April 18

This Day in History

Disaster

Apr 18, 1880:

Missouri is ravaged by tornadoes

Missouri is hit by a string of deadly tornadoes on this day in 1880. Statewide, 151 people were killed by the twisters, including 99 in the town of Marshfield.

The first tornado struck at about 4:30 p.m. in Springfield, Missouri, where seven people lost their lives. It then headed northeast toward the town of Marshfield, which had a population of 1,100. Marshfield suffered terrible losses: nearly every building in the town was either destroyed or seriously damaged and almost one of every 10 residents was killed. Given the damage, it is estimated that the tornado had winds of over 200 miles per hour.

Tornadoes are generally either funnel-shaped or look like a dark smoky cloud reaching down to the ground. They have been known to last from under a minute to as long as an hour. They always spin counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere.

Although tornadoes can occur anywhere in the world, they are most common in North America. One of the first recorded deaths by twister was that of a pilgrim in Massachusetts, who was killed by one in 1680. However, there were very few tornadoes mentioned in early American historical accounts, probably because they usually occur inland from the Atlantic coast, away from most early settlements.

The first official public tornado warnings were not made until the Civil War. John Park Finley of the Army Signal Corps was one of the first people to systematically study tornadoes. His work led to the first competent predictions of impending twisters in the 1880s. Generally, though, warnings were not regularly issued because authorities feared public panic.

The deadliest tornado on record in North America was a 1925 twister that took nearly 700 lives.

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