Marshfield Tornado – Missouri – April 18, 1880

A fast-moving category 4 tornado swept through downtown Marshfield, Missouri. Most of its buildings were destroyed.

A massive category 4 tornado left little standing after it had swept through downtown Marshfield, Missouri, on April 18, 1880. It arrived from northeast of Springfield. Seven people were killed in that city as it passed through and ninety-two lost their lives in Marshfield. This was one of the worst natural disasters to strike a small town anywhere in the country, at least up to 1880. All but fifteen buildings in Marshfield, a community of 1,100 people, were destroyed. Memories remain strong when a small community suffers such a large degree of destruction and some of these memories were recalled many years later. They provide a vivid picture of the nature of a tornado and the suddenness in both forming into a vortex and traveling at high speed across the ground.

One man recalled that the day of the tornado was warm and without any wind, an ideal day for young people to be out of doors playing. This is what he remembers doing. It was a Sunday and nothing changed in the appearance of the sky from three in the afternoon to five. From 5 P.M. to 6 P.M. everything seemed to happen. First came the darkening of the sky by a series of black clouds that looked like smoke coming from one of the old coal-fired steam engines. Then almost immediately one could see a mass of these same clouds coming in their direction. This man remembered the reaction of his father at this stage. He had recognized the signs of a tornado and without a moment’s delay began to run toward the one place that was known to be a safe refuge in a tornado, the courthouse. As he ran he pushed or dragged every member of the family with him. Family members remember the fear that was evident as they ran.

In the short space of time between identifying an approaching tornado and running the hundred yards to the courthouse, the air and ground all around had filled up with all kinds of debris. Anyone who was still outside could only hold on to anything that seemed firm and hope for the best. The wind was a howling, greater than 100 mph force, sweeping away anything and anyone in its path. Those who remembered noted how quickly it was all over. So quickly, in fact, that no one wanted to leave the courthouse for some time. When they did leave it was to witness their demolished homes, and cope with the horror of dead and injured neighbors.

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