December 1957 tornado outbreak sequence

The tornado outbreak sequence of December 18–20, 1957, was a significant tornado outbreak sequence that affected the southern Midwest and the South of the contiguous United States on December 18–20, 1957.[nb 2] The outbreak sequence began on the afternoon of December 18, when a low-pressure area approached the southern portions of Missouri and Illinois. Supercells developed and proceeded eastward at horizontal speeds of 40 to 45 miles per hour (64 to 72 km/h), yielding what was considered the most severe tornado outbreak in Illinois on record so late in the calendar year. Total losses in the state were estimated to fall within the range of $8–$10 million.[4][5]

Tornado outbreak sequence of December 18–20, 1957
TypeTornado outbreak sequence
DurationDecember 18–20, 1957
Tornadoes confirmed37
Max. rating1F5 tornado
Duration of tornado outbreak2~1½ day
Highest gust53 kn (61 mph; 98 km/h) (estimated) in Hannibal, Missouri, on December 18[1]
Largest hail1 14 in (3.2 cm) in diameter in Missouri on December 18[2]
Damage$ [nb 1]
Casualties19 fatalities, 291 injuries
Areas affectedMidwestern and Southern United States, especially eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale
2Time from first tornado to last tornado


At 6:00 a.m. CST (12:00 UTC) on December 18, 1957, a vigorous shortwave trough[6] entered the Great Plains with a cold front moving east across Oklahoma and Kansas.[7] A dissipating stationary front over Oklahoma underwent frontolysis[7] and later redeveloped as a warm front which extended across central Illinois.[8] By 3:00 p.m. CST (21:00 UTC), 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,[8] a strong upper-level jet stream helped impart synoptic-scale lifting,[6] a factor that favors updrafts, and little vertical mixing occurred, so instability remained favorable for thunderstorm development. Additionally, very cold temperatures[6] following a surface cyclone[7] raised the lifted index to -6 due to high adiabatic lapse rates.[8] Wind speeds at the middle level of the atmosphere, just under 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) from the ground, were close to 70 mph (110 km/h) as well.[8] 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 (14 °C), while Chicago measured 56 °F (13 °C), 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.[9]

Daily statistics

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
0 0 8 16 9 3 1 37
"FU" denotes unclassified but confirmed tornadoes.
Daily statistics of tornadoes produced by the tornado outbreak sequence of December 18–20, 1957
Date Total Fujita scale rating Deaths Injuries Damage Ref.
 FU   F0   F1   F2   F3   F4   F5 
December 18 25 0 0 3 11 8 2 1 17 273 $ [10][11][12]
December 19 10 0 0 3 5 1 1 0 2 18 $ [10][11][12]
December 20 2 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 $ [10][11][12]
Total 37 0 0 8 16 9 3 1 19 291 $ [10][11][12]
Outbreak death toll[10]
State Total County County
Arkansas 2 Ouachita 2
Illinois 13 Jackson 11
Jefferson 1
Perry 1
Missouri 4 Scott 3
St. Francois 1
Totals 19
All deaths were tornado-related

List of tornadoes

List of known tornadoes during the tornado outbreak sequence of December 18–20, 1957[nb 3][nb 4]
F# Location County / Parish State Start
Date Time (UTC) Path length Max. width Summary
F1 WSW of Truxton Lincoln MO 39.00°N 91.25°W / 39.00; -91.25 (Truxton (December 18, F1)) December 18 18:30–? 0.3 miles (0.48 km) N/A This tornado injured one person as it unroofed three homes and removed one of them from its foundation. Tornado researcher Thomas P. Grazulis classified the tornado as an F2.[14][15]
F2 ENE of Knob Lick to WSW of Libertyville St. Francois MO 37.68°N 90.35°W / 37.68; -90.35 (Libertyville (December 18, F2)) December 18 19:50–? 2.7 miles (4.3 km) N/A One death – This tornado occurred north of Fredericktown in St. Francois County, Missouri.[16] The destroyed a home and killed an infant inside. It also levelled barns and silos in its path.[14] One person was injured.[17] Grazulis classified this tornado as an F3.[14]
F3 SE of Diamond Cross to NE of Conant Randolph, Perry IL 37.97°N 89.82°W / 37.97; -89.82 (Diamond Cross (December 18, F3)) December 18 20:40–? 20.2 miles (32.5 km) N/A This intense tornado produced intermittent damage near Chester, Steeleville, Cutler, Jamestown, and Conant. The tornado affected ten farmsteads, destroyed one home, and damaged numerous buildings.[16][14]
F2 ESE of McBride Perry MO 37.83°N 89.83°W / 37.83; -89.83 (McBride (December 18, F2)) December 18 21:00–21:20 0.5 miles (0.80 km) N/A This strong tornado destroyed or damaged fifteen to twenty buildings on farms, including a number of barns. The tornado hurled an occupied elementary school in the air, but the thirty-two students then in attendance escaped injuries.[16][14]
F3 SE of Chester to NW of Denmark Randolph, Perry IL 37.90°N 89.80°W / 37.90; -89.80 December 18 21:15–? 17.7 miles (28.5 km) N/A This tornado destroyed or damaged twenty-four homes in Willisville, along with the local brick high school.[16][14]
F2 WNW of Roxana Madison IL 38.85°N 90.08°W / 38.85; -90.08 (Wood River (December 18, F2)) December 18 21:20–? 1 mile (1.6 km) N/A This strong but short-lived tornado, which may have first touched down near Florissant, Missouri, damaged or destroyed nine buildings on the southern outskirts of Wood River. Tornado researcher Thomas P. Grazulis classified the tornado as an F3.[16][14] One person was injured.[18]
F1 Mason City Mason IL 40.20°N 89.70°W / 40.20; -89.70 (Mason City (December 18, F1)) December 18 21:35–? 0.1 miles (0.16 km) N/A This brief tornado caused minimal damage to three or four buildings. One person was injured.[16][19]
F3 NNE of Cutler Perry IL 38.08°N 89.55°W / 38.08; -89.55 December 18 21:35–? 2.5 miles (4.0 km) N/A This 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.[16][14][20]
F2 NW of Boyd to SSE of Dix Jefferson IL 38.42°N 89.02°W / 38.42; -89.02 December 18 21:45–? 4.5 miles (7.2 km) N/A This tornado injured two people while unroofing or extensively damaging eight buildings.[16][21][22]
F4 S of Roaches to NNE of Marlow Jefferson IL 38.28°N 89.08°W / 38.28; -89.08 (Roaches (December 18, F4)) December 18 21:55–22:10 16.8 miles (27.0 km) 250 yards (230 m) One death – December 1957 tornado outbreak sequence – Forty-five people were injured.[23]
F2 NNW of Ava to ENE of Sato Jackson IL 37.90°N 89.50°W / 37.90; -89.50 December 18 22:00–? 5.4 miles (8.7 km) N/A This tornado damaged three or four properties.[16] Grazulis did not list the event as an F2 or stronger.[11]
F3 ESE of Belgique, Missouri, to WNW of Degognia, Illinois Randolph IL 37.83°N 89.75°W / 37.83; -89.75 (Belgique (December 18, F3)) December 18 22:15–? 5.7 miles (9.2 km) N/A This tornado, which passed near Rockwood, flipped freight cars and damaged nearby buildings.[24] Grazulis did not list the event as an F2 or stronger.[11]
F2 E of Woodlawn to ENE of Camp Ground Jefferson IL 38.33°N 89.02°W / 38.33; -89.02 (Woodlawn (December 18, F2)) December 18 22:30–? 11.6 miles (18.7 km) N/A This tornado impacted the northernmost outskirts of Mount Vernon as it damaged twelve structures. Grazulis classified the tornado as an F3.[21]
F5 NNW of Sunfield to ESE of Tamaroa Perry IL 38.08°N 89.25°W / 38.08; -89.25 December 18 22:35–? 5.4 miles (8.7 km) N/A One death – See section on this tornado – Six people were injured.[25]
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).
F4 Gorham to Murphysboro to SE of Zeigler Jackson, Williamson, Franklin 2245 28.3 miles (45.5 km) Eleven deaths –
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.[12] It is officially ranked F2 but may have been weaker and is thus not treated as significant by Grazulis (1993).
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.[12] It dissipated just south of downtown Clay City. Another, unconfirmed tornado may have hit the same area at 2330 UTC.[12]
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.
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.[12] 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.[12]
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.[12]
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.[12]
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.[12]
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[12] and then struck the Tucker State Prison Farm.
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.[12] 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.[12] 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.[12] Not rated F2 or higher by Grazulis (1993).
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.[12]
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.[12]
F1 S of Winfield Fayette 0430 0.1 miles (0.16 km) Tornado destroyed one home along with outbuildings.[12]
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.[14]
F1 Clanton Chilton 0853 0.1 miles (0.16 km) Tornado caused much damage to 35 homes and a cotton mill.[12] 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.[12] Possibly F2 according to Grazulis (1993).

Notable tornadoes

Mount Vernon, Illinois

F4 tornado
Max. rating1F4 tornado
Casualties1 fatality, 45 injuries
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale

The second deadly tornado to develop on December 18 became one of two tornadoes to strike Mount Vernon in Jefferson County, Illinois. The first tornado was the strongest and formed at 3:55 p.m. CST (21:55 UTC) about 10 mi (16 km) west-southwest of downtown Mount Vernon, whence local police in patrol vehicles and radio reports monitored its movement.[16] As the tornado approached downtown Mount Vernon, it completely levelled small, "prefabricated", ranch-style homes in southwest Mount Vernon; damage in this area was later rated F4 by meteorologists, though on the low end of the category.[21][16] Thereafter, the tornado weakened as it neared downtown Mount 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 Mount Vernon.[16] In Mount Vernon, the tornado damaged or destroyed about fifteen to twenty buildings, including the Block Grade School, where students left only half an hour beforehand. The funnel was described as being "swirling black clouds", filled with debris, that vanished northwest of downtown Mount Vernon.[26]

Sunfield, Illinois

F5 tornado
Max. rating1F5 tornado
Casualties1 fatality, 6 injuries
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale

At 4:35 p.m. CST (22:35 UTC) 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.[21][12] 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.[21] 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 mi (51 km) east-northeast of Sunfield.[12]

Gorham–Murphysboro–Bush, Illinois

F4 tornado
Max. rating1F4 tornado
Casualties11 fatalities, 200 injuries
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale

The deadliest tornado of the entire tornado outbreak sequence closely followed part of the March 18, 1925, Tri-State Tornado path, and indeed affected the same towns of Gorham, Murphysboro, and De Soto that were hit in 1925.[26][21] 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) in Gorham, destroying or damaging forty homes there.[14][12] As it neared and passed through the southeast side of Murphysboro, the tornado paralleled the Big Muddy River, moving east-northeast. It produced the worst damage, posthumously rated F4, in this area, destroying old buildings; however, the most intense damage only affected a small section of southeast Murphysboro, where ten of the eleven deaths occurred.[12][21] Afterward, the tornado continued on to damage parts of De Soto, Hurst, and Bush. Murphysboro was powerless for almost three days as most utilities were in the worst-hit area. The tornado injured two hundred people along its path.[21]

Non-tornadic effects

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.[12] 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.[12] Other unconfirmed tornadoes were reported in other states, including an alleged tornado that hit Rockville, Indiana.[26] 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.[12] In addition to two confirmed tornadoes, unconfirmed reports of tornado damage arrived from Royalton and Elkville, Illinois;[9] though attributed to thunderstorm winds, these damages may have been due to tornadoes.[12] Additionally, severe thunderstorm activity on December 18–19 contributed to severe flood conditions across parts of southern Illinois and in Missouri.[9][12]

Aftermath and recovery

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.[26] Then-Illinois Director of Public Health Dr. Roland Cross also sent for the hard-hit Mount Vernon area.[26] 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.[26]

See also


  1. All losses are in 1957 USD unless otherwise noted.
  2. 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) the start of modern records in 1950, is defined as a period of no more than two (one) consecutive days without at least one significant (F2 or stronger) tornado.[3]
  3. All dates are based on the local time zone where the tornado touched down; however, all times are in Coordinated Universal Time for consistency.
  4. Prior to 1994, only the average widths of tornado paths were officially listed.[13]


  1. National Weather Service (August 2019). Missouri Event Report: Thunderstorm Wind (Report). National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  2. National Weather Service (August 2019). Missouri Event Report: Hail (Report). National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  3. Schneider, Russell S.; Brooks, Harold E.; Schaefer, Joseph T. (2004). Tornado Outbreak Day Sequences: Historic Events and Climatology (1875-2003) (PDF). 22nd Conference on Severe Local Storms. Hyannis, Massachusetts: American Meteorological Society. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  4. Joos, Lothar A. (December 1957). Written at Champaign, Illinois. "Illinois – December 1957". Weather Summary. Climatological Data. Illinois. Asheville, North Carolina: National Climatic Data Center (published January 1958). 62 (12): 160.
  5. Wilson, John W.; Changnon, Stanley A. (1971). Illinois Tornadoes (PDF) (Technical report). Illinois State Water Survey. Urbana, Illinois: State of Illinois Department of Registration and Education. p. 39. 103. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  6. Finch, Jonathan D. (13 November 2005). "Historical Tornado Cases for Saint Louis County Warning Area of Eastern Missouri and SW Illinois". Bangladesh Tornadoes. Archived from the original on 15 May 2006. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
  7. "U.S. Daily Weather Maps". NOAA Central Library. NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  8. Finch, Jonathan D. "Historical Tornado Cases for North America, 1950-1959". Bangladesh Tornadoes. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
  9. "2 Die in Arkansas in New Tornadoes". New York Times. Associated Press. 20 December 1957. p. 56.
  10. National Weather Service (August 2019). Events reported between 12/18/1957 and 12/20/1957 (3 days) (Report). National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  11. Grazulis, Thomas P. (July 1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680–1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, Vermont: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. pp. 1012–3. ISBN 1-879362-03-1.
  12. U.S. Weather Bureau (December 1957). "Storm Data and Unusual Weather Phenomena". Climatological Data National Summary. Asheville, North Carolina: National Climatic Data Center (published January 1958). 8 (12): 526–9.
  13. Brooks, Harold E. (April 2004). "On the Relationship of Tornado Path Length and Width to Intensity". Weather and Forecasting. Boston: American Meteorological Society. 19 (2): 310. doi:10.1175/1520-0434(2004)019<0310:OTROTP>2.0.CO;2. Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  14. Grazulis 1993, p. 1012
  15. National Weather Service (August 2019). Missouri Event Report: F1 Tornado (Report). National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  16. USWB 1957, p. 526
  17. National Weather Service (August 2019). Missouri Event Report: F2 Tornado (Report). National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  18. National Weather Service (August 2019). Illinois Event Report: F2 Tornado (Report). National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  19. National Weather Service (August 2019). Illinois Event Report: F1 Tornado (Report). National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  20. National Weather Service (August 2019). Illinois Event Report: F3 Tornado (Report). National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  21. Grazulis 1993, p. 1013
  22. National Weather Service (August 2019). Illinois Event Report: F2 Tornado (Report). National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  23. National Weather Service (August 2019). Illinois Event Report: F4 Tornado (Report). National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  24. USWB 1957, p. 527
  25. National Weather Service (August 2019). Illinois Event Report: F5 Tornado (Report). National Centers for Environmental Information. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
  26. "Tornadoes Kill 8 in Midwest Area". New York Times. United Press. 19 December 1957. p. 63.
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