U.S. Severe Weather Blog

US Annual Tornado Death Tolls, 1875-present

Updated 23 May 2013 to include data through 2012

 

One of the reasons that we started this blog was to provide basic information on severe weather and its impacts.  Frequently, we get questions along the lines of “What’s the average X per year?” For many different “X”es, this is not as easy of a question as it might appear.  In large part, this is because many of the things we deal with have large trends in them (severe weather reports per year), so that the “average” depends on how far back you go in the record.  In order to make it easy for people who want the data to get the answer they need, we hope to put some of those numbers online here.

The first dataset is the number of deaths per year from tornadoes in the United States. The National Weather Service archive goes back to 1950. Brooks and Doswell (2002) discussed the long-term history of tornado deaths, drawing on the work of Grazulis (1993) (Grazulis, T. P., 1993: Significant Tornadoes, 1680-1991. Environmental Films, 1326 pp.). Reasonably reliable estimates of deaths per year can be made back to about 1875 by using the Grazulis data.

The Brooks and Doswell paper had a graph of the annual death toll normalized by population of the US through 2000.  Here is an updated version (through 2008) of that figure, showing that the death toll per million population appears to have leveled off in the last decade or so.

The purple points are the annual death rates, the red line is a simple smoother, the solid black line is a long-term trend in two sections (1875-1925, 1925-2000) and the cyan lines are estimates of the 10th percentile and 90th percentile from 1925-2000. Brooks and Doswell (2002) have an extensive discussion of the record and its possible implications.

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At the end of this post, we have a table of the annual death tolls going back to 1875 (1875-1949 from Grazulis, 1950-2008 from the National Weather Service.)  Although the data represent our best understanding at this time, it is possible that the numbers could change, if additional information was found.  Occasionally, it’s discovered that a fatality associated with a tornado was missed or double-counted. We’ll correct such entries if we find about about them, but that will likely be a rare event.  The death tolls are for direct deaths, i.e., someone killed directly by the impact of the tornado.  It does not include indirect deaths, which might not have occurred if the tornado had not happened, but the tornado was not an immediate cause.  Examples of indirect deaths that have occurred include a heart attack upon seeing damage to a neighbor’s house, falls when going to shelter, and a fire caused by a candle lit when the power went out after a tornado.

Year Deaths
1875 183
1876 51
1877 64
1878 102
1879 85
1880 256
1881 73
1882 200
1883 292
1884 252
1885 58
1886 129
1887 60
1888 48
1889 32
1890 244
1891 36
1892 114
1893 294
1894 124
1895 30
1896 537
1897 60
1898 162
1899 227
1900 101
1901 52
1902 157
1903 216
1904 87
1905 184
1906 70
1907 80
1908 477
1909 404
1910 12
1911 55
1912 175
1913 346
1914 41
1915 84
1916 150
1917 551
1918 136
1919 206
1920 499
1921 202
1922 135
1923 110
1924 376
1925 794
1926 144
1927 540
1928 95
1929 274
1930 179
1931 36
1932 394
1933 362
1934 47
1935 71
1936 552
1937 29
1938 183
1939 91
1940 65
1941 53
1942 384
1943 58
1944 275
1945 210
1946 78
1947 313
1948 139
1949 211
1950 70
1951 34
1952 230
1953 519
1954 36
1955 129
1956 83
1957 193
1958 67
1959 58
1960 46
1961 52
1962 30
1963 31
1964 73
1965 301
1966 98
1967 114
1968 131
1969 66
1970 73
1971 159
1972 27
1973 89
1974 366
1975 60
1976 44
1977 43
1978 53
1979 84
1980 28
1981 24
1982 64
1983 34
1984 122
1985 94
1986 15
1987 59
1988 32
1989 50
1990 53
1991 39
1992 39
1993 33
1994 69
1995 30
1996 25
1997 67
1998 130
1999 94
2000 41
2001 40
2002 55
2003 54
2004 35
2005 39
2006 67
2007 81
2008 126
2009 21
2010 45
2011 553
2012 70

Harold Brooks is a research meteorologist with the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma.

This blog is intended to facilitate communication about the impacts of selected severe weather events, particularly major tornadoes, in the United States. We hope it will allow us to assist interested parties to understand what we at the NOAA Weather Partners in Norman, Oklahoma have been able to gather about the events. It is not intended to provide critical weather forecast information, nor is it intended to provide information on a broad range of research topics associated with severe weather.

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