Oldest Known Tornado Photo - Date: 1884 August
28 Historic NWS Collection 22 miles southwest of Howard, South Dakota Courtesy
NOAA/Department of Commerce
Tornado Like Dust Devil seen on Mars See it by clicking here
Taken from the Mars Spirit on
12-Apr-2007 Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Today, with modern technology, tornadoes are very easy to identify.
Most everyone has at least an idea of what a tornado is and looks
like. But was this always so?
In July 1643 Governor John Winthrop described a sort of wind gust that
could have possibly been one of the first recorded tornadoes in history. Winthrop, who was
ever conscious of the weather, recorded that there was a sudden gust in northeastern
Massachusetts and costal New Hampshire. According to Winthrop this gust blew
down many trees, filled the air with dust, lifted up a meetinghouse in Newbury, and killed
one Indian. Because there was no weather technology in that time period we have no way of
knowing whether this gust was a true tornado or not.
At Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 8, 1680, a whirl-wind
was witnessed. Rev. Increase Mather tells in his Remarkable Providences of
accounts of this terrible whirling wind. One eyewitness, Samuel Stone, described it as a
whirl-wind that tore trees, sucked up hay, tore off a large portion of a barn roof, and
made a singing noise so very loud that the people around could not hear the falling
It was said that you
could find people a mile away that could hear those objects falling. Matthew Bridge reported that its motion was
continually circular, tearing
bushes by the roots, removing old trees, and sucking up
large rocks that were not found again. One servant man, John Robbins, was killed by this
whirl-wind because of broken bones and overall body bruising. It is interesting to note
that this whirl-winds path was close to that of a larger storm that
moved through West Cambridge on August 22, 1851.
Many more gusts and whirl-winds were described
in the New England area during this time. A dreadful havoc was witnessed in
Southern Connecticut in 1682. On July 1748 at Groton, Massachusetts, a terrible
tornado, with shocking thunder was reported by Rev. Joseph Emerson with many other
reports being given. Another tornado was reported at Leicester in 1759, and another on the
Merrimac River in August 1773. A whole tornado outbreak was reported to have happened in
May 1782. The reports for the 1700s go on and on, with all descriptions including
things like trees being torn out of the ground, houses being racked and torn apart, barns
being crushed to the ground, and people being carried short periods of time in these
terrible destructive clouds. Even though there was no radar in these times that could
enable us to check out these reports, it is quite obvious by their nature that these were
no minor gusts of wind.
In Wethersfield Connecticut, August 18, 1787 a well documented tornado outbreak took
place with some of the most interesting descriptions of a tornado ever. Here is a
small portion of one account from that day taken from "Early American Tornadoes 1586
-1870" by David M. Ludlum Published by the American Meteorological Society.
"CONNECTICUT Wethersfield, August 18, 1787
Messrs Printers, I was myself an eyewitness of but a small part of the hurricane,
and that near the time of its disappearance, and at the distance of almost two miles from
the line of passage I was, however, as soon as possible, on the ground, and spent most of
the next day traversing for some miles the scene of desolation, making observations and
collecting the best possible information from those who were near or saved from its fury.
That my information may be as accurate as possible, I have delayed giving you the account
until this day whether it be exactly so, I dare not pronounce in regard to other towns
adjacent I can only say it is the best I can procure.
On the day mentioned, the wind was very fresh from the southward; at about twelve at noon
an un-usually black cloud appeared to be ranged from the western to somewhat past the
northern point, its upper edge was indented and formed irregular columns, something
resembling pyramids, which reached to within about 35 degrees of the zenith the appearance
of this cloud, I took notice, was different from the common thunder-cloud, being one
continued sheet, singly defined at the edges, and not a con-genes it did, however, produce
a peal or two of thunder, and a little rain this happened I think between the hours of one
and two oclock P.M. about three oclock P.M. the hurricane was seen to approach
near the western boundary of Stepney parish a violent agitation in the clouds had indeed
been before observed in the western quarter; but now from a rising ground, it displayed
itself in its full extent, replete with undescribable horror A black column from the earth
to the cloud, of about thirty rods diameter, so thick that the eye could not pervade it,
whirled with amazing velocity and a most tremendous roar it appeared luminous and ignited,
and was charged with broken pieces of fences, and huge limbs of trees, which were
continually crashing against each other in the air, or tumbling to the ground. This
appearance continued but a few moments, when the column instantly divided horizon tally at
a small distance from the earth the upper part appearing to rise, while the lower-part
exhibited the appearance which a huge body of thick smoak would do were it dashed by a
strong vertical wind, spreading itself to the extent of sixty or eighty rods. At once you
might observe it, at a small distance forward, apparently burst from the ground, like the
thickest smoak, spread the above distance on its surface, then whirl and contract itself
to the size of the column I now described; but in no instance did the cloud appear to
stoop towards the earth. In this manner it appeared, with longer or shorter intervals of
the compact column, during the whole space in which I have been able to collect accurate
information; with this exception only, that in the eastermost part of the observed space,
for a considerable distance, it was not seen to be luminous or ignited; tho each
described its bursting from the earth, as giving them the idea of fire, which they really
supposed. until after it was past, consuming every thing in its way. It moved in a
direction, when first noticed, some what to the northward of east, but soon changed to
nearly east. "
From 1748 to 1782: A time for tornadoes
The American 1700s usually bring thoughts of colonial times, the French
and Indian War, etc. However many notable tornadoes were recorded during this time. In
July 1748 one of these notable tornadoes made its course through Groton (now Pepperell),
Massachusetts. This tornado dubbed the Pepperell Tornado was reported to have torn up
large trees by their roots and carried them a large distance from the place they started.
This tornado entirely demolished three buildings, removed roofs from many other buildings,
and lifted structures off of their foundations and moved them a few feet away. According
to the accounts given no lives were lost, but large damage was made leaving these poor
people to clean up the Pepperell Tornados aftermath.
At Leicester, Massachusetts, on July 10, 1759, a tornado passed
through. This tornado, or as John Winthrop (a direct descendant of Governor Winthrop)
called it a terrible whirlwind moved along form
southwest to northwest. The tornado tore many trees up from their roots and proceeded
toward the house of a man named David Lynde. The tornado was apparently strong enough to
do massive damage to this house. Fourteen people occupied the house at the time the
tornado struck and one man even lost his life. He was in the west-chamber of the house and
was thrown a great distance. When he was found his back, thighs, and arms were broken and
he soon passed away. An amazing story was told of one child in the house that was next to
a chimney when the tornado hit. The chimney collapsed on the child but a board that was
wedged over her protected her form being killed by the chimney ruins. After reporting
about this tornado John Winthrop tried to figure out what caused these terrible whirlwinds. He said concerning the reasoning behind
tornadoes It appears to me so difficult to assign a cause adequate to these effects,
to show by what means a small body of air could be put into a circular motion, so
exceedingly rapid as this must have been, that I dare not venture any conjectures about
it. Obviously at this time no one understood the mystery behind tornadoes.
On August 14, 1773 the first instrumental documentation of a tornado
occurred in America. Prof. Samuel Williams documented this tornado, which formed as a
waterspout on the Merrimac River south of Salisbury. This waterspout moved northwestward
and came on land at Amesbury point. Samuel Williams recorded that before the waterspout
appeared in just a period of about 4 minutes the wind blew violently southwest and then
suddenly blew west-northwest. After blowing this direction for a couple of minutes the
wind died down completely and it became still. After these sudden wind changes it became
very dark and the waterspout began its life. When it came onto land at Amesbury it leveled
well built houses. Although it destroyed many houses and buildings and threw things
thither and yon no one was killed. It was reported that the number of buildings damaged
was about 120.
In the year 1782 tornadoes erupted in the month of May. On May 23 a
violent tornado hit Berkshire County, Massachusetts. It tore trees out of the ground and
moved a two-story house from its foundation. Another house was moved about 20 feet. Both
of these houses were completely destroyed. Also on May 23 in Vermont a tornado spread
destruction through Manchester where it did great damage to grain buildings. On another
date in May 1782 a tornado hit New Hampshire. This tornado destroyed fields of grain
before coming to buildings that it demolished. It is reported that every barn or building
that stood in its way was completely leveled. One man, Mr. Spencer, tried to escape his
house before the tornado hit. He grabbed his daughter and he and his wife tried to hurry
out. However it was too late. The tornado hit and they were buried in the rubble. The poor
child died in the mans arms. He however was not injured. His wife was injured, but
In 2007 an interesting story developed in
Jennings Louisiana where a person was
crossing a street to go to work when something dropped from the sky.
This was not a chicken little story, the sky wasn't falling, but
it was something very strange. It was worms and many of them. Others
checked out the strange event and sure enough worms were falling
from the sky. What seems to be a mystery may well be easily
explained by the report that there was a water spout reported in the
area around the Lacassine Bayou at the same time. Umbrellas
are usually made for rain, I wonder, do they make umbrellas for
Hallam Nebraska Tornado one of the
widest ever in history measured 2 1/2 miles in width.
Video of Damage and photos May 22nd 2004
Above photo from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
Above photo from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
In 1787 little was known about tornadoes and since the people understood
so little this limited they terms they were able to use to describe what they saw.
At the time tornadoes were called hurricanes by many because of the
limited knowledge they had about them.
As you can read from this story the tornado looked like a pillar of smoke
rising from the earth, consuming everything it touched, but no one saw fire. But of
course there wasn't a fire, nothing was burned, and the column of smoke wasn't smoke at
all but was the tornado. This description by J. Lewis makes it my number one favorite
tornado story from the past.
There are many stories of tornadoes from years past as interesting as this
one. Just go to your local library and read the many books on tornadoes.
A fantastic Panoramic Photo was taken of the damage a tornado caused in new Richmond,
Wisconsin on June 12 1899.
CREATED/PUBLISHED 1899 June 12
NOTES Copyright claimant's address: Stillwater, Minn. Copyright
deposit; Fred E. Holcombe; August 14, 1899. PART OF
Panoramic photographs (Library of Congress)
REPOSITORY Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
Another great Panoramic view of tornado damage was the Fergus Falls, Minn. after
the cyclone, June 22, 1919
CREATED/PUBLISHED 1919 June 22
NOTES Copyright deposit; W. T. Oxley; July 15, 1919; DLC/PP-1919:45996.
Copyright claimant's address: Fergus Falls, Minn.
REPOSITORY Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
More Tornado History here,
Many Great Tornado Photos
Here is video of a large dust devil.
This photo of the 19 March 2002 tornado in Tom Green County, San Angelo, Texas, at 1:19 pm
crossing Loop 306 just south of town taken by SSgt Bryan Neumann. It was near the
intersection of US Highways 277 and 87. It traveled on the ground for a short bit, lifted
and kindof fell apart, then reformed and traveled for about a mile and a half towards
Ballinger. SSgt Neumann is a storm chaser in Tom Green County.
If these historical records of tornadoes remind us of anything it is
that we should use the great resources we have at hand today. We are
blessed to have weather services that can notify us of danger that
these people of the 1700s did not have, we only need to use them.
What is a