National Weather Service radar at 5:45 p.m. Sunday May 23, 2011, just before the tornado struck Joplin. ( Iowa State University )

From 10:30 a.m.: The incredible, in­cred­ibly devastating, and in­cred­ibly heartbreaking tornado season of 2011 continues. Joplin, M.O., was the center of the latest episode, which unfolded in dramatic fashion yesterday around 5:30-6 p.m. as a violent tornado demolished numerous homes, buildings and entire neighborhoods in the town of about 50,000, about 160 miles south of Kansas City. Various reports put the latest death toll at 89, and it’s likely to climb as search and rescue operations continue.

Some sobering facts:

*Death toll at 89 and likely growing
*Tornado path: 6 miles long, more than a 1/2 mile wide through the center of Joplin
*25-30% of city damaged
*Every window in town hospital blown out
*Sirens gave residents about 20 minutes warning
*Deadliest Missouri tornado on record (unconfirmed)
*Closing in on 20th deadliest U.S. tornado; right now deadliest since 1953 Worcester, Mass., tornado (killed 94)

Keep reading for more on the Joplin tornado...

Video of Joplin tornado aftermath, shot by iPhone from helicopter (claims to be first helicopter on the scene).

Here’s how the National Weather Service Office in Springfield, M.O., describes the killer tornado:

A supercell thunderstorm tracked from extreme southeast Kansas into far southwest Missouri late Sunday afternoon and evening (May 22nd). This storm produced a strong tornado over Joplin resulting in devastating damage. This storm generated other tornadoes and wind damage along its path as it moved east southeast across far southwest Missouri.

A more emotional narration comes from The Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes (see video), among the first media on the scene.

The Joplin tornado appears to be closing in on the 20th deadliest tornado of all time, according to the Storm Prediction Center. The Joplin Globe captures the sad reality of the situation:

Teams with body bags were being dispatched to Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Academy Sports & Outdoors, Sonic and other businesses between 15th and 20th streets along Range Line Road, one of the hardest hit areas in the city

Yesterday’s devastation comes on the heels of April’s record tornado numbers. Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters writes: “This year’s tornado death toll now stands at 455, making it the deadliest year for tornadoes in the U.S. since 1953, when 519 people died. The deadliest year was 1925, with 794 deaths.”

An unofficial total of 49 tornadoes were reported yesterday, all but one occurring in a stretch from northeast Oklahoma to northern Wisconsin, including a deadly twister in Minneapolis. More severe storms and tornadoes are possible today across parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri, including Joplin, which the Storm Prediction Center places within a swath that has a 10% chance of seeing a tornado within 25 miles of a given point.

More Video/Photos:

During the tornado
Beginning of the tornado
Tracking the tornado
Audio of direct hit from tornado (h/t Jeff Masters)
Damage photo gallery


Killing killer tornadoes before they stike. Is it possible?
Storm Warning Expert: Power outages a principal cause of high Alabama tornado death toll
Tornado outbreak for the record books: how did deadly, devastating event happen and what does it mean?

CWG’s Ian Livingston and Andrew Freedman contributed to this post.