Pennsylvania’s deadliest tornadoes: A look back at the twisters that shook the state

The aftermath of a deadly tornado in Albion, Pennsylvania in 1985.

Sue Larson stands dismayed among the rubble that was her home in Albion, Pa., on June 2, 1985. A tornado struck the small northwest Pennsylvania community on June 1, killing nine people. It was one of a number of twisters to hit the Midwest and parts of Ontario, Canada. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

By Ashley Adams

April 24, 2023

Tornadoes are a common weather occurrence in Pennsylvania, with some leaving a path of destruction, devastation, and even death across the state.

The weather in Pennsylvania can be unpredictable, to say the least. From summer-like days in February to snow in April, we see all kinds of weather at any given time.

While snowstorms are a meteorological staple of the commonwealth, tornadoes are more common than you might think, since they are normally associated with states in the south and midwest. Occurring most frequently in May, June, and July, Pennsylvania typically averages 16 tornadoes every year, according to the National Weather Service. In 2023, Pennsylvania experienced 25 tornadoes, up from nine in 2022.

According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there have been more than 1,000 tornadoes in Pennsylvania since 1950. These storms have caused more than $1 billion in damages, resulting in over 1,300 direct injuries, and 84 confirmed fatalities.

Of those many tornadoes, these are the four deadliest to hit in Pennsylvania since 1950:

May 31, 1985

The deadliest tornado in the state’s history happened on May 31, 1985. An outbreak of twisters — 21 total — tore through the northwest part of the state, killing 65 people, injuring more than 500 and causing $375 million in damages. It spawned Pennsylvania’s most intense tornado on record, with wind gusts of up to 200 mph.

July 27, 1994

A tornado with winds between 158 and 200 mph touched down in Limerick, Montgomery County, on July 27, 1994, causing more than $5 million in damages, killing a family of three, and injuring 25 others.

May 31, 1998

A total of 45 tornadoes moved through the commonwealth between May 31 and June 2, 1998, killing three people—one in Somerset County and two in Wyoming County—and injuring more than 30. The tornadoes caused more than $6 million in damages.

August 3, 1963

On August 3, 1963, a tornado touched down in Glassport, Allegheny County, killing two people, injuring 70, and causing $25 million in damages. The tornado hit the town’s glass plant, causing its 80-foot water tower to collapse through the building’s roof.

Tornadoes can crop up with little to no warning, so planning and practicing specifically how and where to take shelter could be a matter of life or death. Click here to find out what to do when a tornado strikes.

Tornadoes can crop up with little to no warning, so planning and practicing specifically how and where to take shelter could be a matter of life or death. Click here to find out what to do when a tornado strikes.

Author

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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