Storm History: The Natchez Tornado

Natchez Tornado
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The US isn’t the only place that gets tornadoes, but the weather phenomenon does seem to be at its strongest in this part of the world. Tornado Alley is no stranger to powerful storms, as evidenced by the might and fury of the Great Natchez Tornado in 1840. That storm, one of the deadliest on record, has long fascinated meteorologists and storm chasers.

Background

The Natchez Tornado struck down on May 7, 1840. The town of Natchez, Mississippi, was unprepared for the raw power and destruction the storm would bring.

Natchez, located on the Mississippi River, was very dependent on fishing and trading to support its populace. The river was rather busy on the day the tornado touched down. It was a little before 1 p.m. on a Thursday, and there was a lot of commerce taking place at the time.

The Tornado

Eyewitness accounts would describe the tornado as a “cloud, heavy and black,” carrying “roofs, chimneys, entire buildings” and throwing them around “like a catapult.” The tornado capsized numerous boats in the Mississippi river, as well as grabbing up people who were shopping on its banks.

Sections of forest were ripped from the ground on either bank of the river. Buildings and docks were shattered–obliterated and then carried away by the high wind speeds. In a word, it was chaos. Natchez wasn’t prepared for such a massive, deadly tornado, especially not out in the open on the riverbank.

The Storm’s Impact

When the dust settled, it was estimated that some 47 people on land in Natchez were killed, and another 269 were killed on the river. These numbers alone make the Natchez tornado one of the deadliest on record in human history.

Tragically, even more people were likely killed by the tornado when it moved into Concordia Parish in Louisiana. According to newspapers from the era, hundreds of slaves on plantations were caught in the deadly storm. Exact numbers for these deaths are unknown due to the lax nature of the reporting and the loss of records from the era.

No matter the numbers, however, it’s unlikely the Natchez could overtake the Tri-State Tornado for deadliest ever. The Tri-State Tornado reportedly killed 695 people, more than double the roughly 320 the Natchez is reported to have killed.

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Written by Cameron Norris