A rare December tornado that ripped through Kentucky, Tennessee and several other states on Dec. 10, 2021, left communities—especially those across western Kentucky—completely devastated. Fifteen counties in Kentucky have been declared as disaster areas. It is likely the worst storm to ever hit the state.
The National Weather Service (NWS) rated the tornado an EF4 on the 0-to-5 Enhanced Fujita scale for tornado intensity. According to the NWS, the twister had a maximum width of 1 mile and was on the ground for approximately 165 miles through western Kentucky into Tennessee, unleashing winds up to 190 mph, only 10 mph less than an EF5 tornado. In fact, this EF4 rating is still preliminary and may eventually be adjusted.
Another tornado rated EF-3 traveled 122 miles through northwest Tennessee into western Kentucky. Currently, the NWS says there were likely five tornadoes in this storm system, but it may not have an exact number for weeks while it evaluates the continuity, or discontinuity, of each path.
The storm began late Friday, Dec. 10, and continued into the early morning hours of Saturday, Dec. 11.
As of Dec. 16, authorities had confirmed 76 fatalities, including 12 children. Ages ranged from 2 months to 98 years old. In addition, there were still 16 people unaccounted for, down from a high of 122. More than 1,000 homes were destroyed, including 75% of homes in Dawson Springs.
As of Dec. 16, 3,280 homes and businesses were still without power, down from initial outages numbers of about 24,000. FEMA said that for 2,000 of those homes and businesses, power may not be restored for weeks. Most of the remaining outages are in Mayfield, and some are in Dawson Springs, the two hardest-hit communities.
According to Mayfield-based West Kentucky Rural Electric, a major utility serving the region, as of Dec. 15, about 400 of the homes, farms and businesses the company serves remained without power. The utility stated that the outages that remain are in locations directly along the path of that tornado. The utility added that heavy rain and wind forecasted for Dec. 16 could cause further damage, causing trees and tree limbs that were already weakened by the tornado to fall.