Although the incidents herein set forth occurred nearly two years ago,
it is thought that they are sufficiently interesting to be reported even
at this date. It was just 16 months to a day from the time the events
happened that the writer heard a direct account of them from the man whose
extraordinary experience forms the basis of this story.
Will Keller, a farmer of near Greensburg, Kans., is the man to whom
reference is made, and the following is substantially his story:
It was on the afternoon of June 22, 1928, between 3 and 4 o'clock. I
was out in my field with my family looking over the ruins of our wheat
crop which had just been completely destroyed by a hailstorm. I noticed
an umbrella-shaped cloud in the west and southwest and from its appearance
suspected that there was a tornado in it. The air had that peculiar
oppressiveness which nearly always precedes the coming of a tornado.
But my attention being on other matters, I did not watch the approach
of the cloud. However, its nearness soon caused me to take another look
at it. I saw at once that my suspicions were correct, for hanging from
the greenish-black base of the cloud was not just one tornado, but three.
See Figure 2.
of the tornadoes was already perilously near and apparently headed directly
for our place. I lost no time therefore in hurrying with my family to
our cyclone cellar.
The family had entered the cellar and I was in the doorway just about
to enter and close the door when I decided that I would take a last
look at the approaching tornado. I have seen a number of these things
and have never become panic-stricken when near them. So I did not lose
my head now, though the approaching tornado was indeed an impressive
The surrounding country is level and there was nothing to obstruct the
view. There was little or no rain falling from the cloud. Two of the
tornadoes were some distance away and looked to me like great ropes
dangling from the clouds, but the near one was shaped more like a funnel
with ragged clouds surrounding it. It appeared to be much larger and
more energetic than the others and it occupied the central position
of the cloud, the great cumulus dome being directly over it.
I paused to look I saw that the lower end which had been sweeping the
ground was beginning to rise. I knew what that meant, so I kept my position.
I knew that I was comparatively safe and I knew that if the tornado
again dipped I could drop down and close the door before any harm could
the tornado came on, the end gradually rising above the ground. I could
have stood there only a few seconds, but so impressed was I with what
was going on that it seemed a long time. At last the great shaggy end
of the funnel hung directly overhead. Everything was as still as death.
There was a strong gassy odor and it seemed that I could not breathe.
There was a screaming, hissing sound coming directly from the end of
the funnel. I looked up and to my astonishment I saw right up into the
heart of the tornado. There was a circular opening in the center of
the funnel, about 50 or 100 feet in diameter, and extending straight
upward for a distance of at least one half mile, as best I could judge
under the circumstances. The walls of this opening were of rotating
clouds and the whole was made brilliantly visible by constant flashes
of lightning which zigzagged from side to side. Had it not been for
the lightning I could not have seen the opening, not any distance up
into it anyway.
the lower rim of the great vortex small tornadoes were constantly forming
and breaking away. These looked like tails as they writhed their way
around the end of the funnel. It was these that made the hissing noise.
noticed that the direction of rotation of the great whirl was anticlockwise,
but the small twisters rotated both ways -- some one way and some another.
opening was completely hollow except for something which I could not
exactly make out, but suppose that it was a detached wind cloud. This
thing was in the center and was moving up and down.
tornado was not traveling at a great speed. I had plenty of time to
get a good view of the whole thing, inside and out. It came from the
direction of Greensburg, which town is 3 miles west and 1 mile north
of my place. Its course was not in a straight line, but it zigzagged
across the country, in a general northeasterly direction.
After it passed my place it again dipped and struck and demolished the
house and barn of a farmer by the name of Evans. The Evans family, like
ourselves, had been out looking over their hailed-out wheat and saw
the tornado coming. Not having time to reach their cellar they took
refuge under a small bluff that faced to the leeward of the approaching
tornado. They lay down flat on the ground and caught hold of some plum
bushes which fortunately grew within their reach. As it was, they felt
themselves lifted from the ground. Mr. Evans said that he could see
the wreckage of his house, among it being the cook stove, going round
and round over his head. The eldest child, a girl of 17, being the most
exposed, had her clothing completely torn off.. But none of the family
am not the first one to lay claims to having seen the inside of a tornado.
I remember that in 1915 a tornado passed near Mullinville and a hired
man on a farm over which the tornado passed had taken refuge in the
barn. As the tornado passed over the barn, the door was blown open and
the man saw up into it, and this one like the one I saw, was hollow
and lit up by lightning. As the hired man was not well known, no one
paid much attention to what he said. [Mr. Keller thought that this tornado
was the one shown in photograph opposite p. 448 of MONTHLY WEATHER REVIEW
to Mr. L. E. Wait, president of the Greensburg State Bank, the tornado
passed the outskirts of Greensburg, striking and demolishing some outhouses.
As it passed Greensburg it swept the ground and made a noise like distant
heavy hail. Mr. Wait and others watched it as it traveled eastward toward
the Keller farm and saw it rise from the ground. Mr. Wait said that
from the rear it looked like a "sawed-off cylinder."
From Mr. Wait the writer first heard of Mr. Keller's's experience. Mr
Wait made a trip from Greensburg to Dodge City, a distance of 50 miles,
bringing Mr. Keller with him for the express purpose of having him relate
his experience to the writer.
Mr. Wait and members of his family and from Mr. Corns, cashier of the
Greensburg State Bank, the following additional account of the actions
of the tornado was gathered.
leaving the Evans farm it continued to "bounce" (as one witness described
it) its way across the eastern half of Kiowa County and was last heard
of in Pratt County. It left a path here and there where it struck the
ground, not of wrecked buildings, for there were no more buildings in
its path after the Evans farm, but of torn-up ground. It tore holes
and plowed furrows from a few inches deep to several feet deep.
Corns said that he saw a furrow which it plowed across a field of wheat.
The furrow was from 2 to 3 feet wide and as deep as the ground had been
plowed, about 6 inches. The dirt was thrown over on each side of the
furrow just as it might have been if a plow had made it. A farmer whose
land had been marked by the tornado said that it made a furrow "deep
enough to bury a horse in."
William Cobb, resident of Greensburg and owner of a number of farms
in Kiowa County, said that the tornado crossed one of his pastures of
buffalo-grass sod and that it plowed a furrow a mile long, in places
from 4 to 6 feet deep, and that the whole thing looked like "where there
had been a grading for a railroad." The dirt was piled along the side
of the furrow, just as if thrown there by hand or plow or dragged there
by scrapers. It was reported that farmers used scrapers and horses to
level up the ground where the tornado had disturbed it.
Wait made a trip from Greensburg eastward along the path which the tornado
traveled, for the purpose of obtaining, if possible, photographs of
some of the torn-up ground. But the trip was made 18 months after the
occurrence of the tornado and the land including the Cobb pasture, had
all been twice sown in wheat and only a few faint traces could be found.
Keller is a man apparently between 35 and-40 years of age. His reputation
for truthfulness and sobriety is of the best. Apparently he is entirely
capable of making careful and reliable observations.