The Joplin, Missouri tornado has been ranked by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) as the eighth deadliest tornado in United States history.

With its estimated death toll of 124 (and rising), right now this makes it the most deadly tornado to hit the U.S. since 1947.

The Joplin event adds to what was already the second deadliest year ever for tornado-related deaths in the U.S., according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). Tornadoes killed 747 people in the U.S. in 1925.

Latest data from NOAA’s SPC through May 23, 2011, shows about 483 tornado-related fatalities have occurred so far this year.

Over at Wunderblog Dr. Jeff Masters observes that this year’s high death toll from tornadoes is partly just bad luck.

Violent EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes usually miss heavily populated areas, and we’ve had the misfortune of having two such tornadoes track over cities with more than 50,000 people (the Joplin tornado, the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham EF-4 tornado in Alabama, which killed 61 people on April 27).”

If you’re wondering whether this has happened before, the answer is yes.

According to Wunderblog, this sort of bad luck occurred in both 1953, when F-5 tornadoes hit Flint, Michigan (116 killed), Worcester, Massachusetts (90 killed), and Waco, Texas (114 killed), and in 1936, when F-5s hit Tupelo, Mississippi (216 killed) and Gainesville, Georgia (203 killed).

Dr. Masters goes on to point out that this year’s death toll is more remarkable than the 1953 or 1936 death tolls, since in 2011 we have Doppler radar and a modern tornado warning system:

The first tornado warning wasn’t issued until 1948, and virtually all tornadoes from the 1950s and earlier hit with no warning. On average, tornado deaths in the United States decreased from 8 per 1 million people in 1925 to 0.12 per 1 million people in 2000.”

He adds:

Had this year’s tornadoes occurred 50 years ago, I expect the death toll would have exceeded three thousand.”

Good point.

For more information on insured losses arising from the Joplin tornado, check out this article from PropertyCasualty360.com.

Check out I.I.I. facts and stats on tornadoes.