Rare December Tornado Cluster Kills 90 People Across Six States


UNITED STATES—December 17, 2021—Last Friday, a severe weather system that caused significant snowfall in the upper Midwest also spawned a tornado cluster that cut across six states: Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. The storms killed at least 90 people with more possibly still unaccounted for, according to The New York Times. Kentucky was the hardest-hit state, accounting for at least 80 deaths. Although severe tornadoes are rare in December, especially this far north, they are not unprecedented; however, this storm is now the deadliest December day for tornadoes on record.

Part of an Amazon warehouse in Illinois collapsed, killing six. Warren County, Ky. reported at least 12 dead. Tennessee has reported at least four deaths. Two people were killed in Arkansas and two in Missouri. Across the affected states, rescuers continue to search the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors and victims. In Kentucky, at least 300 National Guard members were deployed to help with rescue efforts, according to The New York Times.

At least three tornadoes hit Kentucky, the largest of which is reported to have remained on the ground for up to 250 miles, traversing parts of four states over four hours. According to Scientific American, the National Weather Service is still analyzing the path of the tornado, but if these facts bear out, it will break a 1925 record for the longest tornado in U.S. history. The tornado devastated the town of Mayfield, Ky. where at least eight employees at a candle factory were killed.

tornado cluster radar

Composite image of NWS radar taken every 15-20 minutes showing the track of the supercell thunderstorms that traversed well over 100 miles in Kentucky. Image courtesy of the National Weather Service.

Officials have warned that recovery will be slow with many rural communities reduced to rubble by the tornado cluster. Preliminary estimates of losses, including property damage and economic losses, range into the billions, according to The New York Times. Corelogic estimates that through the path of the entire storm, nearly 15,000 structures were damaged or destroyed, putting the cost of damages at $3.7 billion.

Cleanfax Staff

Cleanfax provides cleaning and restoration professionals with information designed to help them manage and grow their businesses.

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