Story of the Storm
Part 1: A train of destruction
On the evening of July 6, 1893, there passed through one of the most beautiful and productive sections of fair and fertile Iowa a tornado which destroyed more lives and property than any other like visitation of which western history contains any record.
It is not in the extent of territory covered by this tornado that it is of special interest or worthy of more than passing note, for, compared to some of the real cyclones which occasionally visit the eastern coasts of our country, covering territory thousands of square miles in extent and destroying hundreds of lives and millions of property, it is a mere pigmy in the storm race. It is more on account. of the mysterious display of concentrated destructive force, the rarity of occurrence of storms of its kind, and the science-baffling atmospherical conditions essential to bringing it about, that render the tornado and its record of devastation of much greater moment in a historical way than the ponderous cyclones, or hurricanes, whose movements may be studied almost to a nicety and whose comings are heralded days in advance by weather bureau.
The Pomeroy tornado--- so-called from the fact that its greatest work of destruction was wrought at the town of Pomeroy - swept over a strip of country about fifty-five miles in length, starting at a point some three miles northwest of Quimby, in Cherokee county, traveling in a course a little south of east, and ending a short distance east of Pomeroy, in Calhoun county, and the main track of the storm averaging only about one thousand feet in width.
The first real indications of the tornado observed by human eyes were when the people living among the bluffs on the west side of the Little Sioux river looked up between the hills to the westward and saw two angry-looking clouds approaching, one from the southwest, the other from the northwest. The sultriness of the hot summer day had lowered somewhat, and gusts of cooler air whiffed by occasionally with uncertain direction, although the general course of the wind was from the east. The two clouds met on the crest of the hills, and the tornado was on its eastward course, lifting houses and barns high in air-to be demolished and the ruins scattered far and wide, while their inmates were crushed and killed or badly wounded by the falling debris-tearing trees by their roots from Mother Earth or stripping them of bark and foliage, and laying waste the crops that came in its pathway, nothing above the surface of the earth seeming capable of resisting in any measure the terrific force expended on its march of destruction.
Where the Work Was Begun
The farm of Jerry Bugh is at the northeast corner of Section 35, Rock township, Cherokee county, and Elroy Cook lives on the adjoining quarter section to the north, and it was about here that the two clouds came into conjunction and that the work of destruction commenced.
Mr. Bugh and family were in the barn at the time, and they fortunately escaped with only slight injuries, although both the house and barn were badly wrecked. Mr. Cook's buildings were also destroyed, but most of the family were away from home, and only the little girl Ethel was hurt.
The next buildings in the course of the storm as it passed directly eastward were those of J. H. McClintock, occupied by Roy Wright, on the south side of Section 25. The buildings were demolished, and Mrs. Wright and child were quite badly hurt. Mr. McClintock's barn, on the next section south, was also torn to pieces.
Then the Perry schoolhouse was straight in the path of the storm. The building was lifted in the air and bursted like a skyrocket, leaving no board fastened to another. From a drive well near the schoolhouse the pump and forty feet of tubing were torn out.
The buildings of B. I. and Reuben Rogers were a little south of the main track of the storm and suffered comparatively slight damage, but a half-mile farther east lived Jap Scurlock, on the Vandercook farm. The family of nine saw the long, serpent-like trail of the tornado, and took refuge in the cellar. An instant afterward the house was a mass of ruins. The family escaped unhurt, although when they saw the heavy wooden steps leading into the cellar lifted out and mingled with the flying debris they doubtless thought the storm fiend was coming down after them.
The parsonage of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, occupied by Rev. James McGovern, was by the Scurlock place. The clergyman and family also took refuge in the cellar and their lives were saved, but all earthly possessions were scattered to the four winds.
Death Rode the Storm
A little way farther down the road, and on the side toward the river bank, stood the home of Joseph Wheeler, and just north of his residence was where Mrs. Molyneaux lived. Here ruin was complete, and Death had mounted the raging storm and claimed a victim from either home. The scene of desolation left behind could not be exaggerated by the most gifted pen. The comfortable homes and ample barns and outbuildings were crushed in kindling wood, the well-tilled fields but a moment before giving promise of abundant harvest were now a barren waste littered with dead kine. The bodies of seven dead horses were in sight and forty hogs lay in a wide winrow at the edge of the timber line a quarter of a mile away. Iron castings and broken pieces of an eight horse-power corn sheller were found at widely separated points, and the ground all about was strewn with corn from the bursted cribs.
Mrs. Wheeler was in town on this afternoon. Mrs. Wheeler and her mother, Mrs. 0. M. Lester, and sister Alta Lester, of Cherokee, who were visiting her, where in the house and saw the storm approaching. They went into the cellar and huddled in the darkness in no little terror. Mrs. Wheeler put her arms about her mother and Miss Lester sat upon a chair holding the two little ones on her lap and trying to quiet them. All at once, with a terrible roar, the house was whisked away and the ruins of walls and flying debris fell into the place. Mrs. W. felt a shock as something struck her mother; the aged woman gave a little gasp and sank back more heavily in her daughter's arms, dead. A spoke wrenched from a wagon wheel had struck her in the side and penetrated her body near the spinal column, tearing a dreadful wound in the tissues of flesh. The daughter, in the dim light saw the jagged rent in her garments, peered into the white, still face and knew that her mother was dead. Then she laid her down, and with her sister and the children left the place of horrors and went out through the storm to find shelter at a neighbor's house.
At about the same instant that Mrs. Lester was killed another life was claimed just beyond, where Mrs. Molyneayux's home had stood. Mrs. M. had been to town in the afternoon and was accompanied on her return by Mrs. John Underhill, an intimate friend. They started to the cellar, and Mrs. Molyneaux had just reached the door and was in the act of opening it when the house was wrecked. She was found lying about ten feet from where the house had stood, and a discolored bruise on the back of the head and neck showed where some flying missile had struck and robbed her of life. Mrs. Underhill was unhurt.
When the Wheeler barn was blown to fragments one horse was left standing at his wrecked manger uninjured. The horse that Mrs. Lester and daughter had driven out from town was blown out of the barn and killed.
From here the storm swept on eastward and took out Pilot Rock bridge, over Little Sioux river, a heavy iron structure of one 120-feet span. It was lifted from the abutments and carried to the up-stream side and dropped lengthwise into the river. When it went off its high iron piers it tore the heavy anchors loose and took the stone caps from the piers with it.
Then the storm climbed the steep side of the wooded bluff on the east side of the river and swept across the south half of Pilot and Pitcher townships. Close by the river, on the McCready place, John Cojohn lived, and just south of him was Mannie Peterson's house. Cojohn's house was taken up and dropped a mass of ruins. The Petersons were just about to move out of the old log house into a new frame structure just completed. The new house was utterly demolished.
Along the road leading past Sam Whithouse's home the trees were twisted and fences broken, but the building were left.
Wm. Simmon's place, just beyond, was right in the tornado's path. Simmons and family were the luck possessors of a cave, in which they took refuge just in time. Nothing remained standing about them but the wreck of a windmill. The house was carried twenty rods away and barn about one-half that distance. One colt was killed, but four horses that were in the barn escaped. Four hundred bushels of corn and three hundred bushels of oats were scattered to the winds.
On the next quarter section east the destructive elements found the home of V. M. Groves, where the big barn, 80 by 60 feet, and other outbuildings, were on the west side of the road running north and south, and the house on the east side, surrounded by a dense grove. The house was not taken, but the barn and outbuildings were demolished. Jess Mason and Frank Baker were in the barn when the storm struck and wrecked it. They were pinned down by heavy timbers for an instant, but these were suddenly lifted off by what seemed a second stroke of the unseen force and they were left unhurt. About this place was the usual scene of complete wreckage to be found where the storm had plenty of material with which to display its wonderful devastating powers. Trees were stripped and twisted, wheels and odd pieces of machinery were scattered far and wide in the fields. A dead steer laid on his back in a ditch, and jammed against a tree was the body of a calf. The windmill was lying flat on the ground and a harvester stood on end far in the dismantled grove. Barbed wire from the fences was strewn about the premises and in the road in an inextricable tangle.
An Entire Family Killed
Straight in the way as the storm continued eastward was the home of Samuel Burdge, with evidences of thrift and good management all about. Mr.Burdge and homesteaded his place twenty-five years ago, and his toil and industry during all these years had not been unrewarded. He was surrounded with everything needed to make himself and family comfortable and happy during the years to come, but now, with hardly a moment's warning, not only were the evidences of his toil obliterated, but his own life and that of his wife and three children were taken. The fourth child, a young girl of feeble mind lingered a little while with bruised and swollen body, and then she, too, passed away. Burdge was found near the house with life not wholly extinct, but he died shortly afterward without recovering consciousness, so that none were left of this family to tell the story of destruction. The bodies of the wife and two of the children were found sixty rods away-the little girl with a ghastly gash in her forehead, as though cut with an ax, and the elder boy with his neck broken, one foot cut off at the ankle and the limb again severed just below the knee. The feeble-minded girl was found under a maple tree, her limbs swollen and purple, and body racked and surcharged with electricity so that it gave out a distinct shock to the hand laid upon the tender flesh. Two horses were dropped in the cellar, one dead, the other alive. Chickens were dismembered and parts of the bodies blown hither and thither. The Burdge family were buried in one grave in the Good Hope churchyard.
John Peters' place was on the east side of the road, eighty rods further north. Peters and family and two of Allen Cunningham's children went into the cellar, the east door of the house blew open and Peters returned to close it, when the house was taken and Peters with it. He received a bad cut on the head, a shattered arm and severe contusion on the right side. One of the Cunningham children was hit on the head by a rock, but not seriously injured, and the others in the cellar were unhurt.
Allen Cunningham. who lives eight rods north of the Peters place and outside of the storm's track, claims to have seen the shirting funnel of the cloud as it swept in from the west. It seemed to him that the center of the storm passed about midway between the Burdge and Peters houses, and just as it got there swooped down and sucked them into its gyrating maw. The characteristic of the tornado, of drawing objects from either side toward its center, would go to confirm Mr. Cunningham's idea of the storm at this point, as the ruins of Peters' house were carried to the south and those at the Burdge place to the east or north.
On the next farm east of Peters lived Marian Johnson, who was killed in the ruins of his house. The rest of the family-one son twenty-two years of age and two daughters aged nineteen and sixteen-escaped without serious injury.
A Girl Terribly Mangled
From here the storm passed over Ellis Whitehead's place with only slight damage to buildings and seemed to gather its force for another more destructive effort on the farm of William Slater. Mr. Slater's buildings were completely wrecked and his invalid daughter, Lulu Slater, and Ida Johnson, a domestic, were killed. One of the daughter's legs was wrenched from her body, and the dismembered limb was found hours afterward two miles away. Bert Slater and the hired man were on the way from, the barn to the house when the storm struck them. Bert was cut about the head and badly bruised, and the hired man had an arm broken.
Following its direct course eastward the storm next struck Horatio Pitcher's buildings, where, of the property, only the barn was damaged, but Frank Lord, the hired man, was struck by flying timbers and killed. Then the storm seemed to veer to the northward nearly a half-mile; taking the house and outbuildings of David Angles, where Hiram Converse lives, and damaging the barn of 0. D. Wadell, a little farther on. Then the storm turned south again until, regaining its former course eastward, it passed over the farm of A. M. Converse, damaging his buildings somewhat and killing seventeen head of cattle. Then a vacant house owned by G. W. Blanche was entirely destroyed, and the house on the Balling place, occupied by Charles Anderson, was wrecked, and barn taken out entirely.
After leaving this point the storm seems to have raised off the ground, for no further damage is encountered until reaching Woolson's place, two miles farther east, and the same distance into Buena Vista county, and here the evidences do not indicate the presence of it's full force. On the Baker place, however, eighty rods farther east, the work of thorough destruction is resumed, Mr. Baker's house and barn being demolished. In the same section the buildings of James H. Wadsworth were quite near the storm's center, but only his barn-said to be the largest in the county-was destroyed. Mr. Wadsworth and his hired man, Barnard Johnson, were in the barn at the time, and Johnson was blown some distance, his chest striking squarely against a tree and the force of the concussion wrapping his body firmly about the tree. He died thirty-seven hours afterward.
From here the tornado continued on its due eastward course for another half-mile or so, wrecking the house, barn and sheds of W. E. Partridge, destroying Mr. Mc Williams' sheds, in the same section, and demolishing the house and outbuildings of J. Zoungstom, and then the course was turned slightly southward, taking Henry Tutt's sheds and wrecking his barn.
In Section I of Maple Valley township, Buena Vista county, it first took G. L. Watson's house and barn. Thomas Wall lived on the place and he lost everything but his team. His wife was quite badly hurt, and his father, Edwin Wall, and daughter, of Aurelia, who were visiting at the place, were also severely injured, Mr. Wall so badly that his leg had to be amputated. In the same section the Hetric farmhouse was wrecked, and John Whitman, who occupied it, lost all his household goods, but the family escaped. Some damage was also done to Donald Hill's buildings, in the northwest corner of this section.
The storm then crossed into Hayes township, and, veering slightly southward again struck the place of Jacob Breecher, on the west side of Section 6, where it took house, barn, and everything but a corn crib. Jacob Breecher and daughter, and Joseph Slade, were killed here. Slade, the hired man, and one of Breecher's sons had returned from the field and were unhitching the team. Mr. Breecher ran out with a coat for his son, when the terrible blast struck them all. The son says he caught his arms around a tree, and succeeded in holding on, though the tree was twisted off just above his hands.
When the storm had passed he saw his father stagger toward the house, and reached him as he fell. His neck had been struck by a board and nearly severed. He died very soon afterward. The mother was found sitting on a small part of the house floor several rods from the site of the house. Slade had an arm and leg broken, and died the following day.
Of the further progress of the tornado through a portion of Buena Vista county, the- Storm Lake Pilot, of July 12, gave the following account:
The north side of the whirling mass caught the buildings at L. A. Clemons', forty rods farther on; the barn was wrecked, the roof torn from the house, and the fine orchard trees mostly twisted beyond recall, but the house stood, and in it was a large company. Mrs. Harry Clemons was at home, and spending the afternoon with her were Mrs. Paxton, Mrs. F. S. Hollenbeck, Mrs. Taylor and others, whose escape seems miraculous.
A few rods east was the little home of W. R. Clemons, the father of L. A. Clemons, and brother of W. L. Clemons, of Storm Lake. He had just returned from Alta, and was changing his clothes. He saw the storm coming, and hastened to get his wife down cellar, following himself. Just at the last step he threw up his left hand to steady himself, and as the house rose into the seething mass his arm was caught and the muscles and bone laid bare. In this condition he helped his wife, Who had been hit on the forehead and severely hurt, out of the cellar and almost to his Son's home, when they met him. His arm was in a sad condition, and in the hope of saving his life: it was thought best to amputate it. He stood the operation bravely, but could not survive the shock, dying Sunday morning about 8 o'clock.
The schoolhouse on the hill a short distance east next came in line, and beyond a few stones which marked the spot one could not know that a building ever stood there. Within ten rods there is not a piece of timber as large as stove wood, and the iron drive well was pulled out and taken with the rest.
A little farther east, on the farm owned by S. J. Powell, lived C. N. Totman. He saw the storm approaching, and hurried his family into the cellar, but delayed going himself. The house was taken from its foundation and ground to splinters; the barn shared the same fate, mixed with horses, cattle, hogs and poultry . Mr. Totman was found in the yard injured internally, and lived only until Saturday morning. There is not enough left of the Breecher, W. R. Clemons and Powell homes and out-buildings to build a pig pen, and the ground for a mile is stuck full of slivers and strewn with farm machinery.
Passing on southeast the south edge of the whirl caught the L. J. Chamberlain farm buildings, unroofing the barn and cutting the grove in pieces. The building at the spring was annihilated, and the iron tubing carried nearly to the lake. From here the destructive forces swept across the lake, the only thing in its path across upon which to feed being the Fisher steamboat, which was soon devoured.
Leaving the lake at the southeast corner, the Lake-side farm was in the north side of its path, and out of a fine herd of young thoroughbred heifers and a herd of sheep, twenty of the former and fifty of the latter were killed and many more fatally injured. Among the cattle were three as fine heifers as there are in the United States. The only building to be absolutely wrecked here was the hen house, and the poultry in it experienced a most violent shaking up. First the building was stood on end, and then whirled about and dashed in pieces. The other buildings were a good deal stirred up, and Mr. Miller says it was difficult to keep on his feet in the house farthest north.
East of the Bryant farm the residence of Albert Scharm was demolished and all his belongings destroyed, and he is; with the possible exception of Thomas Wall, the most needy along the line in our county.
Continuing in a southeasterly direction from the above point, the storm did no material damage until it reached the Tenney place, on Section 26, Providence township, where it took the stable and killed one horse for Pat Kennedy, who occupied the place. From here the tornado pursued a course almost directly eastward, the damage done consisting mainly of shattered barns and out-buildings, stripped groves and flattened crops, until reaching John Slayman's place near the Pocahontas county line, where everything was taken and every member of the family more or less injured. Crossing the Pocahontas county line, the home and barn on the Waterman farm, occupied by Mr. Sayne, were destroyed. In this neighborhood the buildings of Samuel Hersom, E. A. Sherley, B. Peach and Mr. Hardy were wrecked, but their families escaped serious injury.
At Amos Gorton's, one and three-fourths miles west of Fonda, work of a more serious character was accomplished. The buildings were blown into splinters, and Mrs. Gorton and one child were taken from the ruins dead, and another, a little girl, fatally injured. Mr. Gorton and the eldest daughter were not hurt. Here the storm veered to the southward again, else the town of Fonda would have been directly in its pathway, and would doubtless have met a fate similar to that of Pomeroy.
About a half-mile from the Gorton place, the buildings occupied by John Detwilder were demolished, and Mr. Detwilder was carried out into the grove and killed. Near here the home of Harry Hersom was swept away, though none were seriously hurt. Mrs. Hersom passed through confinement while at the mercy of the elements, and, remarkable as it may seem; both mother and child were saved. Tearing down the buildings of George Sanborn, one-half mile south of Fonda, and doing considerable damage on the farms of Messrs. Busby, Neiting and Jerry, the Tornado swept across the track of the Des Moines, Northern & Western Railroad, and from thence followed close along the south side of the Illinois Central track into Pomeroy.
The buildings on the Shirley, Ferguson and Becker farms were demolished. Mr. Becker thinks that tornadoes must have a peculiar grudge against him. Only a few months before a small one came along which ruined his house: and he had just completed a new house and was intending to move in the following Saturday when this storm razed it to the ground.
On the Moody & Davy farm, occupied by William I. Webb, was a cave which would have afforded protection for the family had they taken warning of the approaching storm. But they were all at the supper table when the house was torn in pieces over their heads. Mr. Webb received a bad wound in the leg, while Mrs. Webb was seriously hurt in the back, and their little daughter had her foot crushed.
A half-mile farther east Charles Perkins and family saw the storm in time to take refuge in their cave. Their house and its contents were totally destroyed. On the Weidauer farm, south of Perkins', the buildings were taken, but no one was hurt.
At the Dalton farm, three miles west of Pomeroy, everything was swept clean. When Mrs. Dalton saw the storm approaching she ran to a neighbor's and escaped injury. Mr. Dalton remained at his house and came out with a broken leg. Fred Parker, who was stopping at the Dalton place, had a narrow escape. He ran to get out of the storm's way, but, seeing it was going to over take him, dropped flat on the ground, Before the storm had passed, however, something impelled him to move on a little way. In making the move he left his hat where he had first lain, and upon returning afterward for the hat found it being held quite firmly to the ground by an 8 by 8 timber. Directly after the storm young Parker went to his father's place two miles north for help. J. F. Parker returned with him, with team and vehicle, and conveyed Dalton to Pomeroy for surgical treatment, not knowing, of course, that hundreds in the town were maimed and many killed. After things had cleared a little, following the passage of the tornado, Mr. Parker's daughter could see that the buildings on the Charles Perkins farm had been razed and she immediately went through the rain and hail with another team to render that family much-needed assistance in reaching a place of shelter.
The Fullers, living south of Dalton's, saw the tornado approaching, Mr. and Mrs. Fuller went to the cellar, but Mrs. Fullers brother, Luther Perkins, went upstairs after his money. The house was taken before he had time to accomplish his mission, but he escaped injury. Mrs. Fuller was badly bruised by timbers thrown into the cellar.
The buildings on the Gedke and Parker farms were considerably damaged. But after leaving the Dalton place, the storm seems to have been not doing its worst until the home of Jacob Foster was reached, a ha1f-mile west of Pomeroy. Here everything was ground up fine again. Mrs. Foster, her sister and the children went to the Cellar, and all escaped serious injury. Mr. Foster who is postmaster of Pomeroy, had been home to supper, and returning, had just entered the postoffice when the building-a two story brick-collapsed. The front caved in and the roof and second floor came down. but were upheld at the rear end by the postoffice cabinets, and thus, doubtless, was Mr. Foster's life saved. Immediately after the destruction of her home. Mrs. Foster and the eldest son trudged to town through the terrible rain and hail storm which followed the Tornado, fully expecting to find that the husband and father had been killed. Their joyful surprise to find that he had escaped unhurt can be imagined.
Character of the Storm
It is not the purpose of the author of this work to attempt a scientific treatise of this storm, nor of tornadoes in general. Should he do so he would be rushing in where the most learned scientists of the day hesitate before displaying their ignorance. About the only explanation ventured of the tornado phenomena is that a warm current of air has created a vacuum, or trough. as it were, in the atmosphere, to the center of which the cooler currents from either side are drawn with such velocity as to cause the unusual electrical Disturbances, when they unite. and accounting for the rotary movement observed at the center. The best authorities do not admit, however. that electricity is the main destructive element-this role being accredited to the force with which the outer currents rush to the center of the vortex.
The position in which debris was left in the track of the Pomeroy tornado is cited in support of this theory, nearly everything in its pathway having been drawn upward and toward the center from either side, so far as evidences were at hand.
The testimony of the different persons who saw the storm varies so widely that, taken as a whole, it may be of no particular value in deducing scientific theories, yet it will not be without interest to the general reader. Some of the onlookers saw distinctly the huge balloon-shaped cloud as it approached with its tail sweeping the earth; others saw the same cloud, only with a number of tails one or more touching the ground and the others high in air, while many claim that a solid wall of rolling, greenish-black clouds moved in from the west and was joined by other clouds from the northeast and the south. One man who watched the storm in Pomeroy is certain that the cloud from the west raised just before reaching the outskirts of the village, passing eastward, just trailing the tree tops, until coming into conjunction with another cloud from the northeast, when the two returned west-ward and met still another cloud from the southwest, and the combined mass then dropped to the ground and swept the town clean. In evidence of the correctness of his position he asserts that the family of Jacob Foster, whose home, one-half mile west, was destroyed, reached town much sooner after the storm than they possibly could have done had the tornado passed from their place directly through town.
The reporter of the Sioux City Journal, who went over the track of the storm soon after its work of devastation had been accomplished, in the issue of that paper of July 9, said: From the narratives of more than a score of intelligent observers it is evident that the storm was a tornado of the compound sort-that is to say, it varied from the true balloon tornado in that it had several stems or funnels. From a survey of the ground over which the storm cloud passed and the statements of those who observed its approach, there appear to have been four of these destructive vortices. The country between Fonda and Pomeroy is almost perfectly checkered with tall willow hedges running with the compass. These hedges, most of them sixteen feet or more in height, give the best material evidence as to the general progression of the storm. They are nearly uniform of growth.
Just south of Fonda is the farmhouse of John Sangstrom, and to him first the Journal reporter, who followed the path of the storm, applied for information. At 6:40 o'clock, according to his reckoning, the storm was heard approaching. He saw two huge masses of white cloud approaching, one from the southwest and the other from the northwest. Between them was a mass of inky black vapor from which trailed four elongated trunks that swayed and twisted and bounded up and down as they swung along, Only one of these points touched the ground in passing his place, and that was the one farthest south. The lower part of it had a grayish-black appearance, and twisted and swung about like the trunk of an elephant.
Everything in its path was raised or thrown into the air .The point of the vortex second from the north passed within 100 yards of his house. At that time the point reached within twelve or fourteen feet of the ground, while the other two spun high up in the air and gave out a horrible humming that inspired more dread than the roar and crash of the southernmost tongue that was tearing a path through trees and fields, farmyards and dwellings, and everything else that came in its way. The cattle and horses crouched to the ground in terror, and even the hogs tried to bury themselves in a haystack near the house.
Within and along the surface of the storm cones there was an incessant play of electricity, and fearful, jagged bolts shot out from the white clouds on either side of the black mass from which the tongues hung down. The tall willow hedge running north and south along the western border of the farm bear out Mr. Sangstrom's statement. Where the southernmost vortex passed there is scarcely a blade of grass left standing, while where he shows the second from the north to have passed the tops of the trees are twisted off, while the lower foliage is undisturbed.
Two and a half miles farther east, tongues Nos. I and 3 from the north seem to have darted toward the ground. That their vertical motion was sudden is shown by the fact that the grove surrounding Alexander Elstone's house was left undisturbed on the side from which the storm approached, while the house and barn and the part of the grove beyond them were scattered for rods across the fields. It was the third tongue from the north that wrought the destruction.
At the Dalton farm three and a halt miles west of Pomeroy, the storm had much the same general appearance, save that the second tongue from the north was now trailing the ground. It struck the farmstead and landed every board of it - barns, pens, corncribs and dwelling-in a slough 200 yards to the east. The fourth tongue cut the trees of the hedge 400 yards south, leaving the trunks eight or ten feet above the ground.
Tongues Nos. 2 and 4 were both trailing, while the northernmost one seemed to have made a single dive into the livery yard and set the hearse on end, as already related. No.2 was the one that wrought the terrible destruction. When it reached Pomeroy it seemed to be bent almost at right angles at the lower end, thus producing the rotary motion on a horizontal axis that threw the debris in a direction squarely in the face of the general progression of the storm. To the south of the city the fields and groves show the trail of tongue No.4.
Between Cherokee and Storm Lake the face of country shows the same general character of scoring . That electricity played a large part in the work of destruction is evident from the fact that the bark of the willows, wherever the vortices struck them, is seared as brown as if they had been baked in an oven."
The Weather Bureau's Report
This work would not be complete without giving the opinions and observations of the highest authority in the state upon the subject treated, and we therefore reproduce, almost in its entirety, in the succeeding pages of this chapter, the report of Director J. R. Sage, contained in his "Monthly Review of the Iowa Weather and Crop Service" for July, 1893:
The Pomeroy Tornado
On the evening of July 6, 1893, a tornado originated near the center of the southern half of Cherokee county, and moved on a general line about fifteen degrees south of east a distance of nearly fifty-six miles. After leaving Cherokee the storm swept through the southern townships of Buena Vista county, across the southwest corner of Pocahontas county, and thence two-thirds of the distance, through Calhoun county, crowning its career of devastation by destroying the larger part of the residence portion of the thriving town of Pomeroy. This tornado caused greater destruction of life than any storm that ever visited Iowa, and in respect to destruction of property it ranks second only to the noted Grinne1l tornado of June 17, 1882.
Evidently a Tornado
Judging by the debris and other visible effects at Pomeroy, and the descriptions of observers at other points, the storm bore all the characteristics of a tornado. The width of its path was variable, ranging from 800 to 1,800 feet. A number of intelligent observers distinctly saw the whirling and writhing pendant, which they variously describe as funnel-shaped, like an elephant's trunk, etc. Others, who were very near the path of the storm, saw only a great mass of densely black or greenish vapor rolling over the ground like a swirl of Missouri river waters, accompanied by electric flashes and an indescribable roar or humming sound, unlike any noise ever heard before. The scene was quite different at various points of observation, the mass of clouds alternately lifting and falling, changing form Continuously as it advanced. One observer says he saw two huge masses of white clouds approaching, one from the southwest and the other from the northwest; between them was a mass of inky, black vapor, from which trailed four elongated trunks that swayed and twisted and bounded up and down as they swung along, and only one touched the ground in passing his place. Making due allowance for an excited imagination, there is doubtless a measure of truth in the many seemingly conflicting reports as to the appearance and behavior of the storm. They all attest the fact that it was a genuine. A 'twister' of the most virulent type.
The path of the tornado is quite accurately outline in Fig. V, giving a sectional map of the territory through which it passed. Through the first half of its journey the storm lifted at frequent intervals, bounding and swaying slightly north and south of its general path; but after passing Storm Lake it gathered new force and kept more continuously to its work of destruction, making a line nearly as direct as the flight of an arrow toward the fated town of Pomeroy. On the north side of its path are seen occasional indications of lateral currents, some of which left wreckage in their course, giving apparent ground for the statement that the main storm pursued a zigzag pathway.
According to the various reports as to the hour of the evening when the tornado passed the different point on the line of its travel, its progressive movement east-ward was quite slow. It began its work in Cherokee county at about 5 P.M. Observer Hadden states that it passed south of Alta at 5:20. Observer Bond, of Storm Lake, reports it as having passed by that place at 5:30. Postmaster Blair, of Newell, gives the hour of it's appearance at a point about a mile south of that place at 6. And all accounts agree that it struck the town of Pomeroy between 6:30 and 7 P.M. The Herald of that place states that it was just 7 o'clock when the storm began its work. The writer saw a pendulum clock among the debris, which had been stopped at 6:40. So, making due allowance for the variation in timepieces, the storm must have occupied an hour and forty minutes in traveling fifty miles, making about the usual speed of an express train. Evidently the tornado could have been handled or scheduled quite easily by a good train dispatcher, and people in the towns along its line could have been warned to sidetrack before it reached their stations. In this there is at least a suggestion of the possibility of establishing a system of warning whereby lives may be saved. Though the storm traveled quite slowly eastward, its whirling and uplifting movements must have been inconceivably rapid, and there is no evidence that it was wasting any time on its way.
Some Noteworthy Points
The fact has been stated that the general direction of the tornado was a little south of east. The first twenty miles of its course was almost due east, and if it had held steadily to that line it would have struck the thriving and handsome city of Storm Lake. But on approaching the northwestern point of the lake it deflected slightly southward, that body of water evidently offering the line of least resistance. After reaching the more level region beyond the outlet of the lake its path was very nearly on a direct air line, about parallel with the Illinois Central track.
The weather records show that fully eighty per cent of tornadoes move from the southwest to the northeast. It is a noteworthy fact, however, that the three longest and most destructive storms of that character that have visited Iowa, namely, the Camanche tornado of 1860, the Grinnell tornado of 1882 and the late Pomeroy storm, all moved on a line trending toward the southeast. There appears to be something more than coincidence in the fact that these three major storms have pursued the same general course, apart from the line of minor disturbances. The suggestion may be offered that the more powerful northwest currents not only give direction but also add to the intensity of the whirling columns.
Another point, may be noted here. Intelligent residents at Pomeroy who took note of the approach of the storm from the west, state that it appeared to have originated at that place. The Pomeroy Herald says: "The sky was a fearful sight to behold, clouds of inky blackness filling the entire west, rolling and surging in wild commotion. One cloud came from the northwest and joined a second from the southwest, then whirled and sucked its resistless passage toward the fated town. The air was filled with flying debris and the roar of the storm was above all.
Observers at the various stations along the line relate that they saw two clouds approach each other, and then the work of destruction began. At every point of observation it looked as if the meeting of these clouds of vapor -visible air currents-caused the disturbance. Evidently these were lateral currents drawn into the central vortex, possibly serving as feeders of the devastating monster. In nearly all descriptions of tornadoes in the papers, and by local observers, we note the same account of clouds meeting clouds. In a study of this class of storms, this fact is deserving of consideration.
Report by David E. Hadden, of Alta
From the very full detailed report by Prof. David E. Hadden, of Alta, Buena Vista county, we make the following extracts: "On July 5, the day preceding the tornado, the wind blew briskly from the southeast all day, with increasing cloudiness and a moderately heavy thunderstorm toward evening. The sky had a very threatening appearance, heavy dark clouds and very vivid lightning. The morning of the 6th opened with a light east wind, partly cloudy sky, which gradually increased, the wind bearing to south-east and almost calm. The morning was 'close,' and murky , and the sultriness greatly increased, becoming very oppressive during the afternoon. About 4 P.M. the sky assumed a stormy appearance, 'thunderheads' appeared in the west and northwest. At 4:20 P.M. thunder was first heard in the northwest, proceeding from a bank of dark clouds. Soon the lightning became 'forked,' and several sharp peals of thunder quickly followed the rapidly advancing portion of the thundercloud. About this time the lightning in the northwest was continuous, and the thunder incessant, a peculiar rumbling roar continued, which was unlike any sound produced by even distant thunder; this continued until about 5 P.M. The dark bank of clouds in the north-west seemed to have traveled northeastward. At 5 P.M. a very large, heavy, dark mass of clouds was seen almost due west, and apparently at a distance of about three or four miles.
"Much sharp lightning and thunder accompanied it. As it advanced it was seen to be in violent commotion, a strong ascending current appearing in its midst. It traveled in a southeast direction. About 5:15 P.M. a heavy, rapidly moving cloud was seen to move from a southeast to northwest direction, meeting the advancing storm; it suddenly dipped and raised, then dipped and raised again and traveled eastward, south of Alta, at a distance of about two to three miles. At the same time intensely sharp lightning and deafening thunder peals passed over the town, traveling in an east and northeast direction. This continued until 5:30 P.M. At 5:15 or 5:20 P.M. the wind suddenly blew hard from the northeast for about ten minutes when it gradually decreased and veered to north, then west, then variable. At 5:30 P.M. very large hail, in some cases several inches in diameter, very angular and honeycombed, came from the north, breaking hundreds of windows, limbs of trees, etc. At 5:35 P.M. the hail ceased; the ground was covered almost white, and were it not for the light wind then prevailing, the damage by this source would have been much more serious. Heavy rain commenced falling at 5:30 P.M. and ceased at 5:40 P.M.; amount, .28 inch. Immediately after the storm passed, the east and southeast sky was of an inky blackness. Swiftly moving, large masses of dark clouds at a low elevation were observed to come from the northwest toward the storm region. After this the sky partly cleared, but about 8 P.M. a heavy thunder-storm with very hard rain came up from the southwest and lasted about three hours, accompanied by a high northeast wind from 10 P.M. to 10:25 P.M.
The tornado entered Buena Vista county about four miles southwest of Alta and passed across the county. The tornado passed through the center of the lake, raising the water to a height of about l00 feet.
The hail was confined almost entirely to the track of the tornado and for about two miles on the north side of the track; but little occurred south.
Mr. J. H. Wadsworth was injured about the face, as if by fire; he thinks he was enveloped in a stream of electricity'; it seems difficult to account for the character of his injuries otherwise.
Mr. C. W. Garberson, living about eight or nine miles on the north side of the storm track, says that many hundred balls of fire filled his yard, coincident with a blinding flash of lightning which struck a private line, telegraph pole near his house.
On the south of the track a brisk wind from the southeast or east preceded the tornado, followed, during its passage east, by a high westerly wind.
A grove on the west side was unharmed, while a fine, large barn a few rods east on Henry Tutt's farm was completely demolished.
Chickens were found alive and completely stripped of all feathers.
Near the Hetrick farm the fence running north an south was plastered with mud on the northwest side the posts to a depth of many inches.
Large trees over a foot in diameter were twisted in all conceivable forms, as if they were mere twigs.
The direction of motion of the funnel cloud was from south to west by the east.
In some places debris was scattered as to indicate a straight blow, while others the twister' was plainly-seen.
In some instances an expansive force was evident the sides being blown outward in all directions; in others the 'uplift' was tremendous.
The sky became exceedingly dark just before the storm struck.
Charles Anderson, on the Joseph Boulting farm, found one of his horses lodged in a tree, while its mate was carried clear over the grove and deposited in a field.
A reaper wheel of solid iron was carried from the Slater place and dropped in the field, half a mile away. A board was forced edgeways half through a tree, and so firmly imbedded that it could not be broken off.
"Report by A. J. Bond, Storm Lake
"Observer A. J. Bond, of Storm Lake, sent notes and newspaper clippings, from which the following extracts are made:
"The time of beginning was about 5 :20 P.M.; time of passing, nearly ten minutes; direction, S. E. E. Breadth of track, 20 to 40 rods. The bounds of its track are well defined on ridges, but the storm did not make a clean sweep, and many fields of grain in the track are left standing, apparently uninjured. The storm evidently passed most easily over the valleys, and was apparently turned from its course by high ridges or strong buildings surrounded by dense groves, as at Lakeside and beyond. At the Lakeside farm it whirled through an opening where are the cattle yard, sheds and cribs, which were demolished, but left the strong buildings, and was borne over the dense grove beyond, taking the tops of the scattering tall trees only. So Storm Lake may have escaped, the lake surface being taken as a course of less resistance.
The tornado did not hug the ground closely, but there are many places both west and east of the lake where the effects of the irresistible whirlwind are evident, and the currents were strong enough to lift and carry away light buildings, particularly such as stood in the openings or on the edge of a heavy grove, around which the storm curved in great violence. In several places the groves seem to have borne up the storm and carried it over by their density and elasticity, and they are now standing green and unscathed, while scattering trees are destroyed. The storm as it passed over the lake is described as a rolling cloud of dense blackness
The trailing appendages, which news reporters have pictured, were not observed here, and I am of the opinion that there may be tornadoes without them. And if in future I see a black cloud approach against the wind, with roaring and thunder, followed by a moment of calm, I shall be apt to drop into a hole, or flee to a cellar, and not wait to look for a tail.
As the storm approached all low clouds, east and north, seemed driven rapidly toward the point of loudest thunder. The thunder was heard first in the northwest, then as the storm cloud passed in the southeast, and last very distant in the east. At about 5 :30 observer went indoors, listened to the thunder and roaring, noted the hail and rain, and the changes of wind from brisk east to calm, then quickly to strong gusty southwest, west and northwest, and back to light east. But we did not know there was a tornado till later.
The scorched appearance of trees, attributed by one writer to electricity, I observed carefully on some maples standing in a fence row. The trees were not broken, but twisted and bent so as to loosen the outer bark, which; had been taken off by the wind and carried away, the inner bark left presenting a yellowish brown, which is its natural color, while the leaves of the trees were whipped and torn to shreds and dried, the stems still adhering to the tough, unbroken twigs, and the whole tree, body and top, presenting the appearance at a distance of having been singed, though on close inspection it was evident that nothing of the kind had happened. Many other trees which had received a sand-blast from the lake beach presented a similar appearance.
At Lakeside farm the tornado encountered the hill, grove and buildings, and was turned from its course to nearly southeast, passing the east lake bluff through the valley of the lake 'outlet.' In crossing this bluff ridge the whirlwind seems to have been raised and passed over the corn fields on the east side, doing little damage, but only moved one barn, which stood on a high point, and trimmed some trees on another ridge. In many places along the line the storm seemed to have changed its course to avoid obstacles for other lines of less resistance, and then to have returned to its general direction. And I would suggest that a survey might be made of the whole track for the purpose of determining the safest locations for buildings in general, and what artificial safeguards may be placed around them and used in the Ir construction.
If a tornado can be lifted up and passed safely over a farmhouse by a proper arrangement of groves, it would be well for the public to know it. No doubt there are many ways of protecting our buildings from the devastating tornado, which we may learn only by carefully observing and respecting and acting upon God's laws as shown in natural phenomena.
The Storm Lake pilot says: "The storm as viewed at Storm Lake was about forty rods wide and almost black darkness enveloped its path, while a few miles south or north the sun was shining. James De Land sat in his buggy in the sun four miles south and watched the cloud pass between him and the city. F. M. Curtis reports that he stood near Fisher's Casino and watched the cloud until it reached the Chamberlain place, and then hastened to the cellar, the death-dealing tornado passing a few rods north. The storm began near Quimby, in Cherokee county and its course was east by a little southeast. There several people were killed. It entered Buena Vista county on the line between Nokomis and Maple Valley townships, but did no extensive damage until it reached the farm of George Baker, Section 33, Nokomis; here it swept away his barn and killed some stock.
Postmaster Blair, of Newell, writes that the storm passed about one mile south of that place, at 6 P.M., destroying buildings, groves and crops in its path, and injuring several people.
W. L. Thompson, of Manson, writes that the storm began in the southwestern part of Cherokee county and ended about four miles west of Manson, in Calhoun county (about four miles east of Pomeroy) .The day was close and sultry, no air stirring, the mercury at 2 P.M. at and northwest. The dark bank was preceded by scud clouds. As the cloud bank advanced, the center of it, northwest of Manson, and about on a line with Pomeroy, took on a green color. The tornado struck that place at 7 P.M., and spent its force there in three to five minutes. Alight rain preceded it about five minutes.
It seemed to strike the earth, slantingly from above, crushing everything beneath it, then rising with a whirl, scattering the wreckage in all directions, one part of a house being blown to the south and another part west. The direction of the wind all day had been from the southeast. Violent thunder and lightning accompanied and followed the tornado, and heavy rain fell over a half hour afterward. All appearances in Pomeroy indicated a tornado, while two miles east it looked like a straight blow. The death roll at Pomeroy and immediate vicinity was 48 (on the l0th inst.) and the wounded in hospital or under care of surgeons, numbered 75. The area of total destruction in Pomeroy is about one mile east and west, and from one-fourth to one- half mile wide.
Observer H. B. Strever, of Larrabee, reports that the tornado formed three miles west of the center of the southern half of Cherokee county, or about the center of the southern tier of sections in Rock township. That would extend the track three miles west of dark line in Fig. V, which was made before the receipt of this report. It is probable, however, that the storm was not fully developed until it reached Pilot township, where its destructive effects were first noted.