The ferocious tornado that roared through a campground in Virginia on Thursday morning, killing two people, raised the national death toll for July tornadoes up to six.
That's the most tornado deaths in July since 1978, when tornadoes killed 11 people that month, according to meteorologist Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla.
The worst July for tornadoes was 1893, Brooks said, when 73 people were killed. Tornado death tolls were typically much higher in the late 1800s and early 1900s before the advent of modern forecasting techniques.
KILLER STORM: 2 dead, 1 critical as tornado hits Virginia campground
In fact, before 1950, the use of the word "tornado" in weather forecasts was strongly discouraged or even forbidden because of a fear that predicting tornadoes might cause panic, according to meteorologist Roger Edwards of the Storm Prediction Center (SPC).
"This was in an era when very little was known about tornadoes compared to today, by both scientists and the public at large," Edwards wrote on the SPC website. "Tornadoes were, for most, dark and mysterious menaces of unfathomable power, fast-striking monsters from the sky capable of sudden and unpredictable acts of death and devastation."
Since 1950, when more accurate counts of tornadoes and tornado deaths began, about one person has died each July in tornadoes on average, Brooks says. More than half the Julys since 1954 have had no tornado deaths.
The other killer tornado this July was on the 8th in Smithfield, N.Y, when four people died.