Throwback Thursday – The History of Tornadoes in Kentucky


The devastating tornadoes that swept thru southern Kentucky in the early morning hours of December 11th caused the most extensive storm damage and loss the area has ever seen. As all of us were experiencing the pain and suffering together, we were indeed living in historic moments. For this week’s Throwback Thursday, the history-making nature of the recent storms prompted us to find out more about the history of tornadoes in Kentucky.

A Wikipedia list of tornado outbreaks in North America dates the potential first official tornado citing to the Massachusetts and New Hampshire area, where major gusts of wind caused damage and a death on July 5, 1643. 

Perhaps the first major tornado outbreak recorded in Kentucky was in 1890, when storms caused major damage throughout all of Louisville. It made national news headlines, as Harpers Weekly showcased illustrations and photos of devastation. Downtown Louisville was hit hardest with 76 known deaths.

But the worst was yet to come. March 18, 1925 was the date of the infamous Tri-State Tornado. With 12 confirmed tornadoes, spanning the Midwest and southern United States, there were 747 people killed and over 2,300 injured. Tornadoes were confirmed in Ky, Tennessee, Indiana, Alabama, and Kansas, making this day the deadliest tornado day in American history. 

While not mentioned in the list of tornado outbreaks we used, the Kentucky Library’s Special Collections department contained a folder of photos with tornado damage in Bowling Green, marked May 3, 1935. Photos of the damage indicate downtown Bowling Green on State Street and the Helm Hotel sustained damage, while tourist cabins on Nashville Road at Lost River Cave were also damaged.

Tornadoes swept thru eastern Warren County again in April 1974, where we found a map and images from the College Heights Herald showing confirmed tornadoes at Alvaton, Claypool, and Three Forks.

The April 16, 1998 hail storm and tornadoes that brought over $500 million in damage to Bowling Green were barely 20 years ago. Five inches of rain fell in just under 90 minutes, causing extreme flooding across all of WKU’s campus and dangerous, sometimes undriveable conditions, for all vehicles that took hail damage. Greenwood Mall’s roof was partially torn off from these tornado winds.

Bowling Green and southern Kentucky’s community has risen to the occasion, sending aid, donations, volunteers, and anything needed to those impacted by the December 11th storms. The outpouring of love and support from around the country and the globe has been phenomenal to watch and experience firsthand.