New Hampshire: Visions of Dorothy and Toto–It’s Tornado Season

New Hampshire residents appeared surprised when a tornado, albeit a fairly ‘weak’ one

touched down in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire recently. Reportedly it had wind speeds up to 80 miles per hour, enough to flip a truck and its occupants over on Interstate 95.

Another tornado in recent memory occurred on August 21, 2004. Strong winds toppled trees in the Wakeda Campground on Route 88 in Hampton Falls. Ten campers were injured, some trapped under downed trees. Campsites and cabins were also damaged.  One source states that this storm was a “bow echo.”

I’m sure by this time local residents have visions of Dorothy and her dog Toto, from the Wizard of Oz, on their mind. Others may be thinking about building a tornado shelter in their back yard. There really is no need to do so. The odds are in your favor.

Residents of New Hampshire have a much greater chance of property destruction or loss of life due to lightning strike than a tornado, if that is comforting. Based on statistics from 1959-1994, New Hampshire ranked tenth of U.S. states for rates of lightning-caused damage reports per million people.

Tornado season is considered March through August, although tornadoes may occur at any time of the year. According to the Disaster Center, seventy-three tornadoes occurred in New Hampshire between 1950 and 1995, with an average of two per year.  No deaths have been reported as a result of those events. New Hampshire “ranks number 41 for frequency of Tornadoes, none for deaths, 40 for injuries and 40 for cost of damages (using statistics during those years). In 2001 New Hampshire had one reported tornado, and none in in 2002.

The New Hampshire Bureau of Emergency Management provides a handy list of New Hampshire Tornadic Events, by County, of F2 level or greater. This list seems to date back as far as 1748.

Right now I’m sure you are thinking, what is this F2 stuff? No, I don’t mean F2 the function key on your computer.  Tornadoes are measured on a “Fujita Scale” from F0 to F6, i.e. from Gale Tornado to Inconceivable Tornado.  F2 is a considered a ‘Significant Tornado’ with wind speed between 113-157 miles per hour. See scale for more information.

I temporarily traveled back in weather time, to review documents regarding early documented tornadoes, including two of New Hampshire’s early ones. Reportedly in 1643 Governor John Winthrop described a wind ‘gust’ of such magnitude that it lifted the Newbury MA meeting house up in the air and killed one ‘Indian.’ In 1680 at Cambridge MA, Reverend Increase Mather relates an account of a terrible whirling wind which destroyed trees, buildings, and killing one John Robbins, a servant man. Many more similar storms were recorded throughout New England, including New Hampshire.

My first New Hampshire story comes from “The History of Hillsborough County NH” which records a tornado in Merrimack New Hampshire on May 21, 1814.  In that event, an unlucky man named Matthew Parker was “accidentally killed by the falling of a building upon him, at his father’s place, in time of a fearful tornado.”  Matthew must have been a church-going man, since it was deemed an accidental death (and not a purposeful Act of God).

The second incident was found in “The History of Coos County NH” (by George Drew Merrill, 1888), under the town of PITTSBURG, which records a tornado, that I did not find in the official state records. The description seems like an F2 level tornado, so perhaps the NHOEM should add this to their list.
“TORNADO–July 30, 1868 a fearful hurricane came from the northwest, cut through the dense forests a breadth of three-quarters of a mile, tearing rocks from their beds, and tossing them into the air.  As it came through the Tabor Notch, it entirely destroyed the Tabor sugar-orchard of 300 trees; passing Indian Stream, it tore down 100 acres of massive maples and elms belonging to E.L. Farnham; continuing over the southwest side of Fletcher mountains, it turned its course northward, and nearly demolished the great sugar-orchard of E.C. Aldrich.  Buildings were overthrown, the old Fletcher house rent into thousands of pieces, and the large Fletcher barn, made of immense timbers of hard wood built by Ebenezer Fletcher was early, and considered the strongest structure in the county, after being moved some inches from its base, had its roof taken off, and many of its timbers carried eighty rods.  Mrs. Adrich’s family were all there at the time, but had fled to the shed for safety, and that, strange to say, escaped destruction.  The tornado also did much damage to stock, buildings, and crops; but the only serious injury to man was the breaking of Mr. Chappell’s leg by flying timber.

What I find intriguing about tornadoes, is that there is a much greater incidence rate for them in Massachusetts, our neighbor immediately to the south. We generally think of the Midwest as being the hotseat, so to speak, for these weather patterns, however Massachusetts rates #2 on the likelihood of a tornado striking in a particular state.  They follow Indiana, which is #1, and Massachusetts is immediately followed by Mississippi, Oklahoma and Ohio.

So, the next time someone asks you how New Hampshire is different than Massachusetts, don’t think taxes, think tornadoes 😀

And by the way, what happened to the cow that was lifted into the air by the tornado?  Answer: Udder disaster!


Bits of Windy New Hampshire Trivia.
–Over 80% of tornadoes strike between noon and midnight
–The highest winds ever recorded in the world (by fixed equipment) – 231 Mph (372 km/h) were recorded on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire on April 12, 1934.
–NOAA’s Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services indicates that the state of New Hampshire has bad weather “awareness” days and weeks as follows:
New Hampshire Severe Storms Awareness Week May 1-5 // New Hampshire Flood Awareness Day March 3 // New Hampshire Lightning Awareness Week June 18-24

Additional Related Reading

What To Do In the Event of A Tornado

New Hampshire Tornadoes by County 1950-1995

NESEC (Northeast States Emergency Consortium)–

FEMA: Tornado

–FEMA: Tornadoes for Kids–

–New Hampshire Office of Emergency Management – Severe Wind Guide

May in the Northeast (Intellicast)–

NH Department of Safety, Weather Disaster Links

–Plymouth State [NH] College Weather Center–


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