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With the 30th anniversary of Kalamazoo’s infamous 1980 tornado upon us, I thought it might be fun to have a look at another such storm that “visited” our neighborhood... almost exactly 100 years earlier. A vintage issue of the Gazette tells us that a tornado came through the Kalamazoo area on Saturday, 8 May 1880—a century (almost to the day) before the devistating 1980 storm, “and did considerable damage.” The report, in all of its splendid 19th century vernacular, goes something like this...
“Kalamazoo was visited last Saturday night with a tornado that did considerable damage. It struck Kalamazoo county first in the township of Texas and did considerable damage, blowing down trees, fences and barns. South west of Kalamazoo three or four miles the wind was especially heavy. The large grain barn of Wm. Gibbs was blown down and scattered in every direction. The barn of Wm. Brownell was served in like manner and a farmer, capable of judging, says that three thousand dollars will not make good the fences blown down in that neighborhood... Other sheds and stables were unroofed and warped and the boards carried rods away... Out houses were blown over and trees uprooted in numerous instances... From the effects of the storm, it looks as though it must have been a whirl wind, for the earth appears to have been struck in spots.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 May 1880
To commemorate and document the 1980 storm, Blake Naftel’s Kalamazoo Tornado Project promises to reveal some interesting material, including newly remastered video footage, newspaper articles, and recently documented personal accounts. Read the Gazette story about the project.
In addition, KPL has added a new photo gallery to the website with photos of local damage contributed from various sources. It, too, is an ongoing project, so if you have photos you’d like to share, please contact the Local History staff.
Speaking of photos, the one shown at the top of this page is the oldest known photograph of a tornado, taken in South Dakota in 1884. It comes from NOAA’s National Weather Service Collection.