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Tornado Photos

Greensburg tornado, 1915

Many striking photographs of tornadoes are in the collections of the Kansas Historical Society. They include what may be the first tornado ever captured on film.

Scientists learn more about tornadoes every year, as they take sophisticated equipment into the field and try to intercept these powerful storms.  But one of the best, and earliest, eyewitness accounts of a Kansas tornado was made by Will Keller on June 22, 1928. 

Keller made sure his family was safe in the cellar before looking at the approaching storm.  He saw three tornadoes hanging overhead.

Possibly the earliest tornado photograph, taken in 1884

"Everything was still as death," Keller said. "There was a strong gassy odor, and I could hardly breathe." A screaming and hissing sound emanated from the funnel's tail. A circular opening at the center appeared to be as large as 100 feet in diameter. He estimated the height at one-half mile. "The walls of this opening were rotating clouds," Keller recalled, "and the hole was brilliantly lighted with the constant flashes of lightning which zigzagged from side to side."

Small tornadoes formed and broke away from the rim of the vortex producing a hissing sound. The whirling tails writhed around the larger funnel. "I noticed the rotation of the great whirl was anti-clockwise," Keller said, "but some of the small twisters rotated clockwise."

Eyewitness accounts illustrate the inherent drama associated with the most violent wind storms. Tornadoes, usually linked to Kansas in popular culture, actually occur most frequently in Oklahoma. The chance of being in a tornado or even seeing one is remote. Perhaps it's the rarity that makes tales of encounters so fascinating.

Jefferson County tornado, 1930s

The Society is lucky to have in its collections a large number of twister photos, including what may be the earliest photograph of a tornado (pictured at center left), captured on film on April 23, 1884, in Anderson County.  A. A. Adams took this photo of the storm from a downtown street corner as it  passed just northwest of town. A photographer who operated a gallery in Westphalia, Adams later sold many copies of the image around the country.

The same tornado lifted David Metheney from his wagon as he drove home. The twister carried Metheney a distance before dropping him and causing severe internal injuries. His wagon and full load of lumber were destroyed; the horses were carried about 60 feet.

The Kansas Historical Society's collections include a number of photographs of tornadoes and their aftermath.  




Entry: Tornado Photos

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1996

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.