Enigma tornado outbreak

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1884 Enigma outbreak
Type Tornado outbreak
Duration February 19–20, 1884
Tornadoes confirmed 60+ estimated
Max rating1 F4 tornado
Duration of tornado outbreak2 15 hours
Damage >$3–4 million (1884 USD)
Total fatalities 178–1200 fatalities, hundreds of injuries
Areas affected Southern and Eastern United States

1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale

2Time from first tornado to last tornado

The 1884 Enigma outbreak is thought to be among the largest and most widespread tornado outbreaks in American history, striking on February 19–20, 1884.

As the precise number of tornadoes as well as fatalities incurred during the outbreak are unknown, the nickname "Enigma outbreak" has come to be associated with the storm. Nonetheless, an inspection of newspaper reports and governmental studies published in the aftermath reveals tornadoes (or more likely — long-track tornado families) striking Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, with an estimation of at least 50 tornadoes.[1] Some events counted as tornadoes in initial studies such as those by John Park Finley were downbursts, especially in northern and northeastern portions of the outbreak.[1]

The majority of reported tornado activity was seen across Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, which were all struck severely by multiple waves of tornado families. In the Southeast, the outbreak began during the late morning in Mississippi, preceded by severe thunderstorms in Louisiana.[2] Shortly thereafter, the outbreak widened and intensified, progressing from Alabama to Virginia between noon and midnight.[2]

Elsewhere, wind damage, flash flood (with homes swept away by water in Louisville, Kentucky, New Albany, Indiana, and Jeffersonville, Indiana and other towns along the Ohio River) and derecho-like effects in the Ohio Valley were also reported in published accounts of the outbreak. Blizzard conditions occurred in the eastern Midwest.[2]

According to an article appearing in the Statesville (NC) Landmark three days later, the damage tally in Georgia alone was estimated to be $1 million, in 1884 dollars.[3] Tabulations from 1884 estimate a total of $3–4 million in tornado damage (with an unknown amount of flood and other damage), with 10,000 structures destroyed.[4]

Confirmed tornadoes[edit]

51+* 14 ? ? 24 9 4 0
  • Notes: This is a list of only the confirmed tornadoes from the outbreak; some confirmed tornadoes were left unrated.

February 19 event[edit]

List of confirmed tornadoes - February 19, 1884
Time (UTC)
Path length
F2 Louisville Winston 1700 unknown Two homes and a mill destroyed. Rated F2.[1]
F2 S of Columbus to NW of Carrollton, AL Lowndes, Pickens (AL) 1730 25 miles (40 km) 1 death – Sharecropper cabins destroyed, with heavy damage to farms near Columbus.[2][5][6]
F2 S of Rockford to E of Goodwater Coosa 1830 20 miles (32 km) 15 injuries. Fires erupted in Goodwater after the passing of the storm.[6]
F4 S of Birmingham to SE of Branchville Jefferson, St. Clair 1920 30 miles (48 km) 13+ deaths – Storm moved from Oxmoor, in what is now the Homewood area, NE through the Cahaba Valley. Most intense damage was in the industrial area of Leeds, where new, well-constructed homes were destroyed, some of them swept away along with their foundations.[2]
F2 N of Lincoln Talladega, Calhoun 1945 5 miles (8.0 km) Homes destroyed North of Lincoln.[5][6]
F4 N of Jacksonville to N of Cave Spring, GA Calhoun, Cherokee, Floyd (GA) 2030 35 miles (56 km) 30 deaths – 10 deaths just north of Piedmont, including 14 deaths in a school at Goshen, and additional deaths and severe damage in the Rock Run area. Large homes destroyed near Cave Spring, Georgia.[7] Another F4 tornado, closely following the path of this one, hit the Piedmont–Goshen area and killed 20 people in a single church on March 27, 1994.
F? Marion area Perry unknown unknown 1 death – Damage in Marion.[5] Not rated by Grazulis.[1]
F? Guntersville area Cullman, Marshall unknown unknown Damage in extreme Northeast Cullman County and Southwest Marshall County.[5] Not rated by Grazulis.[1]
F2 Cumming Forsyth 1820 10 miles (16 km) 1 death – 20 homes damaged or destroyed along path.[1]
F2 E of Columbus to Geneva area Muscogee, Talbot 1830 25 miles (40 km) Heavy damage in the Columbus area, to mostly industrial property. Probable tornado family. $10,000 in damage, in 1884 dollars. 5-inch hailstones were reported in Harris County, just north of Columbus.[2][8]
F2 Tallapoosa Haralson 1830 unknown Homes destroyed. Rated F2.[1]
F4 Cartersville to Mount Oglethorpe Bartow, Cherokee, Pickens, Dawson 1900 40 miles (64 km) 22 deaths – Spawned from the same supercell responsible for the previous tornado. Students killed near Waleska, with additional deaths S of Jasper, and near Cagle and Tate, where large homes were swept away. Complex combination of tornado and associated downbursts left a damage path up to 3 miles (4.8 km) wide in places; storm dissipated on Mt. Oglethorpe.[7]
F2 NE of Watkinsville to Sandy Cross Oconee, Clarke, Oglethorpe 2000 20 miles (32 km) Passed through the Athens area, with 5 injuries near Sandy Cross. A well-built barn was destroyed to pieces. This was most likely a series, rather than a single tornado.[1]
F2 Indian Springs to Monticello Butts, Jasper, Putnam, Greene 2030 30 miles (48 km) 2 deaths – Many tenant homes were destroyed; path was up to 0.5 miles (0.80 km) wide.[1]
F3 NE of Doraville to Jefferson area Gwinnett, Barrow, Jackson, Madison 2030 50 miles (80 km) 2 deaths – Damage may have begun in DeKalb County. Homes, and miles of forest, were destroyed S of Jefferson. Some farms were reportedly "leveled". Probable tornado family, with individual storms leaving damage paths up to 0.5 miles (0.80 km) wide.[1]
F2 N of Newnan Heard, Coweta 2030 unknown An unknown number of separate tornadoes, each at least F2 in intensity, produced damage in these counties; in quick succession.[1]
F3 SW of Gainesville to S of Toccoa Hall, Banks, Habersham, Stephens 2030 25 miles (40 km) 2 deaths – Passed south of Mt. Airy, sweeping away homes in Banks County. Miles of forest were leveled.[1]
F3 Hillsboro to Eatonton Jasper, Putnam, Hancock 2100 30 miles (48 km) 10+ deaths — A plantation destroyed, with an unknown number (10+) of deaths there and at other locations.[1]
F3 Maynard to Milledgeville Monroe, Jones, Baldwin 2115 30 miles (48 km) 12 deaths – Large homes swept away in Jones County. Eyewitnesses north of Macon described a multiple-vortex storm, preceded by 3-inch (76 mm) hail.[2]
F3 Sparta to Thomson Hancock, Warren, McDuffie, Columbia 2200 45 miles (72 km) 2 deaths – Farms and small homes destroyed in multiple locations. A train was derailed NW of Augusta. Substantial hail accumulations were reported in Warren County.[2][8]
F2 S of Washington to Lincolnton Wilkes, Lincoln 2230 20 miles (32 km) 7 deaths – Deaths on two plantations. Storm passed within1 mile (1.6 km) of Lincolnton.[5]
F2 S of Thomson to Harlem McDuffie, Columbia 2300 10 miles (16 km) Many homes and mills destroyed
F3 Davisboro area Washington, Jefferson 2300 35 miles (56 km) 4 deaths – Violent storm within a wider complex of downbursts, which combined to create a broad damage swath. The business district of Davisboro was devastated, with every business in the downtown area destroyed. Debris carried for more than 50 miles (80 km).[2]
F2 Wrightsville area Johnson, Emanuel, Jenkins 0000 35 miles (56 km) Probable tornado family.[1]
F2 N of Waynesboro to Jackson, SC Burke, Richmond, Aiken (SC) 0000 20 miles (32 km) 5 deaths – Storm passed south of Augusta; most damage was in the Ellenton, South Carolina, area,[2] where town buildings, and farms were impacted.[1] The depot at Jackson was leveled.[2]
F2 Franklin to Palmetto Heard, Coweta, Fulton unknown unknown 3 deaths – Damage northwest of Newnan and in Palmetto. First of multiple (at least two) F2 tornadoes,[1] possibly stronger, to pass through this area.[2]
South Carolina
F? Marietta Pickens, Greenville 2130 unknown A church and many small homes destroyed in the Marietta area, at the foot of the Blue Ridge in NW Greenville County. Damage from downbursts or a series of small tornadoes continued into Rutherford County, NC.[2][5][8] Not rated by Grazulis.[1]
F? N of Woodruff to Pacolet Spartanburg, Cherokee 2130 unknown Small homes destroyed in the Pacolet and Glenn Springs areas. Damage reported from this storm ENE to Charlotte, North Carolina, area, which may have been associated with downbursts, or with a series of small tornadoes.[1][2] Not rated by Grazulis.[1]
F3 Anderson Anderson, Greenville 2230 10 miles (16 km) 3 deaths – Multiple-vortex tornado (probably a tornado family)[2] passed through a mill village at the south edge of Anderson, destroying a number of homes.[1]
F? Chester Chester 2300 unknown Severe damage in downtown Chester, with 40 homes damaged or destroyed elsewhere in town. $50,000 in damage, in 1884 dollars.[2]
F2 NW of Winnsboro to S of Lancaster Fairfield, Chester, Lancaster 2315 35 miles (56 km) 3 deaths – A damage swath peaked at 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide; eyewitness accounts from Lancaster (the storm passed immediately south[1] of town) would suggest that this was a tornado/downburst complex. Supercell later produced Union County, North Carolina, tornado, and small tornadoes or downbursts linked the paths of these larger storms.[9]
F2 SW of Bradley to SW of Newberry Greenwood, Newberry 2330 35 miles (56 km) 5 deaths – Several farms heavily damaged; severe damage in Ninety Six, and most buildings in Chappells were damaged or destroyed. Eight train cars were thrown.[2]
F2 N of Newberry to N of Winnsboro Newberry, Fairfield 2345 25 miles (40 km) 3 deaths – 100 acres (0.4 km2) of forest were destroyed in eastern Newberry and western Fairfield Counties.[7] Two deaths were in tenant homes in the White Oak area.
F3 Darlington Darlington 0430 5 miles (8.0 km) 6 deaths – Storm passed very close to downtown Darlington, with at least 30 homes destroyed. Railroad depot was unroofed. Downburst damage continued to Robeson County, NC.[2][10]
North Carolina
F? Brevard area to S of Marion Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe, McDowell 2130 unknown Complex series of small, short-lived tornadoes and/or violent downbursts. Storm originated in the upper French Broad valley, before descending the Blue Ridge.[2][10]
F? N of Statesville Iredell 0030 7 miles (11 km) Damage to a church and to farm buildings in the community of Olin, north of Statesville.[11]
F3 SE of Monroe to S of Troy Union, Anson, Richmond, Montgomery 0100 35 miles (56 km) 4 deathsSee section on this tornado[1][2][10]
F2 Pioneer Mills to W of Troy Cabarrus, Stanly, Montgomery 0200 25 miles (40 km) 1 deathSee section on this tornado[1][7][10]
F4 Morven to Johnsonville Anson, Richmond, Moore, Harnett 0230 50 miles (80 km) 23 deathsSee section on this tornado[1][2][10]
F? Laurinburg area Scotland 0300 unknown "Severe damage."[10]
F2 Cary Wake 0300 7 miles (11 km) 1 death – Storm was preceded by very large hail, and was illuminated by continual lightning and unusual optical phenomena. Several small homes destroyed in Cary.[1]
F2 Lillington to W of Smithfield Harnett, Johnston 0400 10 miles (16 km) 0.5 miles (0.80 km) wide. Small homes destroyed in Johnston County.[7][9]
F? SE of Zebulon to NE of Rocky Mount Johnston, Nash, Edgecombe 0430 unknown 2 deaths – Series of small tornadoes. Two churches and several homes in Rocky Mount were damaged.[7][8][9]
F? Caseyville St. Clair unknown unknown Extent of damage unknown.[citation needed]
F? Metropolis Massac unknown unknown Many homes were destroyed, along with a church.[citation needed]
F2 S of Highgrove Nelson, Spencer unknown unknown 1 death– Six homes were destroyed and 30 people were injured in the Highgrove area. One man was killed in a tobacco barn.[citation needed]
F? Paducah McCracken unknown unknown A tobacco warehouse and other large buildings were damaged or destroyed.[citation needed]
F? Franklin Simpson unknown unknown A factory was destroyed.[citation needed]

February 20 event[edit]

List of confirmed tornadoes - February 20, 1884
Time (UTC)
Path length
South Carolina
F2 Branchville Orangeburg 0600 unknown Homes destroyed near Branchville. Rated F2.[1]
F2 Foreston area Clarendon, Williamsburg 0700 unknown Most severe damage was south of Foreston. Damage path was up to 0.3 miles (0.48 km) wide.[1][9]
F? W of Petersburg Dinwiddie, Chesterfield 0600 unknown Tornado/downburst complex of unknown magnitude passed near Petersburg, where downburst damage was noted throughout the city.[2]

Polkton / Ansonville tornado[edit]

This was the first of a number of destructive North Carolina storms. Detailed coverage in a newspaper in Wadesboro, NC provides an unusually (by 19th century standards) precise survey of the movement and damage produced by three of those storms in the southern Piedmont region of NC.

This storm first formed in southeastern Union County, from a supercell that had produced significant damage in South Carolina earlier. Most of the path of this storm was in rural areas, with injuries and major damage along Beaverdam Creek, south of Marshville in Union County, and along Brown Creek in Anson County, northeast of Polkton.

Significant damage also occurred in and around the towns of Polkton and Ansonville, where structures in both towns were widely damaged, with homes and farm buildings destroyed south of Ansonville. A total of four people were killed. Eyewitnesses in Polkton noted that the storm "crossed the railroad about a mile east of Polkton last night prostrating everything in its course. Could see the storm from Polkton by lightning, looked like a cloud of dense smoke and sounded like thunder. Hail stones measuring 2½ inches long, 1½ inches wide and one inch thick fell."

Homes also destroyed near Pekin, in Montgomery County.[1][2][10]

Pioneer Mills tornado[edit]

This storm was preceded and followed by a wide area of downburst damage - with scattered areas of damage to farms and small structures reported across a wide area of southern Cabarrus County, eastern Mecklenburg County (NE of Mint Hill) and the Goose Creek area of northwestern Union County.[10]

The first tornado-specific damage occurred in the Pioneer Mills community between Harrisburg and Midland in Cabarrus County, where a mill was destroyed and estimated F2 damage was inflicted upon several residences.[1] Storm passed within two miles (3 km) of Albemarle; little damage was recorded elsewhere in Stanly County. Several poorly constructed buildings were destroyed along the Uwharrie River in Montgomery County, and damage to farms was widespread in the county. One person was killed. Downburst damage continued to SW of Asheboro.[1][7][10]

Rockingham tornado[edit]

Spawned late in the outbreak, the storm which swept from Anson to Harnett Counties in North Carolina passed through the Rockingham area, and became the deadliest tornado in recorded North Carolina history. This storm first touched down east of the town of McFarlan, in southeastern Anson County. The storm produced little damage in Anson County.

Tracking to the northeast, it crossed the Pee Dee River into Richmond County and produced sporadic damage until just southeast of Rockingham. Extreme damage to pine forests was first noted just south of town. Strengthening considerably, the storm swept through the southeast edge of Rockingham, where large homes were destroyed to their foundations, and large hardwood trees were snapped at ground level. The Philadelphia Church community (presently on US Highway 1, 3 miles northeast of downtown Rockingham) was devastated, with most of the poorly constructed dwellings in the community completely destroyed. The storm had widened to nearly 1 mile in width at this point.

The storm then tracked through what is now the town of Hoffman, before entering Moore County. Severe damage was again seen in the community of Manly (presently at the northeast corner of the city of Southern Pines). The storm then curved slightly to the east, dissipating into a wide area of downburst damage near the community of Johnsonville. A total of 23 people were killed.

An unusually detailed accounting of the storm's passage through Richmond County, NC was provided two days later: a local resident undertook an informal, but detailed survey of the damage produced by the storm, and this account was published in an Anson County (NC) newspaper.[10] This accounting establishes a steady SW-to-NE movement through the county, with a number of buildings - sharecropper cabins, large homes, and a mill - swept away along the path. As the storm passed 1 mile (1.6 km) SE of downtown Rockingham, it may have peaked in intensity; it was noted that all structures along a 5 miles (8.0 km) segment of the path (beginning at this point) were destroyed. The surveyor noted a path width of 0.25 miles (0.40 km) to 0.5 miles (0.80 km), with the most extreme damage (and most deaths) in the Philadelphia Church community. The surveyor noted that:

Trees were taken up by the roots and hurled with fearful rapidity through the air and those not uprooted had all the bark taken off. The scene after the storm, particularly the position of the prostrate trees, indicated a convergence toward the center, as if a vacuum was created there and the wind rushed in from either side to fill it.[10]

A second, detailed survey of the path was made 10 days later by J.A. Holmes; his findings were published in the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society journal for 1884.

Eyewitnesses reported large hail and intense lightning displays preceding the storm. Moving to the northeast, away from Rockingham, the storm also produced severe damage in the Keyser and Manly communities, along the southeast edge of Moore County.[1][2][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Grazulis, Thomas P. (July 1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680–1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. ISBN 1-879362-03-1. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x New York Times, New York. February 21, 1884.
  3. ^ The (Statesville) Landmark, Statesville North Carolina. February 22, 1884.
  4. ^ Finley, John P. Tornadoes: What They Are and How To Observe Them; With Practical Suggestions For The Protection of Life and Property, pages 98–103. The Insurance Monitor, New York, NY, 1887.
  5. ^ a b c d e f http://docs.lib.noaa.gov/rescue/mwr/053/mwr-053-10-0437.pdf
  6. ^ a b c National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama (June 20, 2006). "Alabama Tornado Database 1884". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Archived from the original on October 13, 2008. Retrieved April 3, 2009. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Fort Wayne Daily Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana. February 22, 1884.
  8. ^ a b c d Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, WI. February 23, 1884.
  9. ^ a b c d Sioux Valley News, Correctionville, Iowa. February 28, 1884.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Anson Times, Wadesboro, NC. February 21, 1884.
  11. ^ Statesville Landmark, Statesville, NC. February 29, 1884
  12. ^ a b American Meteorological Society, Monthly Weather Review. Volume 64, Issue 5, May 1936


  • Finley, John P. Tornadoes: What They Are and How To Observe Them; With Practical Suggestions For The Protection of Life and Property. The Insurance Monitor, New York, NY, 1887.
    • A survey of United States tornado history and statistics through 1887; presented to the U.S. Congress in response to this outbreak.
  • Galway, Joseph G. Early Severe Thunderstorm Forecasting and Research By the United States Weather Bureau, pages 565–566.

External links[edit]