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2011 Joplin tornado

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2011 Joplin tornado

2011 Joplin tornado
EF5 tornado
Catastrophic damage in Joplin
Date May 22, 2011
Time 5:34–6:12 pm CDT (UTC−05:00)
Casualties 158 fatalities (+4 indirect), 1,150 injuries[1][2][3][4]
Damages $2.8 billion (2011 USD)
$2.94 billion (2015 USD[5])
Areas affected Jasper County and Newton County, Missouri; mostly the city of Joplin (part of a larger outbreak)

The 2011 Joplin tornado was a catastrophic EF5 multiple-vortex tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, late in the afternoon of Sunday, May 22, 2011. It was part of a larger late-May tornado outbreak and reached a maximum width of nearly 1 mile (1.6 km) during its path through the southern part of the city.[6] It rapidly intensified and tracked eastward across the city, and then continued eastward across Interstate 44 into rural portions of Jasper County and Newton County.[7] It was the third tornado to strike Joplin since May 1971.[8]

Overall, the tornado killed 158 people (with an additional four indirect deaths), injured some 1,150 others, and caused damages amounting to a total of $2.8 billion. It was the deadliest tornado to strike the United States since the 1947 Glazier-Higgins-Woodward tornadoes, and the seventh-deadliest overall. It also ranks as the costliest single tornado in U.S. history.

In a preliminary estimate, the insurance payout was expected to be $2.2 billion; the highest insurance payout in Missouri history, higher than the previous record of $2 billion in the April 10, 2001 hail storm, which is considered the costliest hail storm in history as it swept along the I-70 corridor from Kansas to Illinois.[9] Estimates earlier stated Joplin damage could be $3 billion. By July 15, 2011, there had been 16,656 insurance claims.[10]

Meteorological synopsis

The tornado initially touched down just east of the Kansas state line near the end of 32nd Street at 5:34 pm CDT (22:34 UTC) and tracked due east, downing a few trees at EF0 intensity. Eyewitnesses and storm chasers reported multiple vortices rotating around the parent circulation in this area.[11][12] The tornado rapidly strengthened to EF1 intensity as it continued through rural areas towards Joplin, snapping trees and power poles and damaging outbuildings. The widening tornado then tracked into the more densely populated southwest corner of Joplin, near the Twin Hills Country Club. Several homes were heavily damaged at EF1 to EF2 strength at a subdivision in this area. The tornado continued to strengthen as it ripped through another subdivision just east of Iron Gates Rd. Numerous homes were destroyed at EF2 to EF3 strength at that location, and multiple vehicles were tossed around, some of which were thrown or rolled into homes.[13]

Aerial view of the St. John's Regional Medical Center campus
Destroyed area in the tornado path

The now massive wedge tornado then crossed S Schifferdecker Ave, producing its first area of EF4 damage as several small but well-built commercial buildings were flattened. Consistent EF4 to EF5 damage was noted east of S Schifferdecker Ave and continued through most of southern Joplin. Numerous homes, businesses, and medical arts buildings were flattened in this area, with concrete walls collapsed and crushed into the foundations. A large steel-reinforced step and floor structure leading to a completely destroyed medical art building was "deflected upward several inches and cracked". Steel trusses from some of the buildings were "rolled up like paper", and deformation/twisting of the main support beams was noted. Multiple vehicles were thrown and mangled or wrapped around trees nearby. Several 300-pound concrete parking stops anchored with rebar were torn from a parking lot in this area, and were thrown up to 60 yards away. Iowa State University wind engineer Parka Sarkar was able to calculate the force needed to remove the parking stops, and found that winds exceeding 200 MPH were needed to tear them from the parking lot.[14] Damage became remarkably widespread and catastrophic at and around the nearby St. John's Regional Medical Center. The hospital lost many windows, interior walls, ceilings, and part of its roof, and its life flight helicopter was also blown away and destroyed. Six fatalities were reported there, and the nine-story building was so severely damaged that it was deemed structurally compromised, and was later torn down. An engineering survey of the building revealed that foundation and underpinning system were damaged beyond repair. According to the NWS office in Springfield, Missouri, such extreme structural damage to such a large and well-built structure was likely indicative of winds at or exceeding 200 MPH.[15] Vehicles in the hospital parking lot were thrown and mangled beyond recognition, including a semi-truck that was thrown 125 yards and wrapped completely around a debarked tree. Wind rowing of debris was noted in this area, and additional concrete parking stops were removed from the St. John's parking lot as well.[16] Virtually every house in neighborhoods near McClelland Boulevard and 26th Street was flattened, some were swept completely away, and trees sustained severe debarking.[17][18]

As the tornado tracked eastward, it maintained EF5 strength as it crossed Main Street between 20th and 26th Streets. Virtually every business along that stretch was heavily damaged or destroyed, and several institutional buildings were destroyed. It tracked just south of downtown, narrowly missing it. Entire neighborhoods were leveled in this area with some homes swept away, and trees were stripped completely of their bark. At some residences, reinforced concrete porches were deformed, or in some cases, completely torn away.[19] Several large apartment buildings were destroyed, as well as Franklin Technology Center, a large church, and Joplin High School. No one was in the high school at the time; the high school graduation ceremonies held about 3 miles (4.8 km) to the north at Missouri Southern State University had concluded shortly before the storm. The Greenbriar nursing home was completely leveled, with 21 fatalities occurring there alone.[20] A church school in southwest Joplin was also flattened and several other schools were heavily damaged. A bank in this area was also completely destroyed, with only the vault remaining, and a wooden 2x4 was found speared completely through a concrete curb at one location.[21] The tornado then approached Range Line Road, the main commercial strip in the eastern part of Joplin, near 20th Street.[22]

The now heavily rain-wrapped tornado continued at EF5 intensity as it crossed Range Line Road. In that corridor between about 13th and 32nd Streets, the damage continued to be catastrophic and the tornado was at its widest at this point, being nearly 1 mile (1.6 km) wide. As the tornado hit the Pizza Hut at 1901 South Range Line Road, store manager Christopher Lucas herded four employees and 15 customers into a walk-in freezer. Since the door could not be shut Lucas wrapped a bungee cable holding the door shut around his arm until he was sucked into the tornado, where he died.[23][24] The tornado completely destroyed Walmart Supercenter No. 59, a Home Depot store, and numerous other businesses and restaurants in this area, many of which were flattened. Steel truss roof support beams were torn from the Home Depot building, and were found broken and mangled in nearby fields. Asphalt was scoured from parking lots at Walmart and a nearby pizza restaurant, and large tractor trailers were thrown up to 200 yards away. Numerous cars were thrown and piled on top of each other as well. 100-pound manhole covers were removed from roads and thrown, ground scouring occurred, and a Pepsi distrubution plant was completely leveled in this area. Additional calculations of the manhole covers in Joplin by Parka Sarkar revealed that winds had to have exceeded 200 MPH for the manhole covers to be removed.[25][26] Many fatalities occurred in this area, and damage was rated as EF5.[27][28]

Radar image of the supercell that produced the tornado

Extreme damage continued in the area of Duquesne Road in southeast Joplin. Many houses and industrial and commercial buildings were flattened in this area as well. The industrial park near the corner of 20th and Duquesne was especially hard hit with nearly every building flattened. Several large metal warehouse structures were swept cleanly from their foundations, and several heavy industrial vehicles were thrown up to 400 yards away in this area. One of the many warehouses affected was a Cummins warehouse, a concrete block and steel building which was destroyed. The last area of EF5 damage occurred in the industrial park. Many homes were flattened further to the east at EF4 strength in a nearby subdivision.[29][30]

The tornado then continued on an east to east-southeast trajectory towards Interstate 44 where it weakened; nonetheless, vehicles were flipped and mangled near the U.S. Route 71 (Exit 11) interchange. The weakening tornado continued to track into the rural areas of southeastern Jasper County and northeastern Newton County where damage was generally minor to moderate, with trees, mobile homes, outbuildings, and frame homes damaged. The tornado lifted east of Diamond at 6:12 pm CDT (23:12 UTC) according to aerial surveys. The tornado's total track length was at least 22.1 miles (35.6 km) long. Overall, 6,954 homes were destroyed, 359 homes had major damage and 516 homes had minor damage, 158 people were killed, and 1,150 others were injured along the path.[6] A separate EF2 tornado touched down near Wentworth from the same supercell about 25 miles (40 km) east-southeast of Joplin.[12][31]

Rating dispute

On June 10, 2013, an engineering study found no evidence of EF5 structural damage in Joplin due to the poor quality of construction of many buildings. However, the EF5 rating stood as the National Weather Service in Springfield, Missouri stated that their survey teams found only a very small area of EF5 structural damage and that it could have easily been missed in the survey (at and around St. John's Medical Center).[32] Additionally, the main basis for the EF5 rating in Joplin was mainly contextual rather than structural, with non-conventional damage indicators such as removal of concrete parking stops, manhole covers, reinforced concrete porches, and asphalt were used to arrive at a final rating of EF5, as it was concluded that these specific instances of damage were indicative of winds exceeding 200 miles per hour. The presence of wind rowed structural debris, and instances of very large vehicles such as buses, vans, and semi-trucks being thrown hundreds of yards to several blocks from their points of origin were also taken into consideration to conclude EF5 intensity.[33]

Aftermath and impact

United States Army Corps of Engineers map showing the extent of the damage

A preliminary survey of the tornado damage by the National Weather Service office in Springfield, Missouri, began on May 23. The initial survey confirmed a violent tornado rated as a high-end EF4. Subsequent damage surveys, however, found evidence of more intense damage, and so the tornado was upgraded to an EF5[6] with estimated winds over 200 mph (320 km/h), peaking at 225 to 250 mph (362 to 402 km/h).[34]

According to the local branch of the American Red Cross, about 25% of Joplin was destroyed, but the city's emergency manager stated that the number was between 10 and 20%, with roughly 2,000 buildings destroyed.[35][36] According to the National Weather Service, emergency managers reported damage to 75% of Joplin.[37] In total, nearly 7,000 houses were destroyed (most of which were flattened or blown away) and over 850 others were damaged.[12] Communications were lost in the community and power was knocked out to many areas.[38][39] With communications down, temporary cell towers had to be constructed. By May 24, three towers owned by AT&T and Sprint had been restored.[40]

East of Joplin, a Risk Management Plan facility released 3,000 to 5,000 pounds (1,400 to 2,300 kg) of anhydrous ammonia; it was contained within two days.[40]

The catastrophe and risk modeling firm Eqecat, Inc. has estimated the damage at one billion to three billion USD, but noted that the true damage is not yet known, since the firm does not have access to data on uninsured losses.[41] More than 17,000 insurance claims had been filed by mid-June. The impact on the insurance industry is not so much the number of claims, but the cumulative effect of such a large number of total losses. More than 2500 local people employed in insurance have been involved in some capacity. It is assumed that State Farm will assume the largest share of these losses, having market share of 27% for homeowners insurance and 21% for automobile insurance.[42]

The $2.8 billion in damage is the largest amount for a tornado since 1950.[43]


Damage in Joplin one day after the tornado
As of May 2012, the official death toll from National Weather Service was listed at 158 while the City of Joplin listed the death toll at 161 (160 direct). The list was up to 162, until one man's injuries were found to be unrelated to the event.[3][44][45] In one indirect fatality,[45] a policeman was struck by lightning and killed while assisting with recovery and cleanup efforts the day after the storm.[46][47] Shortly after the tornado, authorities had listed 1,300 people as missing, but the number quickly dwindled as they were accounted for.[48][49][50] Many people were reported to have been trapped in destroyed houses. Seventeen people were rescued from the rubble the day after the tornado struck.[51]

The Missouri Emergency Management Agency reported more than 990 injured.[40][52] Of 146 sets of remains recovered from the rubble, 134 victims had been positively identified by June 1.[49] Due to the horrific injuries suffered by some victims, some different sets of remains were from a single person.[52] On June 2 it was announced that four more victims had died.[53]

Six people were killed when St. John's was struck by the tornado. Five of those deaths were patients on ventilators who died after the building lost power and a backup generator did not work.[54] The sixth fatality was a hospital visitor.[55]

The Joplin Globe reported that 54 percent of the people died in their residences, 32 percent died in non-residential areas and 14 percent died in vehicles or outdoors. Joplin officials after the tornado announced plans to require hurricane ties or other fasteners between the houses and their foundations (devices add about $600 US to the construction costs). Officials rejected a proposal to require concrete basements in new houses. Officials noted that only 28 percent of Joplin's new homes had basements as of 2009 compared with 38 percent two decades before.[56]

Officials said they rescued 944 pets and reunited 292 with owners.[57]

On June 10, 2011, it was announced that a rare fungal infection, zygomycosis, had been noted to cause at least eight serious cases of wound infection among the injured survivors, confirmed by reports to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.[58]


President Obama greets a tornado survivor on May 29, 2011

Immediately following the disaster, emergency responders were deployed within and to the city to undertake search and rescue efforts. Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency for the Joplin area shortly after the tornado hit, and ordered Missouri National Guard troops to the city.[38] By May 23, Missouri Task Force One (consisting of 85 personnel, four dogs, and heavy equipment) arrived and began searching for missing persons. Five heavy rescue teams were also sent to the city a day later. Within two days, numerous agencies arrived to assist residents in the recovery process. The National Guard deployed 191 personnel and placed 2,000 more on standby to be deployed if needed. In addition, the Missouri State Highway Patrol provided 180 troopers to assist the Joplin Police Department and other local agencies with law enforcement, rescue, and recovery efforts which also included the deployment of five ambulance strike teams, and a total of 25 ambulances in the affected area on May 24 as well as well over 75 Marines from the Ft. Leonard Wood Army Base.[40]

Media handling

President [60]

Engineers have criticized the tilt up construction of the Home Depot in which all but two of its walls collapsed in a domino effect after the tornado lifted the roof, killing seven people in the front of the store (although 28 people in the back of the store survived when those walls collapsed outwards). Home Depot officials said they disagreed with the study published by The Kansas City Star and said they would use the tilt up practice when they rebuild the Joplin store.[61] On June 1, The Home Depot said it would have a new temporary 30,000-square-foot (2,800 m2) building built and operational within two weeks. In the meantime, it opened for business in the parking lot of its demolished building.[62] On June 20, The Home Depot opened a temporary 60,000-square-foot (5,600 m2) building constructed by the company's disaster recovery team.[63]

In May 2012, the Missouri National Guard released documents showing that four soldiers looted video game equipment and a digital camera from a ruined Walmart during cleanup efforts. According to the investigative memo, they believed the merchandise was going to be destroyed. All the soldiers were demoted and had a letter of reprimand placed in their personnel file, but were never prosecuted, even though many civilian looters were prosecuted.[64]


Along with the Tri-State Tornado and the 1896 St. Louis – East St. Louis tornado, it ranks as one of Missouri's and America's deadliest tornadoes and is also the costliest single tornado in U.S. history ($2.8 billion).[65][66] It was the first F5/EF5 tornado in Missouri since May 20, 1957, when an F5 destroyed several suburbs of Kansas City. It was only the second F5/EF5 tornado in Missouri history dating back to 1950.[67] It was the deadliest U.S. tornado since the April 9, 1947 tornado in Woodward, Oklahoma, the seventh-deadliest in U.S. history.[68] It was also the first single tornado since the June 8, 1953 F5 tornado in Flint, Michigan, to have 100 or more associated fatalities.[69]

See also


  1. ^ "Storm Event Survey".  
  2. ^ "Annual U.S. Killer Tornado Statistics".  
  3. ^ a b McCune, Greg (November 12, 2011). "Joplin tornado death toll revised down to 161". Reuters. Retrieved November 12, 2011. 
  4. ^ "NWS Central Region Service Assessment Joplin, Missouri, Tornado – May 22, 2011". Retrieved 19 June 2012. 
  5. ^ Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c "". Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  7. ^ "". Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  8. ^ Belk, Brad. "". Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  9. ^ "April 10th 2001". Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Missouri Department of Insurance says Joplin disaster will be the most costly insurance payout in state history « Live Insurance News". Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  11. ^ "National Weather Service Springfield, MO - Event Review - May 22, 2011". Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  12. ^ a b c National Weather Service, Springfield MO (May 23, 2011). "Public Information Statement". NOAA. Archived from the original on June 28, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2011. 
  13. ^ "National Weather Service Springfield, MO - Event Review - May 22, 2011". Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  14. ^ Sarkar, Parka; Marshall, Timothy (November 7, 2012). "Supplemental Damage Indicators Discovered in Recent Strong Tornadoes". American Meteorological Society. 
  15. ^ "National Weather Service Springfield, MO - Event Review - May 22, 2011". Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  16. ^ Templeton, Steve (June 7, 2011). "My Experience In Joplin Surveying Tornado Damage". KMOV. Retrieved August 29, 2014. 
  17. ^ "National Weather Service Springfield, MO - Event Review - May 22, 2011". Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ "National Weather Service Springfield, MO - Event Review - May 22, 2011". Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
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  21. ^ "Joplin MO Tornado: A tornado hit Joplin, MO Sunday". May 23, 2011. Retrieved June 2, 2011. 
  22. ^ "National Weather Service Springfield, MO - Event Review - May 22, 2011". Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  23. ^ "Girlfriend not surprised by Pizza Hut manager's heroics during Joplin tornado — — Kansas City". Retrieved May 30, 2011. 
  24. ^ Bryan, Andra. "Residents: Ceremony ‘wonderful tribute’ to Joplin » Local News » The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO". Retrieved May 30, 2011. 
  25. ^ Sarkar, Parka; Marshall, Timothy (November 7, 2012). "Supplemental Damage Indicators Discovered in Recent Strong Tornadoes". American Meteorological Society. 
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  27. ^ "Joplin, MO Tornado Imagery Viewer". NOAA. 2011. Retrieved August 26, 2011. 
  28. ^ "National Weather Service Springfield, MO - Event Review - May 22, 2011". Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  29. ^ "National Weather Service Springfield, MO - Event Review - May 22, 2011". Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  30. ^
  31. ^ "National Weather Service Springfield, MO - Event Review - May 22, 2011". Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  32. ^ New Engineering Study Finds No EF5 Damage in Joplin -
  33. ^ "National Weather Service Springfield, MO - Event Review - May 22, 2011". Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  34. ^ KYTV (May 27, 2011). "National Weather Service offers insight into EF5 rating for Joplin tornado". Schurz Communications. Retrieved July 4, 2011. 
  35. ^ Kevin Murphy (May 23, 2011). "Tornado devastates Joplin, Missouri, leaves 89 dead". Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2011. 
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  37. ^ National Weather Service, Central Region Headquarters (May 23, 2011). "Numerous weekend tornadoes from southern Kansas, Missouri to Minnesota, Wisconsin". NOAA. Central Region Headquarters, NWS. Retrieved May 23, 2011. 
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  39. ^ Unattributed (May 23, 2011). "Tornado kills at least 89 in Joplin, Mo.". United Press International. Retrieved May 23, 2011. 
  40. ^ a b c d "Joplin Tornado Situation Report 6 am May 24". Missouri Emergency Management Agency. May 24, 2011. Retrieved May 24, 2011. 
  41. ^ Aaron Smith (May 24, 2011). "Deadly Joplin tornado could cost $3 billion — May. 24, 2011". CNN. Retrieved May 30, 2011. 
  42. ^ Barker, Jacob. Taking a hit. Columbia Daily Tribune. June 11, 2011. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
  43. ^ Lieb, David A. (May 20, 2012). "Records show Joplin twister was costliest since 1950".  
  44. ^ Murphy, Kevin (September 15, 2011). "Joplin tornado death toll rises to 162". Reuters. Retrieved September 20, 2011. 
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  54. ^ Five patients who died in Joplin hospital suffocated, Reuters, Kevin Murphy, May 24, 2011
  55. ^ "A fist coming out of the sky': Six miles of terror Along tornado’s path, victims recall trauma, wonder about future". The Joplin Globe. May 29, 2011. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  56. ^ Associated Press (June 18, 2011). "". Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  57. ^ "Joplin Tornado: 944 Pets Rescued, 292 Reunited with Owners, One Found 12 Days after Tornado — KSPR 33". Retrieved June 4, 2011. 
  58. ^ "". Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  59. ^ Unattributed (May 23, 2011). "Remarks by the President after Touring Tornado Damage in Joplin, Missouri" (Press release). The White House Office of the Press Secretary. Archived from the original on June 2, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2011. 
  60. ^ Vu, Michelle A. (May 29, 2011). "Westboro Picketers a No Show in Joplin During Tornado Memorial.". The Christian Post. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. Retrieved June 2, 2011. 
  61. ^ "Experts challenge Home Depot building design, codes after Joplin tornado". Retrieved June 28, 2011. 
  62. ^ T. Rob Brown/Joplin Globe, AP. "Joplin starts to rebuild | The Columbia Daily Tribune – Columbia, Missouri". Retrieved June 2, 2011. 
  63. ^ "Home Depot marks opening of temporary store". Joplin Globe. Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  64. ^ Hathaway, Matthew (2012-05-31). "Missouri National Guard soldiers took items from Joplin wreckage". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2013-05-17. 
  65. ^ Knapp, Dave; Boone, C.F. (May 5, 1971). Barron, Hal., ed. The Joplin Tornado. Boone Publications. Archived from the original on June 24, 2011. Retrieved May 25, 2011. 
  66. ^ Belk, Brad (May 8, 2010). "May tornadoes struck Joplin twice in 1970s". The Joplin Globe. Retrieved December 6, 2011. 
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  68. ^  
  69. ^ Unattributed (May 23, 2011). "2011 Tornado Information" [Preliminary tornado statistics including records set in 2011] (Press release). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Archived from the original on June 6, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2011. 

Further reading

  • Van Leer, Kevin (2013). "Storm mergers and their role in tornado genesis during the 2011 Joplin storm". M.S. Thesis (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois). 

External links

  • Tornado, Joplin, Missouri, 2011 from (National Institute of Standards and Technology)
  • NOAA's Aerial Survey of Joplin, Missouri
  • Time-lapse visualization of the May 22 tornado outbreak
  • Radar loop of the Joplin tornado
  • Slideshow of damage from the tornado
  • Google Maps aerial view of tornado damage

  • OPT: One Year After the Joplin Tornado
  • May 22, 2011 — The Joplin Tornado (Shawn Schuman)
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