New Richmond Tornado - June 12, 1899

The image below is from the Library of Congress Print and Photographs Catalog. It is a panoramic view of New Richmond, WI following the tornado. Click for a larger version.

On June 12th, 1899, one of the most tragic weather events in Wisconsin, the New Richmond "cyclone" struck on a hot summer afternoon of the first day of the Gollmar Brothers Circus.

With the circus in town, the population swelled as unsuspecting victims poured into New Richmond for the festivities. The tornado moved into Wisconsin as a spectacular waterspout on Lake St. Croix. The funnel moved to the northeast in the direction of New Richmond. Three people were killed at two locations as farms were leveled near Burkhardt and Boardman. Shortly after the circus ended, the tornado passed through the very center of town, completely leveling buildings in what was estimated to be a strip about 1000 feet wide and 3000 feet long.

Over 300 buildings were damaged or destroyed. A 3000 pound safe was carried a full block. Massive amounts of flying debris resulted in multiple deaths in at least 26 different families. Six families had four or more deaths. The good visibility of the funnel may have prevented an even higher death total.

While not a massive tornado, the tragic timing and deadly path claimed 117 lives and caused 150 injuries by this historic Wisconsin tornado.

The New Richmond Heritage Center has some first person accounts up on their web site of the event. One of the New Richmond residents of 1899, Anna Epley, described a cumulonimbus cloud formation with a funnel at its base: "A top-shaped cloud came dancing up along the lake; another mass or column of cloud came from the vicinity of Stillwater. These two clouds were merged together in a funnel-shaped column, or columnar mass, spreading somewhat at the top, and boiling or tumbling rapidly within itself. Thus agitated, it turned eastward, and skirting the hills south of Hudson and hugging the ground closely, it took a northeasterly course towards New Richmond."1

9th Deadliest US Tornado On Record

The New Richmond tornado is the 9th deadliest tornado in US history to this day.2  117 fatalities occurred as a result of the tornado.  The deadliest tornado in US history remain the Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925 (695 fatalities).

Newspaper Articles

While it has been said that the tornado originated on Lake St. Croix as a waterspout, the Carroll Herald reported3 on June 14, 1899 that the storm had caused some damage even further southwest in the Hastings, Minnesota area.  The paper puts the time that the tornado struck 2 miles southeast of Hudson, WI at 4:30 PM.  Around the time that New Richmond was getting hit by a tornado, the Twin Cities apparently got struck by a thunderstorm that produced very heavy rainfall. The Carroll Herald says one rain gauge registered 2.34 inches of rain in a short period of time.

The article points to severe flooding issues that arose elsewhere in Wisconsin after the New Richmond tornado had already occurred.  In La Crosse, nearly 5 inches of rain were reported to have fallen, families had to desert their homes in boats, and nearly every bridge in the La Crosse River Valley was washed away. Elsewhere, the Baraboo River also flooded, and the entire south side of Winona, Minnesota was under water.  The Daily Argus News4 comfirmed a lot of these stories.

From an article originally printed in the Associated Press, and re-published on gendisasters.com5, we can also learn of the following damage:

  • "every structure in this [business] district, frame or brick, low or high, was crushed to the earth"
  • It stripped a grove of trees near the Willow River bare of bark and leaves.
  • Debris scattered everywhere, even across streets, although deepest near the foundations of houses.
  • Many trees in the city had their limbs "bent upwards" and bark peeled off from the roots upwards. Some trees had debris wrapped around them, including tin roofing.

Sources

1Sather, Mary. ""They Built Their City Twice"" New Richmond Heritage Center. Web. 18 Apr. 2010.
2Storm Prediction Center. "25 Deadliest U.S. Tornadoes." Storm Prediction Center. Web. 18 Apr. 2010. <http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/killers.html>.
3"New Richmond A Scene of Woe." The Carroll Herald [Carroll, Iowa] 14 June 1899. Google News. Web. 18 Apr. 2010. <http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=lR8oAAAAIBAJ&sjid=hAUGAAAAIBAJ&pg=4826,4650021&dq=new+richmond+tornado&hl=en>.
4Coffman, S. M. "Destroyed By Wind And Fire." The Daily Argus News 13 June 1899. Google News. Web. 18 Apr. 2010. <http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=-HEnAAAAIBAJ&sjid=LgQGAAAAIBAJ&pg=5960,5841142&dq=new+richmond+tornado&hl=en>.
5Kreutzer, Heidi. "New Richmond, WI Tornado Jun 1899." Genealogy Events That Touched Our Ancestors' Lives. Web. 18 Apr. 2010. <http://www.gendisasters.com/data1/wi/tornadoes/new-richmond1899-2.htm>.


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