“The Great Tri-State Tornado” Geography Essay

This is a research essay written for my grade 12 geography course. The subject has to be some sort of famous weather event. The essay has to be written in “university” style, my geo teacher said. This means the essay has to have a rigid structure, be about 1500 words long, with a full bibliography and proper citations. I did my essay on a devastating tornado in the 1920s. This is probably the longest essay I have ever written, and I heard that there’ll be a lot more of these in university. Damn! I admit that this essay is a bit of a bore and is not as humourous as my other works, but this is a different type of writing. I had about two months to complete this essay, and I had the teacher check my drafts many times, so of course I got an A, and so did most of my class. Oh, if you have been assigned this essay, as my teacher and some of his friends undoubtedly will assign in the next few years, you are welcome to look at my essay for some hints and pointers, but don’t copy word for word, since you’ll probably get caught. If you get caught, it’s not my fault. So here is the essay. If you want to waste a few minutes of you life (just kidding), please read on.


Tornadoes are some of the most powerful and destructive weather events on Earth. A tornado is a storm that develops a whirling funnel of air that touches the ground and tornadoes typically develop over flat, inland areas (Clouds R Us.com, 2002). The Tri-State Tornado is one of, if not the worst tornado disaster in US history. The tornado developed during an afternoon thunderstorm in southeast Missouri (Westra, 1998). The tornado’s path consisted mostly of flat land with agricultural produce that was sparsely populated by people (The Tornado Project, 1999). The funnel traveled a total of 219 miles through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, all of which are inside a region known as the Tornado Alley (NOAA/NWS, 2001). The tornado crossed largely rural farmland with a few towns in between them (The Tornado Project, 1999). This great tornado devastated towns in its path by causing $16.5 million in damages and killing a total of 695 people (NOAA/NWS, 2001). The Tri-State Tornado had many environmental, political, economic and social consequences.

The Tri-State Tornado had a profound environmental effect over the places in its 219 mile path such as farms and small towns like Murphysboro and DeSoto. The tornado’s suction power changed the terrain, which is part of the lithosphere. A F5 tornado such as this one can lift up to an inch of topsoil off the ground (USA Today, 2002). The removal of topsoil also removed any life forms that happened to be in the soil and make plant growth more difficult afterwards as all the nutrients in the topsoil were blown away. This also affected the local agricultural industry, since topsoil is important for good crop growth. The topsoil in the tornado could have ended up in rivers and streams, making them shallow and dirty. The hydrosphere was also affected in other ways by the tornado. The Tri-State Tornado crossed both the Mississippi River and the Wabash River (NWS Forecast Office, 2003). The tornado sucked water up into the sky and killed water life that was unfortunate enough to be caught, disrupting the rivers’ natural nutrient cycle and habitat of animals in small lakes (Turner, 2002). Another short term consequence would be that the tornado added contents into the atmosphere. Tornadoes, especially a powerful one such as the Tri-State tornado, can propel a lot of dust and debris into the sky (Clouds R Us.com, 2002). The materials that were sucked up have to come down eventually, so the bigger objects may cause damage or injury, and the smaller air borne particles may cloud people’s vision and made it harder for some people to breathe. The Great Tornado took its highest toll on the biosphere. As the deadliest tornado ever in the US, the Tri-State Tornado killed 695 people and injured thousands more (NOAA/NWS, 2001). The tornado’s massive power basically wiped out and plants and animals in its path of destruction. Some sources report the human death toll as over 700, but the most used number is till 695. The Tri-State Tornado was a severe weather event that affected elements of the lithosphere by moving soil, the hydrosphere by sucking up water, the atmosphere by sucking dust and debris into the air, and the biosphere by killing many people, plants and animals.

The Tri-State Tornado also helped to start changes in the political system. The destruction caused by the tornado was a wakeup call to the government. Events such as this tornado made the US realize that it needed a tornado warning system (Missouri Department of Insurance, 2004). The national weather warning system that was born would go on to save many lives and still operates today. The presence of such a system, along with the availability of mass communication devices such as radio, contributed to the steady decline of annual tornado deaths in the US from an average of 300 or more people per year in the 1920s to less than 100 per year in the 1990s (Doswell, 1998). The government also eventually realized that survivors of such weather disasters needed financial aid. The Tri-State Tornado and other tornadoes of the 1920s were responsible for the recognition that more national infrastructure was needed to respond to such disasters (Doswell, 2002). The aid system that developed would help relieve municipalities and survivors of some financial burden from the losses they have suffered. Unfortunately, there was no aid system for the victims of the Tri-State Tornado, so towns devastated by this disaster took a long time to recover or never recovered at all, like the town of Parrish that became a ghost town after being destroyed (Westra, 1998). A major reason why some many people perished in the Great Tornado was that the technology at the time was insufficient to warn the people (NOAA, 2000). The Tri-State Tornado may have spurred the development of the weather forecast technology (Tornado Warning Online, 2003). The new technology such as weather radars and weather warning radio stations that would be developed made a weather warning system possible and would eventually give researchers a better understanding of these events (Tornado Warning Online, 2003). In time, the political system responded to disasters such as the Tri-State Tornado by changing its policies on weather forecast technologies and disaster relief in order to help prevent the death and destruction caused by a severe weather event.

The destruction caused by the Tri-State Tornado obviously had an impact on the local economy of the affected region as well. Agriculture in the local region was devastated by the tornado. The Tri-State Tornado destroyed many farms in its path, including 85 farms between the towns of Griffin and Princeton and the losses between totaled to about $1.8 million between the two towns (The Tornado Project, 1999). The destruction of the farms may have drastically lowered the income the farmers can get for the current season and also burdened them with the cost of repairs. The tornado also affected the economy of local municipalities as it destroyed a significant portion of the businesses. Towns such as West Frankfort lost 20% of its businesses to the tornado (Westra, 1998). The lost of businesses meant that less money can be earned and put into the local economy and business owners who survive have to pay for repairs. The massive damage caused by the tornado also became a huge burden on local towns and people. Because there was no relief program back then, all $16.5 million in damages had to be replaced by the local towns and survivors (Doswell, 2002). People who already lost everything could not find the money or resources to rebuild their homes and businesses. The local people and communities had a hard time recovering from the economic consequences of the tornado due to the fact that some sources of income had been cut and no financial aid was given to them. It took months for towns to rebuild what was destroyed in three and a half hours, and many towns such as Murphysboro and Griffin were never restored to their original state as their populations diminished and jobs became scarce (Weather.com, 2005).

Finally, the Tri-State Tornado produced some social consequences for the people who had experienced its power. The tornado, with its tremendous path width and forward speed, literally wiped out everything in its path. The 695 deaths caused by the tornado makes it the deadliest tornado ever in North America (NOAA/NWS, 2001). Towns like Murphysboro and West Frankfort lost a significant portion of its population, which meant there was a dramatic reduction in people who can help rebuild these communities and was probably emotionally devastating for the people who have lost their friends and relatives. The tornado also destroyed about 15000 homes along its path (NOAA/NWS, 2001). The result was many people were killed and 11000 were left homeless (Galarneau, 2004). The homeless people have lost almost everything and would have a hard time recovering from this situation. Many may result to crime in order to survive or became depressed. Looting was witnessed by some, including someone trying to take a ring off a deceased person (E-Paranoids, 2005). Lastly, the Tri-State Tornado left many people financially depleted. The local people had to pay for all the repairs because of the lack in government aid (Doswell, 2002). People who were not rich to begin with could not bare such a financial burden to repair their shops and homes because they could not get much income as the towns were all messed up. People may leave the area to look for opportunities elsewhere and local communities may dry up and disappear. The social consequences caused by tornado such as the reduction in work force, financial hardship and homeless were difficult for the local people to deal with.

In conclusion, the Tri-State Tornado had major impacts on the political, economic, environmental and social system. The tornado affected all parts of the environment it crossed, moving soil, water, air and creatures that happened to be in its way. The tornado also prompted the government to encourage development in weather forecasting and warning technologies and a disaster relief system. The Great Tornado also gave economic hardship to towns and people by taking away some sources of income and destroying a lot of property. Finally, the tornado’s aftermath presented difficult social consequences such as homelessness and poverty for local populations. By analyzing and studying tornadoes such as the Tri-State Tornado, we gain a better understanding and insight into weather events such as this one and the effects on people and natural environments.


Clouds R Us.com. (2002). Tornadoes. Retrieved January 17, 2005, from

Doswell, Charles A. (2002, October). Societal Impacts of Severe Weather. Retrieved December 27, 2004, from

Doswell, Chuck. (1998). Tornadoes: Some Hard Realities. Retrieved December 26, 2004, from

E-Paranoids. (2005). Tri-State Tornado Guide, Meaning, Facts, Information and Description. Retrieved January 22, 2005, from

Galarneau, Tom. (2004, October 1). Tri-State Tornado. Retrieved December 27, 2004, from

Missouri Department of Insurance (2004). Show-Me Insurance. Retrieved December 30, 2004, from

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2000). Remembering the March 18, 1925 Tri State Tornado. Retrieved December 29, 2004, from

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/ National Weather Service (2001, October 1). March 18, 1925 Tri State Tornado 75th Anniversary Web Page. Retrieved December 25, 2004, from

National Weather Service Forecast Office (2003, December 3). Frequently Asked Questions: Tornadoes. Retrieved December 26, 2004, from

The Tornado Project (1999). Top Ten US Killer Tornadoes. Retrieved Dec 28, 2004, from

Tornado Warning Online! (2003). 1925 Monster Tornado. Retrieved January 5, 2005 from

Turner, Michele. (2003, May 5). Final Project. Retrieved December 26, 2004, from

USA Today (2002). Tornado Chase 2000. Retrieved December 26, 2004, from

Weather.com. (2005). 1925 “Tri-State” Tornado: Murphysboro Today. Retrieved January 22, 2005, from

Westra, Curt. (1998, May 11). Great Tri-State Tornado of 1925. Retrieved December 25, 2004, from http://www.geocites.com/Heartland/7847/tornado2.htm.

15 thoughts to ““The Great Tri-State Tornado” Geography Essay”

  1. Hey this is great! I was trying to find information and this was the best! I should of fould this one first! Thanks!


  2. Your essay was great it gave me lots of info on the tri-state tornado. Actulaly helped me write my own essay about it.

  3. :-D your essay was very well written. I am doing a science project on the tri state tornado and you gave us a lot of good information. Thanks a lot! :)

  4. Awesome essay! I’m doing my first essay for AP geography and this has a lot of great information!
    Thanks so much! xD

  5. Thankyou SO MUCH ! I’m doing a geo project for on this and there was SO much info! I should have found this before hand!

  6. omg, thanks lots. wish i knew bout this earlier. dont wrry ill put this in my citation!!!!!!!!! THANKS :D

  7. I love u thanks a lot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Hi, I googled the1920 tornado because my
    Great grandparents, great aunt &
    Uncle, & their 3 children died in it. I
    Have never been able to find their
    Story on Ms news Accts. I keep up the

  9. That was a great article, in just 1 paragraph, i can already add a couple sentences for my report. Thanks a lot!

  10. Thanks so much for posting this! I had to do a project for science, and couldn’t find any information about the impact the tornado had on the economy.

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