View of John P. Finley
Note - John P. Finley is well known for the many contributions
he made to the field of severe weather forecasting. He was a
meticulous researcher, prolific writer, and a focussed individual.
He was convinced that tornadoes, like other weather phenommena,
could be forecast. He set precedents in weather forecasting
which are valid today.
attitude is best depicted in the manner in which he contributed
the following material in 1922. John Finley made four separate
contributions with the last three opening with the similar phrase
- "I am not satisfied with the information provided previously."
for duty at the Signal Service School of Instruction at Fort
Myer, Va., on March 8th, 1877. There were several
officers of Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery at the School, taking
the regular course in Signal Corps work. Line officers who developed
a liking for weather work might be given a detail on that duty
at the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army in Washington,
after completing the course at Fort Myer. Such a detail might
involve office work in Washington or field work in various parts
of the country. The former duty comprised the following:
meteorological instruments and cleaning them editing and compiling
the Monthly Weather Review.
and compiling the Summary and Review of International Meteorological
special studies in meteorology and climatology.
6. The writing
of Notes and Professional Papers for publication as public documents.
as officer in charge of the printing and lithographing division.
as officer in charge of the meteorological records division.
as executive officer.
as property and disbursing officer.
as officer in charge of telegraph lines and cables.
as officer in charge of Signal Service stations.
embraced the inspection of Signal Service stations, the establishment
and inspection of river stations for recording and reporting
the rise and fall of the principal rivers of the country, the
operation and maintenance of the military telegraph lines and
cables for military and commercial purposes. These lines and
cables were sold to the public as fast as they became converted
to commercial use only.
The old Signal
Corps was provided with two classes of officers; those detailed
from the regiments of the Line of the Army, and those promoted
by selection and examination from the non-commissioned officers
of the Signal Corps. The latter when fully trained for the duties
of the Signal Corps were detailed so as to release line officers
for duty with their regiments, a course of action very much
desired by the War Department. The promotion of non-commissioned
officers to commissioned grade was also an incentive to better
work in the Corps when there was opportunity for distinguished
service in signalling and in weather work.
hundred individuals passed through the Signal Service School
of Instruction. There were some punishments for derelictions
of duty that were peculiar to the Signal Corps organization,
such as, digging post holes for telegraph lines on the Carolina
coasts and repairing cables in exposed situations from Florida
to Massachusetts. According to the strict interpretation of
the Regulations, legitimate duty could not be imposed as a punishment,
but an occasional dose of the laborer's job was good medicine
for the recalcitrant Observer.
instruction at Fort Myer was of varied character, embracing
some features of all branches of the Line of the Army (Infantry,
Cavalry and Artillery) in addition to that feature of the Staff
of the Army, which included military telegraph lines and cables,
and military signalling. It made a good foundation for the arduous,
exacting and never-ceasing duties of the meteorological observer
on station. Many of these stations were isolated, exposed, lonesome
and not free from danager. Observations must be made at precise
moments of time and on all days of the year, and with unfailing
accuracy. Then came the process of enciphering certain data
that had been carefully computed, and finally the telegraphing
of the perfect message to the Central Office in Washington.
Therefore the course of instruction at Fort Myer involved both
military and scientific training, and the weeding out of those
men who were unfitted for the exacting duties on station. Some
men when tried out on station would never qualify for higher
duty than an assistant to the Observer in Charge.
signalling at Fort Myer embraced both day and night work at
the School, and at distances varying from one to forty miles
or more. The drill in telegraph line building and cable work
was carried on at the School. Lines of a mile or more had to
be constructed with lance poles and suspending insulators, a
message or more put through, after which the entire construction
was dismantled, wire reeled up, poles lowered, and the whole
equipment placed on the accompanying trucks, horse drawn, and
returned to the storehouses at the School. The men were marched
back to quarters and barracks.
time on station I was ordered to duty at the "Chief Office"
in Washington and came under the supervision of Prof. Abbe.
While working with him, my attention was called to a book by
Prof. William Blasius, entitled, "Storms, Their Nature, Classification
and Laws," published at Philadelphia, May 10th, 1875.
In this volume, special consideration is given the Tornado of
August 22nd, 1851, at West Cambridge, Mass. His analytical
map of the storm track is one of the best ever prepared and
published of this class of storms. Prof. Blasius spent five
weeks in making the survey of the path over a distance of two
and one half miles.
was later attracted to an incomplete list of sixteen tornadoes
collected and published by Prof. Elias Loomis of Yale, the author
of our well-known treatise on that subject. I discussed the
Blasius book and the Loomis list with Prof. Abbe on various
occasions and he urged me to make a special study of Tornadoes
and improve on the work of these earlier investigators. This
was the inception of my work on Local Storms, and from Jan.
1st, 1880 to July 1st, 1891, I had prepared
and published a list of 57 papers and articles. Since that date,
the list of titles has been increased by numerous other papers
most important occurrences during my tour of duty with the Weather
Service, under the Signal Corps administration, I may mention,
first my investigation of the Tornadoes of May 29th
and 30th, 1879 in the States of Kansas, Nebraska,
Missouri and Iowa. This investigation involved extensive travel
in these States and the survey of many storm tracks.
1876, I was assigned the task of inspecting the Mountain Meteorological
Station on Pikes Peak and the Base Station at Colorado Springs.
This was the first full inspection since opening of the station
with new buildings in 1876. No reports from the Observer in
Charge at the Summit had been received for several months since
telegraph lines and trails had been destroyed by fierce storms
and heavy snow slides.
much excitement throughout the country by press reports that
the entire station force of six men had perished from cold and
starvation. The Observer at the Base Station had continually
reported that it was impossible to reach the Summit. None of
the hardy mountaineers could be hired to make the attempt.
I was stopping
at the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs and it was so located
that from the porch of this famous hostelry an excellent view
of the upper portion of the Peak could be obtained, in fair
weather, but then the Summit was enshrouded in swirling masses
of snow. The men who stood with me viewing the impressive scene
said that this condition had prevailed for weeks, and in their
opinion the men on duty at the summit station had perished.
In clear weather the station building could be easily distinguished
from the Antlers Hotel and that was considered an attractive
feature for guests. Notwithstanding all of the arguments presented
by the mountaineers I firmly informed them that, as an Army
Officer I was under positive military orders to make an inspection
of the station at the Peak and ascertain the condition of the
Observer in Charge and his assistants. Also I was to take important
meteorological observations at the Summit and test out the station
instruments. It was plainly to be seen that the Observer at
the Base Station, Colorado Springs, was anxiously hoping that
I could be induced not to venture the trip to the Summit, as
I had informed him that he must accompany me.
work was to complete the inspection at the Base, where there
was a large amount of Government property to be examined and
disposed of. I recall the destruction by fire, on a vacant lot,
of a huge pile of unserviceable property that had been accumulating
at the Base for years. As fast as inspected I had it removed
from storage and piled there. Then the mass was soaked with
kerosene and the match applied. The property was guarded until
the destruction was complete.
up the Base, I made ready for the trip to the Summit. The mountaineers
pointed out the several dangers to be encountered, in the way
of mountain lions, hidden trails, difficult stream crossings,
narrow ledges, deep snow of a hundred feet or more, the crossing
of "Windy Point" where the most destructive snow-slides occurred
that swept away all obstacles, even the rocks and trees; the
scarcity of oxygen above the 12,000-foot level that make walking
next to impossible, the blinding storms at the Summit that would
impede progress and hasten exhaustion, and might so hide the
trail as to carry the weary wayfarer over a precipice to instant
death. When it was found that I was deaf to all of these entreaties
the mountaineers gave every assistance to preparing myself and
the Observer for the perilous journey.
We were completely
sewed up in several layers of gunny sacks, provided with alpine
pikes, hunting knives and small revolvers, as well as the instruments
I was to use for comparison work at the Summit. The mercurial
barometer was fastened to my back, after being covered in its
wooden case with gunny sacking; the thermometers, likewise protected,
were carried by the Observer.
We were then
helped upon the two white government mules, which had been saddled
and equipped for the journey. These animals were thoroughly
trained and knew the trails after years of service over them.
It was advisable to give them their head at all perilous passages,
whether on ledges or at stream crossings. I learned to deeply
appreciate the wonderful knowledge of these faithful animals
when narrow passages were taken. The mules would test the security
of the pathway by the pressure of one foot at a time, and gradually
settling the weight upon it. If found firm and unyielding the
mule carefully put forward the other foot, and in like manner
over all narrow passages. On the broader trail increased speed
was taken up without any urging by the rider, and perfectly
free reins were given.
night was spent at the "Half-Way House" occupied by a mountaineer
who lived there with his train of burros. During the open season,
the mountaineer supplied the Summit station with fire wood at
$50.00 a cord. The whole season was required to make the delivery.
During the winter the wood was collected at the shack for summer
delivery. The load for a burro was usually two four-foot sticks,
slung to the back.
at the "Half-Way House" was made hideous by the wild antics
of huge flying rats, searching for food. They threw down from
the shelves and overturned again and again every article of
kitchen equipment, and racket of the tins and kettles was defeaning,
if not altogether terrifying. The Observer and myself occupied
a bed together which was covered with buffalo robes and other
skins. We were cautioned to cover our heads and hands for protection
against the flying rats. Sleep was out of the question while
these devils were performing. Between 1 and 2 a.m. they left
the shack, having ransacked every quarter in a vain search for
more food, after having devoured the waste from the kitchen
and table that was placed where they could easily obtain it.
a little rest, had a fair breakfast and a chance to examine
two dead rats, killed by the mountaineer. After an arrangement
of our equipment we resumed. Near "Windy Point" the mules were
reluctantly abandoned and turned over to our guide, who took
them back to the shack to care for until our return trip. We
now entered deep snow in which we sank to our arm pits, extending
the arms to prevent further descent, and treading the snow to
rise sufficiently to advance. We were on the alert constantly
for signs of a snow-slide, by pressure against the body from
the up-hill side, in which direction we anxiously scanned the
seemingly endless sweep of 3000 feet. In the direction of the
Summit, the area was covered with a smooth layer of snow estimated
at a depth of 125 feet.
We were completely
exhausted on crossing the slide area, and there rested on open
ground swept of snow by the fierce winds. The remainder of the
ascent was made with great exertions and very slow pace because
of the lack of oxygen. When necessary to rest, we had to lean
on our sharply-shod alpine pikes and avoid sitting down because
of too much exertion to rise, and we were too exhausted to help
one another. The winds grew fiercer and the air was filled with
pellets of snow, bits of ice and hail that cut our faces and
covered them with blood that froze and blinded our sight. The
Observer led the way and his last words to me as we neared the
crest in a snow swirl of huge flakes; "for God's sake keep on
your feet. If you fall, you will be quickly covered with snow
and cannot be distinguished from the rocks. You will be lost
and freeze to death." I did fall at the crest and the Observer
staggered on a few yards to the station, and fell against the
door more dead than alive.
The men within
rushed to the door to respond to the knock that seemed to come
from another world. They had given up all hope of rescue. The
Observer barely had sufficient strength to explain about me
and that I must have fallen at the crest. All hands rushed out
and finally found me in the blinding snow by the upright position
of my alpine pike. I was completely covered with snow and looked
like the rocks all about me. I was carried to the station and
when I regained consciousness, found myself on a big office
table, prostrate with men working over me to restore circulation.
We both suffered
awhile from mountain sickness, due to rarified air and finally
became adjusted to our surroundings and recovered our appetites.
In spite of all accidents my instruments were found intact and
the necessary observations taken for station use. These observations
eventually were used by Prof. Ferrel who was engaged on special
work at the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army,
in connection with the Weather Service.
force was found in good health with plenty of food and sufficient
firewood to carry them through the winter season. They were
greatly surprised to hear of the big excitement of the country
as to their alleged desperate situation, and wondered most of
all at the successful venture we had made to reach them. The
trip was looked upon as quite impossible at that season of the
year, April being the stormiest month of the period. The return
trip was performed under better conditions and in quicker time,
but we exercised different body muscles in holding back on the
steep down grade and were very sore for several days after reaching
ascent, from the trail entrance at Mineral Springs upward to
the "half-way House," (elevation, A.S.L., about 10,000 feet)
we passed a succession of severe storms, in the order named,
of rain, hail, sleet and snow accompanied with very heavy thunder
and terrific flashes of lightning. From "Half-Way House" to
the Summit there were frequent alternations of snow, sleet and
hail, invariably accompanied with thunder and lightning.
On the return
trip to the Base Station at Colorado Springs similar storm conditions
were encountered. Difference in elevation, A.S.L. between the
Base and Summit stations, 8,100 feet. Distance, about on the
same level, between Colorado Springs and Mineral Springs, about
occuring on Pikes Peak, whether at the Summit or on the mountain
sides, were accompanied with electrical displays of more or
less violence. Between 1873 and 1882, station records at the
Summit show that no month of the year is entirely free from
violent electrical storms. All station instruments have been
damaged by electrical discharges, even including the mercurial
barometer. The members of the station force have suffered severely
from electric shock and all telegraph instruments were cut out
on the approach of a storm, however light in intensity, to reduce
liability to injury.
Quarters for the Weather Service
connected with the occupation of privately owned buildings,
that were "insecure, unsafe and in every way unsuited for public
offices," by the U. S. Signal Corps and the U. S. Weather Service
on "F" Street, and on Penn. Avenue, west of 17th
Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., and the fact that this important
Bureau was denied quarters in the New War Department building,
gave rise to the conduct of a very active campaign, by the Chief
Signal Officer of the Army, General William B. Hazen, to properly
house the Bureau in Government owned buildings, and at a new
had submitted plans and recommendations in his Annual Report
to the Secretary of War in 1885, for the erection of a fireproof
building for the use of the Bureau. These recommendations were
renewed in 1886 and contained in Senate Exchange Document, No.
152, Forty-eighth Congress, 1st Session. Reference
was made to the alternative of purchasing the property of the
Fergusson brothers at the corner of 24th and "M"
Streets, Washington. This property was improved as one of the
"show places" of the Capital City, by the erection of a singular
appearing residence, that with its surrounding grounds, occupied
a large portion of the square on which it was located. It was
built after the Spanish-American or Mexican style of architecture,
with a patio, or open inner court, around which the many rooms
were built, each opening upon the court on the first story,
and upon a balcony overlooking the court on the second story.
residence was completed for occupancy and then the Fergusson
family decided to return to California and the property was
offered for sale. The Fergussons had been residents of Mexico
for sometime, engaged in mining, and had acquired considerable
wealth. On our acquisition of the Phillipines, the Fergusson
brothers turned up in Manila, as did many other venturesome
American civilians, and the elder brother, on account of his
education and thorough knowledge of the Spanish language, became
the Spanish Official Interpreter for Civil Governor Taft, and
finally the Executive Secretary of the Insular Government, remaining
on duty in that position until his death in Manila in 1908.
General Hazen, on several occasions, to inspect the Fergusson
residence, with a view to its acquisition by the Government
for the use of the Signal Corps and U.S. Weather Service, for
which it was finally purchased and ultimately became the permanent
headquarters of the reorganized U. S. Weather Bureau. The last
inspection was made in December 1886, and at a time when the
weather was very inclement. The building was not heated when
we made these inspections, and especially the last one, and
I protested with the General that our visit was a very dangerous
exposure for him, in fact for both of us, but nevertheless we
finished the inspection, in a very thorough manner, including
the basement of the structure, as was customary with the General
in the performance of all of his duties. As a result both of
us acquired severe colds.
of General Hazen
was suffering from incipient Brights disease but not to the
extent of incapacitating him for active duty. This cold, however,
aggravated the symptoms and he was confined to his quarters
for a few days, which consisted of rooms over a business shop
in the north side of "F" Street between 13th and
14th Streets, N.W.
General's family went to Europe (Mrs. Hazen and her young son)
in the autumn of 1886, he finally removed to these rooms from
the family residence at the northwest corner of 16thand
K Streets. This new and beautiful residence was the personal
property of Mrs. Hazen, specially constructed for and made as
a gift to her by her father, the Late Washington McLean when
the General and his family came to Washington, upon his appointment
as the Chief Signal Officer of the Army, to succeed the late
General Albert J. Myer. Before her marriage Mrs. Hazen was a
Miss McLean of Cincinnati, a member of the family of the millionaire
publishers of that City and Washington. As a widow, she became
the wife of our famous Admiral Dewey, the hero of the Naval
Battle of Manila Bay, May 1st, 1898.
week in January 1887 I accompanied General Hazen to an evening
reception at the White House. It was a cold day and the evening
set in with snow and high winds. The General was in full uniform
with only the protection of his military cape. He was not feeling
well. I urged that I should go to his quarters for his overcoat,
that he might be well protected on leaving the overheated White
House. He overruled my desire, and later, near the close of
the reception, when some of his lady friends were leaving on
account of the storm, he gallantly helped them to their carriage,
even without his cape. When I discovered the situation I rushed
to get his cape and flung it over his shoulders, but the swirling
wind took it off, or nearly so and he was much exposed on the
White House portico.
after this reception the General became quite ill and was confined
to his rooms, and later on to his bed, from which he never arose,
death ending his great sufferings on January 16th,
1887. I was with the General daily during this illness (at times
his pains were so violent that he had to be held down in bed,
and his death was agonizing in the extreme) as was also his
body attendant (also a messenger at the Signal Office and the
Weather Bureau) who accompanied the General during the latter
part of the Civil War, especially on Sherman's March to the
Sea, at the close of which Gen. Hazen made the celebrated attack
on the Confederate position at Fort McAllister, as Sherman entered
of the Signal Service Years
the Signal Corps of the Army and the U.S. Weather Service at
Washington, D.C. on March 7th, 1877. When I presented
my application for admission to the Executive Officer at the
Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army, then on F street,
near 17th Street, N.W., I was informed that the waiting
list numbered more than one thousand; that if I had letters
of recommendation they would be considered in connection with
my application. I was well supplied with letters from public
men and with certificates from the leading educational institutions
of Michigan, my native state, having been born at Ann Arbor
the University town on April 11th, 1854. I finally
received notification to appear for physical examination and
having successfully passed that, I was later advised to appear
for a mental examination. During my four years course at the
Michigan State Agricultural and Mechanical College I had given
special attention to the subjects of meteorology and climatology
in relation to agriculture.
in my college work directed my attention to the U.S. Weather
Servivce, then in control of the Signal Corps of the Army. After
completing a postgraduate course at the University of Michigan,
admission to the Signal Corps was sought. Immediately following
entry into the Corps came a tour of duty at the Signal Service
School of Instruction at Fort Myer, Virginia.