The sheer scope of power tornadoes unleash is exactly why we must advance warnings. Winds have been clocked at 302 mph as seen in the May 3, 1999 Moore, Oklahoma F-5 tornado. Recently on May 31, 2013, El Reno Oklahoma experienced the largest and second strongest tornadoes on record. The tornado was an astounding 2.6 miles wide, had peak winds of 295 mph, and carved a path over 16 miles long! The size and magnitude of raw tornado power has baffled scientists for centuries. Benjamin Franklin is arguably the first in America to document “spouts” in the sky, first trying to figure out the nature of a waterspout (“tornado over water”,) and arguably was the first on record to chase a tornado in the Maryland countryside in 1754, on horseback nonetheless. Tornadoes before modern research were mystical to those without formal knowledge. For the inquisitive and educated, tornadoes over water (which with the main travel being by ship, and a majority living near the coast,) were quite common and thoroughly documented by captains and philosophers alike. The cause and effect of the “spouts” were speculative at best.
It would take another hundred years, during the latter part of the 19th century, for tornado research to slowly develop. With the large number of tornado deaths (per capita) in the United States high by modern standards, severe storms and tornadoes remained a condition of the weather that wasn’t researched with much enthusiastic gusto. Tim Coleman, Professor of the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama, and Kevin Pence Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama, coordinated joint research of Sgt. John Finley. “By 1882, early research and warnings were conducted in earnest by the efforts of Sgt. John Finley, of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He was part of the weather program known as the “Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce and Agriculture,” that included some 1,000 “reporters” that were organized to provide details on tornado damage and report tornado sightings.”