I have been writing daily tornado summaries for Tornado Talk since November 13! It has been so interesting to go back and read old Storm Data entries and look at newspaper articles about what happened 30, 40, 50 years ago. You almost have to be like an investigative reporter. You gather all the data you have from various sources and then try to make sense of what happened. It can be challenging because sometimes there are discrepancies in the records. For the most part you can put enough information together to get a picture of what happened during a certain tornado event.
In this Funnel Feature, I thought I would go back even further in time and see if we can deduce when the first recorded tornado in the US occurred. As with many historic events, there are differences in opinion.
July 5, 1643
In a NOAA article called “History of Tornado Forecasting” (found here), they mention this as a possible date for the first recorded tornado. Author David Ludlam documented that Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop observed “a sudden gust that whipped up dust, lifted up his meeting house, and killed a nearby observer with a fallen tree.” Thomas Grazulis in his book Significant Tornadoes (1680-1991) also mentions this event. He states that the Governor documented this in his journal and that it occurred in Essex County, MA. He believes this was probably a gust front or downburst versus a tornado. So the verdict is out on whether this was truly the first recorded tornado in the US.
Skip ahead about 30 years and we have an event that is documented out of Bristol County, MA. According to Thomas Grazulis, “Trees were snapped by what was possibly a tornado near Rehoboth, 7m E of Providence, Rhode Island. The path may have been 15 miles long.” After doing some Google searches, I stumbled upon an article in The Reporter Today called, “How Rehoboth Survived Three Tornadoes.”
The article describes an account from Rev. William Adams of Ipswich who was visiting Rehoboth. According to a diary entry from Rev. Adams, he went out with friends to see some “the strange effects” that occurred not far from town. He continues, “…carrying about 20 rods (330 feet) in breadth, tearing up by the roots, or breaking the bodies of almost all trees within its compass saving only some small and low ones, and it is thought in all probability to have gone 15 miles in length.” What is interesting is that he visited Rehoboth in October and the possible tornado event occurred in August.
July 8, 1680
Per Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes, “The first confirmed true tornado in the United States touched down at Cambridge. The funnel was filled with “stones, bushes, boughs, and other things.” It unroofed a barn and snapped many large trees. A servant was killed.”
In an AMS Weather and Forecasting article entitled, “Historical Roots of Modern Tornado Forecasts and Warnings“, by Marlene Bradford, she documents her findings on this event. “…the Reverend Increase Mather in “An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences”, included an account of a July 1680 storm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which in all probability was the first written record of an actual tornado in what is now the United States. Eyewitness Matthew Bridge declared that a thick black cloud in continuous circular motion produced a great noise in the process of tearing down trees and picking up bushes, trees and large stones. John Robbins, a servant was killed by the storm, may be the first recorded tornado victim.”
So what do you think? When did the first documented tornado occur?
Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 550, 552.
“How Rehoboth Survived Three Tornadoes.” via The Reporter Today
“Historical Roots of Modern Tornado Forecasts and Warnings“, by Marlene Bradford
“History of Tornado Forecasting” by NOAA
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