Twisters, Cyclones, and Tornadoes of Joplin’s Past: Part II

This is the second half of our brief history on the cyclones, tornadoes and twisters that Mother Nature has visited upon Joplin in the past.   You can find the first part by clicking here.

In the summer of 1908, a small “funnel-shaped cloud dipped down out of the sky” just southwest of Joplin in the early morning. The tornado swept across an area estimated at a quarter of a mile in diameter and destroyed four mining plants: the Ruth, Eden, and Haggerty plants, plus one unnamed plant. Mrs. Jack Armil, who lived in Joplin Heights, told a reporter that she thought she was going to lose her house to the tornado. Although she and her home escaped unscathed, her landscaping was badly damaged. The twister did not raise much alarm in Joplin proper as the Globe failed to report on the event, leaving the News-Herald to publish a brief article noting the tornado’s brief appearance.

The next few years were quiet until the spring of 1911. On a fine spring evening a powerful rainstorm with heavy winds hit the area between north Joplin and south Webb City. The storm, prior to its arrival in Joplin, had already left a trail of devastation across Oklahoma and Kansas. Fortunately, casualties were light. Mrs. Almedia Shelley was killed when her home on Smelter Hill was destroyed by what was described as a “high wind.” Others were injured, including: T.J. Walten, Charles Vancourt, Claude Hankins, and a man named Adkins.

Several decades passed before Joplin was once again in the path of a tornado. On the evening of May 5, 1971, Joplin experienced its first significant tornado. Tornado sirens reportedly did not go off in time until the funnel was on the ground, catching many residents by surprise. The twister tore through the city causing damage along thirty-seven city blocks and took the life of Missouri Southern student Rick Johnson. Johnson was killed at his residence at the Anderson Mobile Trailer Court on Newman Road. His wife miraculously survived. The event was memorialized in a booklet succinctly titled, The Joplin Tornado. You can view the entire booklet online courtesy of the Joplin Public Library here:

Two years later, on the morning of May 11, 1973, another tornado hit Joplin with winds roared through the city at an estimated 70 to 100 miles an hour. Mrs. Lea Kungle, head of Jasper County’s civil defense, told a Globe reporter, “They say you can’t have a hurricane here, but it was like a hurricane.”

Three residents were killed, over one hundred were injured, an estimated one thousand trees blown over, and at least $20 million in property damage. The West Side Trailer Court on West Seventh Street sustained heavy losses. Mrs. Roger Wisdom, who lived at the trailer court, remarked that “The sky was so black, and it seemed to come to a point and looked like it was coming in on you…it was so big.” A ten year old girl, Chris Day, woke up flying through the air on her mattress. She survived without any serious injuries.

Just as sudden as it had arrived, the tornado quickly moved eastward, not to be surpassed in the history of the city until May 22, 2011.


Sources: Joplin Daily Globe, Joplin News Herald, The Joplin Tornado.