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NIST researchers collected data following Joplin, Missouri, tornado

A massive tornado, rated category EF5 (the most powerful on the Enhanced Fujita scale), hit Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service, the multiple-vortex storm impacted an area approximately three-quarters of a mile wide by 14 miles long, destroyed some 4,000-8,000 structures in its path, and killed more than 140 people. This makes it the single deadliest tornado disaster in the United States in the 61 years that official records have been kept.   

NIST sent four engineers to Joplin from May 25-28, 2011, to conduct an initial reconnaissance of the building performance and emergency communications during the tornado.  

The NIST reconnaissance effort focused on collecting data about:  

  • The tornado event;
  • Information on the pattern, location and cause of injuries;
  • The performance of specific buildings (schools, hospitals, large stores, etc.), tornado shelters and designated safe areas;
  • The performance of single- and multi-family residential buildings;
  • The performance of lifelines (natural gas, electrical distribution, water, communications, etc.); and
  • Evacuation, emergency response, occupant behavior, and the local severe storm warning system.  


NIST is in the process of analyzing the data collected from the field and will decide on its next step as a result of this analysis. Based on the initial reconnaissance, NIST may either issue a report with observations and findings or proceed with a more detailed study of the impact of the Joplin tornado before issuing a report. In either case, NIST will make recommendations for improvements to building codes, standards, and practices, if warranted.


Released June 6, 2011, Updated October 27, 2022