Weather & Natural Disasters

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, June 24, 1871

A Remarkable Cycloine
Jacksonville, June 4 -- A most remarkable tornado occurred in Mason county, near Mason City, last Friday morning. The first indications were that of a dark cloud gathering near the earth, about six miles west of the city, but ere long it assumed the shape of a huge boat, having three distinct smoke-stacks, or columns, extending upward, and connected with the clouds. This wonderful phenomenon was fully charged with electricity, and from these columns sparks were constantly issuing, and making a noise and cracking similar to the firing of a thousand muskets.Although the roatry motion of this fearful apparition was such as to tear up by roots all vegetation that lay in its path, its progressive motion was not more than five miles an hour, and was watched with fearful anxiety by the terror-stricken inhabitants. Its path was from 20 to 90 feet in width, and about three miles in length, and upon this space nothing was left alive. Hedging was burnt to a crisp, green wheat and corn was turned yellow, and prairie grass presented the appearance of having been pulled up and dried in a two week's August sun. Just previous to the appearance of the tornado, the air was very sultry, and its origin may be attributed to electrical influences; for, besides the heat and sparks which it exhibited, it had all the appearance of water spouts on the ocean. The scene of its destruction is being visited by hundreds, and it will at least furnish a grand subject for scientific investigation and religious terror.

Another Account
The first trace of the tornado is found some six miles west of Mason City. On Friday morning, while the air was intensely sultry, and to the west and southwest of Mason City light clouds were visible, and to the northwest a rain cloud was seen, an inky-hued cloud or smoke-like column was observed by citizens of Mason City, gathering near the earth's surface, about six miles distant, on a wide extended prairie. Gradually the terrible looking column increased in breadth and in height, and seemed to be moving slowly and directly toward Mason City.

Soon from this great black, smoky looking column, the base of which rested on the earth, shot up three distinct and well defined, but narrower and spire like columns, which continued to ascend rapidly until they reached and seemed to attach themselves closely to a passing cloud above. The frightful spectacle continued to move eastward slowly, but constantly for some fifteen minutes; then changed its course slightly to the southeastward, greatly to the relief of the people of Mason, who were expecting to see their town torn to pieces by the angry elements.

For some fifteen minutes longer the dreadful apparation moved slowly on, changing its course considerably as it progressed. The two outer or spire-like columns disappeared leaving none but the inner column resting on the great base cloud below, and still attaching itself to the cloud above.

Suddenly the awful apparition disappeared, as if it had been but a vision or a dream, and not a fearful reality.

While the black column was moving, a cold current of air from the west was most sensibly felt at Mason city, and a mile away from its track an odor much like that of burning sulphur was inhaled by several persons. A gentleman who had been a soldier and had been in many battles, stood but a hundred yards from the tornado when it passed, and he says that small flashes of electricity were constantly visible in the storm column, passing from the earth to the cloud above, and that rapid popping, cracking reports were heard, reminding him most forcibly of an infantry regiment in battle firing their muskets as fast as possible.

As fearful as was the appearance of this column, or columns, resting upon the earth and reaching to and taking fast hold on the clouds of heaven, more marvelous, if possible, was its destructive work upon the earth in its pathway, which was near three miles in length, and varying in width from twenty to eighty feet. Not a spear of grass; not a stalk of corn of wheat; not a shrub; not a particle of green vegetation was left alive. Had the fires descended from heaven and fallen in the pathway of this tornado, as they did on Sodom, the destruction of every living thing of the animal kingdom could not have been more complete. For some distance in its path the earth was literally plowed up to the depth of six inches. In passing over the unbroken prairie, so inconceivably rapid must have been the rotary motion of the wind of the tornado that the earth was gathered up from the deep roots of the prairie grass, and the turf, with its bare roots as clean as if they had been washed, was lifted from the earth and left strewn in the earth's pathway. Where the course of the tornado led through a wheat field every stalk of wheat standing in its path was torn down and twisted into every conceivable shape; and where an osage hedge lay across its way for the width of its path, the hedge bushes were torn into shreds.

But the most wonderful of all phenomena connected with this tornado is that the column of whirling air must have been intensely hot, as shown by the fact that every spear of grass, stalk of corn and wheat, every green thing in its path were literally dried to a crisp. The prairie grass along the storm's track, which was luxuriantly green before the tornado passed, was left as brown and dead as it is found in mid winter. The leaves of the hedge where the tornado passed across in its way crumbled as do the dead, dry leaves of the forest after the blasting autumn frost has done its work. The young corn which stood in its way is as black as if a withering fire had passed through it. Another feature of this tornado was, that while its rotary motion must have been of inconceivably great velocity, its progressive motion was not above the rate of six miles an hour. The outlines of its pathway were so well defined that five feet from the outer line of total destruction of vegetation of every kind not a vestige of its effects could be seen. In fact, the outlines of the path of destruction were almost as clearly marked as that of a mower's swath through the meadow, and its work complete.

Fortunately, no house stood in the tornado's line of march. It passed between a farmhouse and barn, but escaped both. Its onward march was so slow that a man or beast, if in its way, could easily escape. The progressive motion of the tornado is usually at the rate of thirty to sixty miles an hour; the fact of this one moving at the rate of six miles an hour was most singular. The path of a tornado is usually a quarter or a half mile in width; this one was but twenty to eighty feet in width. This is another unusual feature.

We have here twigs from the hedge where the tornado passed, and tufts of grass taken from its path. They and every living green thing in its course withered away from the effects of the tornado as quickly and completely as did the barren fig tree when the Master's curse descended upon it.

The Daily News-Democrat, July 24, 1902

The Illinois River reached 19 2-10 feet at Havana, Ill., Wednesday, holding the Spoon River back and causing the Lacey Levee, opposite that city, to break. Five thousand acres, planted mostly in corn, are inundated. The residents have moved to the hills.

Belleville News-Democrat, July 19, 1909

Shock Is Felt Late Sunday Night at Mason City, Havana, Petersburg and Other Points

Bloomington, Ill., July 19-An earthquake was reported at Mason City, twenty-eight miles southwest of here at 10:35 Sunday night. Windows rattled, doors shaken open and hundreds of people rushed into the streets. No damage was reported.

The shock was also felt at Havana, Petersburg, Pleasant Plains, Forest City and Farmington.