The deadliest tornado in West Virginia’s history struck Shinnston at 8:30 p.m., June 23, 1944. Sixty-six people died in the town and surrounding area. The total number of people killed by the tornado was 103, with 430 serious injuries. After wreaking havoc in farming communities northwest of Shinnston, the twister hit hardest in a neighborhood known as Pleasant Hill, where no more than 10 houses were left standing. The tornado then continued to Shinns Run and Booths Creek, where it destroyed a large natural gas compressor station, passing on through Marion, Taylor, and Barbour counties before blowing out in Randolph County.
After the initial deaths and maiming, the greatest destruction was to property and the infrastructure. Power lines went down, including a huge tower and high-voltage transmission line near Saltwell. The two hospitals in Clarksburg had to treat victims by candle and flashlight. Phone service, however, was disrupted for only a short time, thanks to wartime emergency backup preparations. Among the many unexpected ways people helped each other were the lending of generators to the hospitals by a traveling circus and grave digging by the prison camp laborers from Gypsy, north of Shinnston. Selfless efforts were also made by elected officials, the National Guard, police, road crews, firefighters, nurses, doctors, and common citizens.
Tornadoes are rare in West Virginia, which has among the nation’s lowest rates of occurrence for such storms. The Shinnston Tornado was estimated to have been an F-4 tornado, the second highest of the rankings currently assigned to tornadoes. F-4 storms produce winds faster than 206 miles per hour, capable of leveling houses and throwing automobiles.
Written by Meredith Sue Willis
Finlayson, John L. Shinnston Tornado. New York: Hobson Book Press, 1946.
Poling, Lena E. A History of the City of Shinnston. Parsons: McClain, 1975.
Lowther, Martha A. The Shinnston Tornado. Goldenseal, (Summer 1998).