John Finley, 19th century tornado researcher
January 25, 2011 5:50 PM Subscribe
John Park Finley
posted by Wossname (9 comments total)
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, American meteorologist, wrote the first known book on tornadoes
, 1887). Though some of his "safety" guidelines for surviving a tornado have since been refuted as dangerous (seek shelter on the side of a house facing an oncoming tornado!), the book remains a seminal work in tornado research.View excerpts or download the entire book
, courtesy of the University of Oklahoma. Highlights include plans
for a tornado cave
(costing under $350
), geographic distribution
, reports of damage to 300 lb hogs
, and two references
to what are probably the first known photographs
of a tornado.
of statistics, damage photos, and anecdotes about past storms, Finley was able to compile a list of "rules"
that could signal tornadoes. In 1884, The Signal Corps allowed Finley to issue trial tornado forecasts, but the word "tornado" was banned from use
for fear of public panic. Despite Finley reporting a 95.61%–98.65% degree of success
, the experimental forecasts would end in 1886 (possibly due in part to opposition recalculating Finley's success rate for predicting tornadoes at only 23% -- Finley's original statistics were inflated by forecasts of non-tornado-spawning storms).*
Internal strife within The Signal Corps would eventually see Finley regulated to the records division, no longer involved in weather forecasting. After retiring from the military at age 64, he would move on to lecture about tornadoes and even provided insurance underwriters with storm risk assessments. In 1932, he opened the National Weather and Aviation School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Finley would continue to teach meteorology at the school until he he retired for good in 1939. He would die 4 years later at the age of 89.
*One of Finley's supporters, Edward S. Holden, tried to implement a tornado warning system using telegraph poles. But it was overshadowed by a report by Henry A. Hazen, a civilian employee of the corps, who deemed that because tornadoes were "exceedingly rare" and very localized, it was impossible to pinpoint forecasts.
In addition to upholding the "tornado" ban for decades, The Weather Bureau (which assumed jurisdiction from the Signal Corps in 1890) remained skeptical of the value and accuracy of tornado forecasts. It took until 1943 for experimental warning systems to be implemented; a public outcry in 1952 (after a severe outbreak that killed over 200 people) finally helped formalize U.S. tornado research and forecasts.