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May 29, 2020

Some Early Tornado Photographs From the 19th Century

Photography is a major tool of tornado investigators. Detailed examinations of still pictures and careful photogrammetric analyses of motion pictures have provided the scientific community with much valuable information about tornadic structure and airflow. Journal articles, textbooks, and items in the popular press frequently include pictures of tornadoes. Such pictures are usually well received, reflecting the widespread general interest in this natural phenomenon.

In the 19th century, when photography was developing into a mass medium, a few intrepid early adopters pointed their glass plate cameras at one of the most intimidating natural forces on Earth: the tornado. With whipping winds, accompanying rain and hail, and that foreboding electric coolness in the air, tornadoes are no easy subject — especially given their unpredictable paths of destruction.

Below are some early tornado photographs from the late 19th century:

A. A. Adams’s photograph of a tornado in Garnett, Kansas on April 26, 1884. (courtesy Kansas Historical Society)

Photograph of a tornado in Howard, South Dakota, said to be taken August 28, 1884 (courtesy National Geographic)

Photograph by Clinton Johnson of a tornado in North Dakota, 1895. (via Library of Congress)

The May 12, 1896, tornado photographed by Thomas Croft in Oklahoma City (courtesy DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University)

The May 12, 1896, tornado photographed by Thomas Croft in Oklahoma City (courtesy University of Tulsa Special Collections and University Archives)

“Oklahoma Cyclone”, 1898. (via Library of Congress)

Photograph of a tornado in Ponca City, Oklahoma, ca. 1890s. (via Library of Congress)

A stereoscopic view by D. S. Camp of the aftermath of a tornado in Wallingford, Connecticut on August 9, 1878. (via New York Public Library)

(via Hyperallergic)


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