National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Columbia-Luzerne County Tornado


Start: "In a cup like hollow of the hills on the northern rim of the Greenwood Valley, Theodore Lemons, who was sitting in his farm house, noticed a sudden jarring of the building and a noise at the platform between the main building and an out kitchen. Stepping to the door, he noticed a thick piece of plank torn from the top of the pump where it had been nailed, and two or three planks which had been over the well had been lifted off their places, a curious freak of the wind, but no damage done . Going eastward from his house, the ground rises as quite a steep hill for near a half mile and then descends perhaps four hundred feet as a densely wooded hillside to Little Green Creek."

From "Notes on the Tornado of August 19, 1890 in Luzerne and Columbia Counties" - A paper before the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, December 12, 1890, by Professor Thomas Santee.

1. Lloyd Freas property:

  • F1-F2
  • Roof torn off house.
  • Outbuildings overturned.
  • Fences destroyed.
  • Large trees down.
2. No reported damage but eyewitness to funnel. He said it "moved faster than a railroad train, roaring fearfully."

3. Intensity estimated, F2, from description of "From this place onward, wherever any materail offered a chance, the storm left a clear path of destruction."

The funnel cloud was described as a white cloud that suddenly turned black. "flashes of Fire" were also described with the dark clouds which we assume is lightning.

4. Estimated F2.

Strong odor surrounded it and this was noticed over the next 6 miles. Later there is a description of a "Sulphorous smell".

Hilbert Hulme's home

  • Unroofed the house.
  • Demolished large barns.
  • Demolished sheds and ice house.
  • Demolished out kitchen.
  • First injury: fractured leg and other severe injuries.

5. Estimated F2-F3 Multi-Vortex Description:

"About a mile east of Fishing Creek, the tornado column separated into two distinct funnel shaped clouds, moving onward side by side. At this point the storm is described by Mrs. Mary Siegfried as consisting of two fully formed columns surrounded by fine debris which appeared like a swarm of bees. This seems to have continued but a short time and the storm is again described as one column."

6. Estimated F3.

House totally destroyed (prior to this location). Another house unroofed and its ice house and the barn was destroyed. Witness stated that it occurred about 4:30 pm. Described as being about a quarter a mile in width.

  • Runyun estate ruined.
  • Kase estate blown to pieces and barn much damaged.
  • Debris every where and seen shooting up in the air like cannons.
  • Tore sprouts from the roots and removed stones from the ground.

All buildings from here to Harveysville are more or less damaged.

7. Estimated F2-F3. Did "great damage to properties". Note: One resident witness stated that a weaker tornado had passed within just 100 yards of this location some 56 years earlier though it was not as strong as this one.

8. Estimated F3. "At the top of the steep hill which overlooks Pine Creek on the west, was a small house occupied by Geo. Smith, a well digger, and a large family. This house was taken up and carried about 200 feet over a ledge about 1 5 feet in height where it fell as a mass of debris, while household goods and members of the family were scattered all around. George Smith, aged about six years, was reported as having a fracture of the skull, but no others were seriously injured."

Another documenton the "History od Luzerne County" indicated that it was his son who had the fractured skull.

9. Estimated F3.

Buildings destroyed. At pine creek, tornado was accompanied by a sulphurous smell and was said to be moving faster than a railroad train. Speed was estimated near 60 mph.

10. Estimated F3.

Harveysville nearly demolished where one death was reported and 3 others were in critical condition.

At Harveyville, the house of the Methodist minister was blown to fragments.

  • Mr. Hamline's library was destroyed with furniture, clothing and household goods. A hall carpet was found one-fourth mile to the northwest, while clothing and tinware were blown one-half mile to the northeast.
  • The M.E. Church was unroofed and nearly destroyed, while the brick school house was left as a mass of rubbish.
  • A barn in which many people had taken refuge was destroyed, but fortunately only one person, Thos. Brickie, was killed.
  • Mr. A.W. Harvey's general store was badly wrecked, and much additional damage was done to his stock by the following rain. His flouring mill, which was one of the finest in the county, was moved on the foundation causing much damage to gearing and machinery.

The total width of the storm’s path at this place as shown by wrecks, was 600 yards.

11. Estimated F3. The Gregory school house, about a mile and a half east of Harveyville, was totally destroyed.

  • Mr. Martin Gregory's buildings were much damaged and unroofed, and portions of his iron roof were scattered along the course of the storm for miles.
  • Mr. Roland Wilkinson's buildings were entirely destroyed, even the cellar wall being blown down, and one horse was killed. Mr. Wilkinson and wife were in the house when the storm came and it seemed to be lifted up from the foundation, and then thrown down in a mass of wreck. He found his way out of the wreck, carrying Mrs. Wilkinson with him. Both were drenched with a sudden sheet of rain which fell with the storm at that place.
  • An eye witness of the storm at Town Line says, trees were carried high in the air and whirled rapidly, while the funnel cloud was of a silvery color and seemed like a stream pouring down into the darker mass of clouds at the earth.
  • At Mallory Wolfe's place everything was blown into an unrecognizable mass of debris. Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe were injured and Mrs. Ladetia Wilkinson, their daughter, was killed.
  • A short distance from Mr. Wolfe's place the storm struck Jas. Turner's house, and as it moved off the foundation, Miss Mamie Burns, who had started to go to the cellar was caught and crushed under the house. She bore her sufferings heroically while neighbors dug around her to release her crushed limbs, and lived till the following Thursday.

12. Estimated F3. At James Wood's place, shade trees and timber were ruined and clothing which was bleaching on the grass was scorched in spots as if by a hot iron.

Thos. Gregory's house was blown away and totally wrecked. Here a glass jar of fruit was picked up unbroken several rods from the house.

13. Estimated F3.

The storm crossed the Pleasant Hill mail route at J.H. Wagner's, some distance south of Prichard P. O., and became severest of any place on this line, about the farm of A.R. Kittle, in Hunlock's township.

Near this place a pine tree 100 feet high and 30 inches in diameter was pulled up so that it was removed entirely from the place where it had stood, and many acres of heavy forest were blown down so that one might walk over the mass of fallen trunks six or eight feet above the ground.

Lorenzo Craigle's house was blown away, but fortunately all escaped severe injury.

The house owned by Mr. George Lammereaux, was blown down and his step daughter, Lizzie Frace, was caught by falling timbers and her spine severely injured so that her body was paralyzed for weeks and friends had but little hope of her recovery.

Again, this stretch in Hunlock Township is descibed as the strongest part of the track in that "destruction rivals the severest tornadoes of the Mississippi Valley as described by the Signal Service papers."

14. Tornado narrows and "The storm track gradually narrowed after it crossed Hunlock's Creek."

End: The storm track gradually narrowed after it crossed Hunlock's Creek and crossing Harvey's Creek about a quarter of a mile above Rice's saw mill it became only a partially marked course of a few rods in width and disappeared on Mr. White's land about two miles southwest of Lehman Centre.

Witness account: “While we were all watching the storm I noticed that directly north of the house the leaves that were carried by the wind were moving in a circle, and I called to the women to run to the back windows as there was a cyclone passing. We all rap to the windows and looking almost over our heads and to the north we saw a huge black funnel shaped cloud moving toward the northeast and whirling rapidly on its axis as it went. As soon as the funnel had fairly passed us, it quit raining, and I threw up a window and jumped out that I might see better. The funnel was about five or six hundred feet above the ground and seemed to be suspended in the air, but all at once a tail or nozzle came spinning down to the ground. It did not come straight down but seemed to writhe or gyrate as it came down. The tail broke into pieces almost as quickly as it came down leaving only the funnel revolving in the air. A second and third time this happened but the last time the tail did not extend more than a hundred feet below the funnel. Soon after, the funnel went to pieces precisely as a little whirlwind goes to pieces on a summer day, i.e. the ragged pieces of clouds continued to revolve for a time after the funnel went to pieces, but all ceased to revolve after a time and sailed away to the northeast. “Now there are some other things that I ought to mention. In the first place, I thought that the funnel revolved more rapidly each time it sent a tail downward, and slowed up somewhat as the tail disappeared."

It was also noted that hail fell a mile north of the tornado track and that the shape was "cylinders about as large as a lead pencil and perhaps an inch long."