The worst of it lasted for about an hour. But the human, physical and economic toll in Oklahoma will rank among the most devastating weather events of its kind.
"This is going to be one of the top five costliest tornadoes in U.S. history," said Evan Gold, vice president of client services at Planalytics, a weather consulting firm.
The full impact of the human loss was still unknown Tuesday as exhausted rescue workers searched for survivors among the piles of rubble and collapsed structures left behind in the mile-wide path of the killer storm in Moore, Oklahoma. The effort was hampered by piles of debris, damage to roadways and heavy traffic.
Local officials said 24 were confirmed dead, including eight children. Hospitals reported dozens more were being treated for injuries, at least 65 of them children.
It will take months to assess the economic damage. Preliminary estimates are often subject to wide revisions.
"We're still trying to piece together what the track and intensity it was, but the early computer model estimates are $1.2 billion to $2 billion," Chuck Watson, director of research and development at Kinetic Analysis, told CNBC Tuesday.
(Read More: Oklahoma Tornado Damage Could Hit $2 Billion: Expert)