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Wilder Weather: Laura Ingalls Wilder and Her Famous Tornado

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Thursday, 6 November 2014
Capitol Ballroom AB (Madison Concourse Hotel)
Barbara Mayes Boustead, NOAA/NWS, Valley, NE

Handout (3.9 MB)

On August 28, 1884, photographer F.N. Robinson captured a photograph of tornado near Howard, South Dakota. The image often is cited falsely as the “first” known photograph of a tornado – it actually stands as the second known photograph – but it is widely recognized both within and outside the meteorology community. In addition to the historical photograph, the tornado outbreak in South Dakota is famous for another reason: it is mentioned by Laura Ingalls Wilder in These Happy Golden Years, the final installation of the Little House children's book series. Using historical reports of the tornado outbreak, combined with Wilder's account of her path and her observations on the day of the tornado, it is likely that Wilder and her future husband, Almanzo Wilder, observed not just any tornado during the outbreak – they observed the very tornado for which a photograph survives. Wilder's account is combined with other sources to integrate her observations into the historical account of the event, weaving a narrative that draws Wilder fans to discuss severe weather safety and historical weather events.