Saint Cloud Tornado Finley Signal Service Response


A Signal Service Official Tells How They Are Foreseen.

Special to the Globe.
WASHINGTON, April 16. – Lieut. John P. Finley of the signal service, who has given the subject of tornadoes and cyclones careful study for several years past, is actively engaged in gathering all information possible with reference to the tornado at St. Cloud.  It was no cyclone, he said to the GLOBE correspondent, as it is generally claimed.  In fact cyclones never occur in that part of the country.  They only originate at sea, and are seldom felt on land, except near the coast.

“What have your investigations of tornadoes shown as to the possibility of foretelling their coming or of avoiding the destruction of life and property by them?”

“Their coming can only be told by actual observation and through knowledge of these storms.  What I mean to say is they form so quickly that a system of signals can’t give warning of their coming.  It could, however, educate people to know by their own observation when they are approaching, and how destructive of life and valuables by them may be existed.  These storms are possessed of the following prominent characteristics:  They general direction of the movement of a tornado is invariably from a point in the southwest quadrant to a point in the northeast quadrant.  A tornado cloud assumes the form of a funnel, small at the end drawing near or resting upon the earth.  This cloud and the air beneath it revolve about a central vertical axis, with inconceivable rapidity, and always in the direction contrary to the movement of


The destructive violence of the storm is sometimes continued to a path a few yards in width, as when the small or tail end just touches the earth, while on the other hand as the body of the cloud lowers, more of it rests upon the earth, violence increases and the path widens to the extreme limit of eighty rods.  Tornadoes, with hardly an exception, occur in the afternoon just after the hottest part of the day.  The hour of greatest frequency is between 3 and 4 p. m.  Tornadoes very rarely, if ever, begin after 6 p. m.  A tornado commencing about 5 p. m. may continue its characteristic violence until nearly 8 p. m., which means only that the tornado cloud may be traveling after 6 p. m. or 7 p. m., but it does not develop; that is it does not make its appearance for the first time, after those hours.  Outside of the area of destruction, at times even along its immediate edge, the smallest object often remains undisturbed although at a few yards distance the largest and strongest buildings are crushed to pieces.  The sudden appearance of ominous clouds, first in the southwest, and then almost immediately in the northwest or northeast, or perhaps reversed in the order of their appearance, generally attracts the attention of the most casual observer.  In almost all cases these premonitory clouds are unlike any ordinary formation.  If they are light, their appearance resembles smoke issuing from a burning building, or a straw-stack rolling upward in fantastic shapes to great heights; sometimes they are like flue mist, or quite white like fog or steam.  Some persons describe these light clouds as at times apparently iridescent or glowing, as it a


issued from their irregular surfaces.  If premonitory clouds are dark and present a deep greenish hue this fairly forebodes very great evil, so also if they appear jet black.  On the day of the storm and for several hours previous to the appearance of the tornado cloud, the indications of its probable formation and approach are within the comprehension of the ordinary observer and can readily be detected by him.  The sultry, oppressive condition of the atmosphere is described by various observers as follows:  “I really experienced a sickening sensation under the influence of the sun’s rays.  I was compelled to stop work on account of the peculiar exhaustion experienced from physical exertion.”

Having indicated, lieutenant, how people may recognize the approach of these storms, what can you suggest in the way of escape from them?”

“There are only two methods of safety.  One is an effort to get out of the immediate track of the storm, the other is seek shelter underground.  Dispatches received here to-day from Iowa show that while there was great loss of property by the same storm which destroyed St. Cloud, there were few losses of life, because the people in that section had prepared for an occasion of this character by the construction of storm cellars or dug-outs and caves into which they fled at the appearance of the storm.  It is one of the most frequently visited states by these storms, and people there have learned how to avoid them.  They are, as I indicated above, the methods of escape from these storms.  Sometimes you may get out of their path.  In attempting to escape in getting out of the


Everything depends on the manner and direction in which persons move, together with the distance of the tornado cloud, its direction and the kind of motion prevailing, at the instant one determines upon changing his position.  If a progressive motion of the cloud is prevailing and your distance from it is say eighty rods or more, move directly and will all possible dispatch to the north.  Whenever this motion is prevailing always run to the north unless in so doing, you would be obliged to cross the entire path of the storm, as a sharp glance to westward will tell you whether you are about on the southern edge of the probable path of the tornado cloud or more to the north.  If you are in the center or half way between center and the southern edge your chances are best in a direct course to the north, but if further to the south, move directly and very rapidly to the south bearing slightly east.  In no event should you ever run directly to the east or northeast.

“The proportion of cases in which persons would be likely to succeed in getting out of the track of a storm, unless thoroughly familiar with the subject, is small, is it not?”

“Probably it would be, that being the case.  The assured method of protecting life and preserving valuables would be the way as I suggested a few moments ago.  If he has dugouts, or underground apartments, a man should construct dugouts at some suitable point within suitable distance of his house.  If a person is situated within a town or city, let him select some portion of his purpose, but if residing in the country he will not be


in the selection of a desirable location, where a person is living in a village and has no yard he must, if he constructs cellars, have as much of protection to be described further on.  With respect to a dug out in no [case] should the roof be other than level with the surface of the earth; in fact it is highly desirable that the retreat should be so constructed, that ordinarily the surface of the earth would form the roof or covering and that in all preparation of a domicile proceed by way of excavation and supports from beneath.  As to location there is much to be said, the most important points being convenient distance, high, dry place and possible opportunities to excavate into the northern or eastern slope of the knoll or hill.  Under no circumstances, whether in a building or a cellar, take position in the northeast room, in a northeast corner in an east room or against an east wall.  Remember that the tornado cloud invariably moves in a northeasterly direction.  Persons have been instantly killed or terribly crippled for no other reason than they ignorantly threw themselves in the very grasp of the monster cloud.  The rule regarding movement to the Northwest must be obeyed.  The Northwest quarter is a fatal position.  The tornado season is embraced between April 1 and Sept. 1.  The months of greatest frequency are June and July.  There are, however, instances, in a long series of years, where tornadoes have been reported in every month of the year.  Taking the whole United States together, it is found that the region of the greatest average frequency per year per square mile embraces the following states:  Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio.”

The Saint Paul Daily Globe
Saturday Morning, April 17, 1886
Volume VIII, Number 107, Page 4

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