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2011 Tornado Death Toll Tops 500


This year's grim tornado records keep on coming, one day after violent twisters again struck the central United States, killing people in three states, and as the dig out continues in the devastated town of Joplin, Mo.

So far this tornado season , more than 500 people have died because of the storms.

It's the highest number of fatalities from tornadoes since 1953, when twisters killed 519 people, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the home agency of the National Weather Service.

On Tuesday (May 24), twisters in Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas left 14 people dead, and as the tornado-ravaged town of Joplin digs through the splintered buildings destroyed by Sunday's tornado, the death toll continues to rise.

Officials now say the monstrous tornado that hit Joplin , now classified as an EF-5, the most intensely damaging on the Enhanced Fujita scale, killed 125 people. [Related: The Tornado Damage Scale in Images ]

The Joplin tornado is the deadliest single twister to strike the United States since 1953, when a tornado killed 116 people in Flint, Mich., according to NOAA.

Pre-1950s tornado fatalities data are more spotty, but one comprehensive report says the last tornado to kill as many people as Sunday's tornado in Joplin happened in 1947, when a twister left 181 people dead in Woodward, Okla.

In contrast to this year's horrific new record, in 2010 tornadoes killed 45 people in the United States, and in 2009, 21 people.

The Joplin tornado is the fourth EF-5 to strike the United States this year, packing winds in excess of 200 mph (322 kph). Storms of such monstrous size typically appear only once a season, if that.

There was one EF-5 in 2008 and one in 2007, but prior to that the last EF-5 to hit the United States happened in 1999.

Reach Andrea Mustain at amustain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow her on Twitter @AndreaMustain.

Andrea Mustain was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a B.S. degree from Northwestern University and an M.S. degree in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.