December 1957 tornado outbreak sequence

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December 1957 tornado outbreak sequence
TypeTornado outbreak
DurationDecember 18–19, 1957
Tornadoes confirmed37
Max rating1F5 tornado
Duration of tornado outbreak2~1½ day
Highest winds
Largest hail.75 inches (1.9 cm) in diameter in St. Francois County, Missouri on December 18
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale
2Time from first tornado to last tornado

The December 1957 tornado outbreak sequence[nb 1][nb 2] was a significant tornado outbreak sequence that affected the southern Midwest and the South of the contiguous United States on December 18–19, 1957. The outbreak began on the afternoon of December 18, when from the west a low-pressure area approached the southern portions of Missouri and Illinois.

Meteorological synopsis[edit]

At 6:00 a.m. CST/12 UTC on December 18, 1957, a vigorous shortwave trough[2] entered the Great Plains with a cold front moving east across Oklahoma and Kansas.[3] A dissipating stationary front over Oklahoma underwent frontolysis[3] and later redeveloped as a warm front which extended across central Illinois.[4] By 3:00 p.m. CST, surface dew points reached the low 60s °F across portions of southeast Missouri and southern Illinois, including the St. Louis area. Although most areas were then recording overcast weather conditions,[4] a strong upper-level jet stream helped impart synoptic-scale lifting,[2] a factor that favors updrafts, and little vertical mixing occurred, so instability remained favorable for thunderstorm development. Additionally, very cold temperatures[2] following a surface cyclone[3] raised the lifted index to -6 due to high adiabatic lapse rates.[4] Wind speeds at the middle level of the atmosphere, just under 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) from the ground, were close to 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) as well.[4] Conditions were therefore very conducive to a large tornado outbreak on the afternoon of December 18.

Similarly favorable conditions occurred a day later, as a warm and moist air mass spread northward from the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, temperatures in the Mississippi Valley and the upper Midwest approached record highs for December. St. Louis and Detroit, recorded afternoon highs of 57 °F, while Chicago measured 56 °F, only eight degrees lower than the local record high for December 19. Local residents and meteorologists described temperatures as being "springlike" for the time of year, even though meteorological winter was due to begin on December 23. Farther south, temperatures along the Gulf Coast reached the low 70s °F. Just as on December 18, a second tornado outbreak occurred in a broad warm sector from Arkansas to Illinois and south to Alabama.[5]

Tornado table[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 0 8 16 9 3 1 37

December 18 event[edit]

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F1 Truxton Lincoln 1830 0.3 miles (0.48 km) Tornado injured one person as it unroofed three homes and removed one of them from its foundation. It is officially rated F1 but one authority accepts an F2 ranking (Grazulis 1993).
F2 NE of Knob Lick St. Francois 1950 2.7 miles (4.3 km) 1 death – The first deadly tornado to form on December 18 developed at 1:50 p.m. CST near Knob Lick,[6] about 15 miles (24 km) north of Fredericktown in St. Francois County, Missouri.[7] It killed an infant as its home was destroyed, injured one person, and leveled barns and silos along its path.[6] The parent thunderstorm likely produced the later tornado at McBride, Missouri,[7] and the second F3 tornado to hit near Chester, Illinois.[6] The Knob Lick tornado is officially rated F2 but is believed by some sources to have been F3 in intensity.[6]
F2 McBride Perry 2100 0.5 miles (0.80 km) Tornado hurled an occupied elementary school in the air, but the 32 students then in attendance escaped injuries. 15 to 20 buildings were damaged in the area.[7] The tornado was part of the same thunderstorm that produced the second tornado near Chester, Illinois. It is officially ranked F2 but may have been F3 in intensity at McBride.
F2 SW of Millersville to NE of Pocahontas Cape Girardeau 2245 15.8 miles (25.4 km) Tornado injured one person and hit five farms along its path, leveling the home and barns on at least one site. It is officially rated F2 but damage descriptions suggest that it may have reached F3 intensity (Grazulis 1993).
F2 N of Altenburg Perry 2300 1 mile (1.6 km) Tornado was initially assumed to have occurred at the same time as the McBride tornado but this assessment was changed.[7] It is officially ranked F2 but may have been weaker and is thus not treated as significant by Grazulis (1993).
F2 Chaffee Scott 2322 0.5 miles (0.80 km) 3 deaths – At least one tornado wrecked downtown Chaffee as it unroofed and destroyed homes and businesses along with a shoe factory (Grazulis 1993). Though two or more tornadoes may have been involved, only one was officially recorded. All three deaths occurred in a small home. There may have been four injuries rather than the one officially listed.
F3 N of Chester to N of Conant Randolph, Perry 2040 20.2 miles (32.5 km) Tornado damaged or destroyed buildings on 10 farm sites. Damage path skipped and was not continuous. Was the first of two tornadoes to hit near Chester, this one hitting north of the town. The next event hit southeast of Chester.
F3 SE of Chester to NW of Denmark Randolph, Perry 2115 17.7 miles (28.5 km) Second Chester tornado caused near-F4 damage to a home outside Chester and later damaged or destroyed 24 homes at Willisville. The local brick high school at Willisville was also destroyed.[7] The tornado was part of a tornado family that began at McBride, Missouri, with total losses from both tornadoes reaching $100,000.
F2 SE of Wood River Madison 2120 1 mile (1.6 km) Tornado damaged or destroyed nine buildings in south Wood River. One authority unofficially ranks the tornado at F3 intensity (Grazulis 1993).
F1 Mason City Mason 2135 0.1 miles (0.16 km) Tornado caused minimal damage to three or four buildings. One person was injured.[7]
F3 N of Cutler Perry 2135 2.5 miles (4.0 km) Tornado injured one person and damaged or destroyed six homes in a community at the intersection of Illinois Routes 154 and 150. Cars were blown off the highways and destroyed.[7]
F2 N of Boyd to S of Dix Jefferson 2145 4.5 miles (7.2 km) Tornado injured two people while unroofing or severely damaging eight buildings.
F4 E of Radom to Mt. Vernon to NW of Bluford Jefferson 2155 16.8 miles (27.0 km) 1 deathSee section on this tornado
F2 N of Ava Jackson 2200 5.4 miles (8.7 km) Tornado damaged three or four homes.[7] It is not listed as an F2 event by Grazulis (1993).
F3 Rockwood area Randolph 2215 5.7 miles (9.2 km) Tornado flipped freight cars and damaged nearby buildings.[7] It is not listed as a significant (F2–F5) event by Grazulis (1993).
F2 E of Woodlawn to Mt. Vernon Jefferson 2230 11.6 miles (18.7 km) Second tornado to hit Mt. Vernon struck the north side of town, hitting and damaging 12 buildings, including six farms and six homes. Tornado is unofficially rated F3 by Grazulis (1993).
F5 N of Sunfield Perry 2235 5.4 miles (8.7 km) 1 death – At 4:35 p.m. CST on December 18, the only F5 tornado of the outbreak sequence destroyed the entire community of Sunfield in Perry County, Illinois. The powerful tornado touched down at the intersection of U.S. Route 51 and Illinois Route 154, which was then the location of Sunfield. The extreme damage only occurred in the small settlement, which reportedly completely vanished.[6][7] As of 2012, the community is now located to the south of the intersection, perhaps due to the tornado. One man who could not seek shelter in time died in an exposed location.[6] Six other people were injured. The thunderstorm that generated the Sunfield tornado continued moving east-northeast and may have also produced the tornado that hit Dahlgren, 32 miles (51 km) east-northeast of Sunfield.[7]
F4 Gorham to Murphysboro to SE of Zeigler Jackson, Williamson, Franklin 2245 28.3 miles (45.5 km) 11 deathsSee section on this tornado
F3 E of Orchardville to Clay City Wayne, Clay 2300 19.6 miles (31.5 km) Tornado injured one person and destroyed buildings on 20 different farm sites. The most intense damage occurred as the tornado touched down, then became less severe and discontinuous.[7] It dissipated just south of downtown Clay City. Another, unconfirmed tornado may have hit the same area at 2330 UTC.[7]
F2 Carbondale Jackson 2325 1.5 miles (2.4 km) Tornado touched down near Southern Illinois University and injured five people. It destroyed 15 trailers and caused damage to three other homes.[7] It is not regarded by Grazulis (1993) as being F2–F5 in intensity.
F3 W of Ste. Marie Jasper 2325 4.5 miles (7.2 km) Tornado damaged four farms and destroyed one or more barns between Boos and Ste. Marie.
F3 Dahlgren Hamilton 2335 2.5 miles (4.0 km) Tornado destroyed homes in parts of Dahlgren and caused F3 damage along its very short path. It may have been produced by the same thunderstorm that spawned the F5 Sunfield tornado.[7]
F3 SW of Springerton to NW of Grayville Hamilton, White, Edwards 0000 19.8 miles (31.9 km) Tornado injured four people as it destroyed four or more barns and a home along its path.
F2 E of Karnak Johnson 0000 0.1 miles (0.16 km) Tornado destroyed one church and struck a school and two farms. Two tornadoes were probably involved but the event is not officially listed as such.
F1 SE of Sidell to W of Indianola Vermilion 0040 3 miles (4.8 km) Tornado was apparently heard to produce a "'roaring'" noise with minimal damage.[7]
Sources: Tornado Data for December 18, 1957, Grazulis 1993

December 19 event[edit]

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F4 E of Waldo to N of Stephens Columbia, Ouachita 1844 17.7 miles (28.5 km) 2 deaths – Tornado produced F4 damage as it touched down at "Cotton Belt", a community between Waldo and McNeil. There, five homes were leveled and a boy killed and thrown 250 yards (750 ft) from his home. Elsewhere, the tornado damaged five other homes. The tornado also threw and rolled a car 600 yards (0.34 mi) just before dissipating, having caused nine injuries and destroyed eight buildings.[7]
F3 Sherrill to SE of Tucker Jefferson 2140 3.8 miles (6.1 km) Tornado caused damage to two farm sites as it passed near Sherrill[7] and then struck the Tucker State Prison Farm.
F1 S of Milan Gibson 2100 0.1 miles (0.16 km) Tornado destroyed four tenant homes on a farm in the Sitka community, south of Milan.[7]
F2 Humboldt Gibson 0315 0.5 miles (0.80 km) Tornado completely unroofed a hotel and partly ripped the roof from the Humboldt city hall. It also leveled one warehouse, four tenants, and a "concrete block" garage (Grazulis 1993). Also, the tornado badly damaged a cotton gin, downed electrical wires and TV antennas, and moved and damaged a building. Flying debris damaged numerous structures.[7]
F1 Milan Gibson 0320 0.1 miles (0.16 km) Second tornado to hit the Milan area injured two people by flying debris while damaging roofs, windows, and antennae. It may have originated from the storm that caused the Humboldt tornado.[7]
F2 SE of Golden City Dade 2210 6.6 miles (10.6 km) Tornado damaged five different farm sites while alternately lifting and touching down again. Several funnels were reported, so more than one tornado may have been involved.[7] Tornado is not listed by Grazulis (1993) as being F2 or greater in intensity.
F2 Waltonville Jefferson 2350 1 mile (1.6 km) Tornado severely damaged one farm and lightly damaged other buildings.[7] Not rated F2 or higher by Grazulis (1993).
F2 Pankeyville Saline 0300 0.5 miles (0.80 km) Tornado damaged a barn and other buildings south of Harrisburg.[7] Not rated F2 or higher by Grazulis (1993).
F1 S of Winfield Fayette 0430 0.1 miles (0.16 km) Tornado destroyed one home along with outbuildings.[7]
F2 Littleville Colbert 0515 0.1 miles (0.16 km) Tornado destroyed three homes, damaged 12, and also damaged seven businesses and the city hall in Littleville. Damage was high-end F2 in intensity.[6]
Sources: Tornado Data for December 19, 1957, Grazulis 1993

December 20[edit]

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F1 Clanton Chilton 0853 0.1 miles (0.16 km) Tornado caused much damage to 35 homes and a cotton mill.[7] May have been F2 according to Grazulis (1993).
F1 E of Castleberry Conecuh 0900 0.8 miles (1.3 km) Tornado produced two separate damage areas about 0.5 miles (0.80 km) from each other. It destroyed two homes and one barn.[7] Possibly F2 according to Grazulis (1993).
Sources: Tornado Data for December 19, 1957, Grazulis 1993

Notable tornadoes[edit]

Mt. Vernon, Illinois[edit]

The second deadly tornado to develop on December 18 became one of two tornadoes to strike Mt. Vernon in Jefferson County, Illinois. The first tornado was the strongest and formed at 3:55 p.m. CST about 10 miles (16 km) west-southwest of downtown Mt. Vernon, whence local police patrol vehicles and radio reports monitored its movement.[7] As the tornado approached downtown Mt. Vernon, it completely leveled small, "prefabricated", ranch-style homes in southwest Mt. Vernon;[7] damage in this area was later rated F4 by meteorologists.[6] Thereafter, the tornado weakened as it neared downtown Mt. Vernon and may have even dissipated before reforming as a separate tornado to the north. It then continued on a skipping path and caused less severe damage to older homesites northeast of Mt. Vernon.[7] In Mt. Vernon, the tornado damaged or destroyed about 15 to 20 buildings, including the Block Grade School, where students left only 30 minutes beforehand. The funnel was described as being "swirling black clouds", filled with debris, that vanished northwest of downtown Mt. Vernon.[8]

Gorham–Murphysboro–DeSoto, Illinois[edit]

The deadliest tornado of the entire tornado outbreak sequence closely followed part of the March 18, 1925, Tri-State Tornado path,[6] and indeed affected the same towns of Gorham, Murphysboro, and De Soto that were hit in 1925.[8] It may have touched down in eastern Missouri but was first observed at 4:45 p.m. CST (some sources say 4:30 p.m. CST[7]) in Gorham, destroying or damaging 40 homes there.[6] As it neared and passed through the southeast side of Murphysboro, the tornado paralleled the Big Muddy River, moving east-northeast.[7] It produced the worst damage, posthumously rated F4, in this area, destroying old buildings;[7] however, the most intense damage only affected a small section of southeast Murphysboro, where 10 of the 11 deaths occurred.[6] Afterward, the tornado continued on to damage parts of De Soto, Hurst, and Bush.[6] Murphysboro was powerless for almost three days as most utilities were in the worst-hit area. The tornado injured 200 people along its path.[6]

Non-tornadic effects[edit]

Severe thunderstorms in connection with the outbreak on December 18 produced hail up to .75 inches (1.9 cm) in diameter in St. Francois County, Missouri.[7] Severe winds estimated at up to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) also affected the Hannibal area in that state, downing power lines and wires. In addition to the six known tornadoes in Missouri, unconfirmed reports of tornadoes occurred in Jefferson County, along with many reports of funnel clouds elsewhere in the state.[7] Other unconfirmed tornadoes were reported in other states, including an alleged tornado that hit Rockville, Indiana.[8] On December 19, a dust storm with 50-mile-per-hour (80 km/h) wind gusts tossed three roofs onto vehicles and reduced visibility to just 0.50 miles (0.80 km) in Dallas, Texas. In addition to the three confirmed tornadoes that hit the state that day, severe winds in Tennessee, reportedly unrelated to tornado activity, destroyed farm buildings, tore off roofs, and downed trees and electrical wires; though these may have been due to tornadoes, none was confirmed.[7] In addition to two confirmed tornadoes, unconfirmed reports of tornado damage arrived from Royalton and Elkville, Illinois;[5] though attributed to thunderstorm winds, these damages may have been due to tornadoes.[7] Additionally, severe thunderstorm activity on December 18–19 contributed to severe flood conditions across parts of southern Illinois and in Missouri.[5][7]


After severe weather left the Murphysboro area in Illinois, police officers, firefighters, deputies, and other assistance were called out to the worst-hit subdivisions, Country Heights and Crown View.[8] Then-Illinois Director of Public Health Dr. Roland Cross also sent for the hard-hit Mt. Vernon area.[8] Then-Illinois Governor William G. Stratton directed Illinois state police to the affected areas of southern Illinois and also readied the Illinois National Guard for possible deployment to the region.[8]


According to official Storm Data records from the Storm Prediction Center, the outbreak sequence was the most intense December severe weather event in U.S. history based on the number of intense tornadoes. The outbreak on December 18, in terms of F2–F5 tornadoes, was the most intense ever to affect the U.S. state of Illinois—and also, with 13 deaths in the state, the deadliest to affect Illinois in meteorological winter—even though the strongest tornadoes affected a relatively limited area of the state. The entire tornado outbreak sequence produced 37 recorded tornadoes, and fully 78.4% of them were rated as significant, F2–F5 events based upon damage estimates by the Fujita scale. Of these, 20 occurred in Illinois on December 18 alone, the largest such number of F2–F5 tornadoes in that state by a single outbreak. The second-highest total was 10 F2–F5 events in the outbreak of April 19, 1996, and the third-highest was seven such events on June 5, 2006. The tornado outbreak sequence was also responsible for the largest number of F2–F5 tornadoes in a December outbreak nationwide, including the highest number of violent, F4–F5 tornadoes by a tornado outbreak in December—both records having been achieved by midnight CST/0600 UTC on December 18. The outbreak remains only the second of two to produce an F5 tornado in December, the other being the December 5, 1953, tornado outbreak in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schneider, Russell S.; Harold E. Brooks; Joseph T. Schaefer. "Tornado Outbreak Day Sequences: Historic Events and Climatology (1875-2003)" (PDF). Norman, Oklahoma: Storm Prediction Center. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Finch, Jonathan D. "Historical Tornado Cases for Saint Louis County Warning Area of Eastern Missouri and SW Illinois". Archived from the original on May 15, 2006. Retrieved 27 December 2012.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  3. ^ a b c "U.S. Daily Weather Maps Project". NOAA. Retrieved December 27, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d Finch, Jonathan D. "Historical Tornado Cases for North America, 1950-1959". Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved 27 December 2012.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  5. ^ a b c "2 Die in Arkansas in New Tornadoes". New York Times. 20 December 2012. p. 56.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Grazulis, p. 1012
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al "Storm Data and Unusual Weather Phenomena". Climatological Data National Summary. United States Department of Commerce. 8 (12): 522–531. December 1957.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Tornadoes Kill 8 in Midwest Area". New York Times. United Press. 19 December 1957. p. 63.


  • Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. Environmental Films. ISBN 978-1-879362-03-1.
  • — (2003). The Tornado: Nature's Ultimate Windstorm. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3538-0.


  1. ^ An outbreak is generally defined as a group of at least six tornadoes (the number sometimes varies slightly according to local climatology) with no more than a six-hour gap between individual tornadoes. An outbreak sequence, prior to (after) modern records that began in 1950, is defined as, at most, two (one) consecutive days without at least one significant (F2 or stronger) tornado.[1]
  2. ^ All damage totals are in 1957 United States dollars unless otherwise noted.

External links[edit]