On August 28, 1844, Photographer F.N. Robinson captured a photo of a tornado near Howard, South Dakota. The photo shows a well-defined tornado on the ground, a debris cloud, and two other funnels on either side of the tornado. These are called “satellite tornadoes.”

This photo was for a very long time believed to be the first-ever of a tornado. But it turns out that may not be the case.

On April 26 of the same year, A.A. Adams captured a photo of a tornado in Westphalia, Kansas. This photo shows a tornado in its rope stage. This stage is usually before the tornado dissipates as its weakening.

National Weather Service
National Weather Service

So why the controversy. Well back in 1884, communication was obviously nowhere near where it is today. The Howard, South Dakota tornado was also part of an outbreak that killed 6 people, making national news. So that tornado was thought to have been the first-ever photographed.

The technology has certainly changed over the years. Back in 1884, taking photos consisted of setting up a tripod, mounting the camera, and a number of other steps before actually snapping the photo. This is a process that took some time. Well in the world of meteorological photography, time is not exactly on your side. The tornado isn’t going to wait for you. So capturing the tornado is pretty amazing considering very few people had cameras. It’s incredible that these tornadoes were able to be photographed considering the technology.

Nowadays, everyone has a smartphone with a pretty good camera on it. So capturing a tornado, while still amazing, not as amazing as it was back in 1884.

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