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.

US Tornado Deaths Per Million People

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.

YearDeaths
1875183
187651
187764
1878102
187985
1880256
188173
1882200
1883292
1884252
188558
1886129
188760
188848
188932
1890244
189136
1892114
1893294
1894124
189530
1896537
189760
1898162
1899227
1900101
190152
1902157
1903216
190487
1905184
190670
190780
1908477
1909404
191012
191155
1912175
1913346
191441
191584
1916150
1917551
1918136
1919206
1920499
1921202
1922135
1923110
1924376
1925794
1926144
1927540
192895
1929274
1930179
193136
1932394
1933362
193447
193571
1936552
193729
1938183
193991
194065
194153
1942384
194358
1944275
1945210
194678
1947313
1948139
1949211
195070
195134
1952230
1953519
195436
1955129
195683
1957193
195867
195958
196046
196152
196230
196331
196473
1965301
196698
1967114
1968131
196966
197073
1971159
197227
197389
1974366
197560
197644
197743
197853
197984
198028
198124
198264
198334
1984122
198594
198615
198759
198832
198950
199053
199139
199239
199333
199469
199530
199625
199767
1998130
199994
200041
200140
200255
200354
200435
200539
200667
200781
2008126
200921
201045
2011553
201270