar path of destruction and killed 36 people. The tornado, part of an outbreak of 74 twisters in Oklahoma and Kansas, tore along 38 miles for about 90 minutes through southern Oklahoma City and its suburbs. More than 2,500 homes and businesses were destroyed and 8,000 damaged.

No. 3: Lubbock, Texas, May 11, 1970

$1.45 billion

This massive tornado was 1.5 miles wide as it began its 8.5-mile march through town, gradually narrowing to a quarter mile by the time it reached the airport. The twister wrecked 10,000 cars, damaged more than 8,000 homes, and destroyed 119 aircraft. In the downtown district, the wind blew out 80 percent of the plate-glass windows. Twenty-six people lost their lives, and 1,500 were injured.

No. 2: Topeka, Kan., June 8, 1966

$1.74 billion

In 30 minutes the tornado ripped a 22-mile path through the city, killing 16 and injuring 500. The twister damaged every building on the Washburn University campus and tore up 3,000 homes in the city. Flying debris damaged the capitol dome and several buildings downtown. An old Indian legend that Burnetts Mound in southwest Topeka would protect the city from tornadoes died that evening.

No. 1: Joplin, Mo., May 22, 2011

$2.8 billion

Besides ranking as costliest, the Joplin tornado is the deadliest since 1950, killing 158 people and injuring more than 1,000 others. The monster twister pulverized almost 7,000 homes, destroyed dozens of businesses and leveled schools, churches, banks and big-box stores. More than 15,000 cars, trucks and tractors were tossed around like Matchbox cars. Some were thrown several blocks, and others flattened and wrapped around remaining trees or rolled into balls. The tornado twisted steel support beams, jack-hammered parking lots and squashed concrete. Unimaginable wind drilled a rubber hose through a tree trunk and drove a board, without breaking it, through a concrete curb.

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