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1899 New Richmond tornado

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1899 New Richmond tornado
F5 tornado
New Richmond Tornado.gif
Ruins of the town's Methodist Church following this deadly tornado.
Date June 12, 1899
Time 6:00 PM CST
Casualties 117
Damages $300,000
($8.5 million in 2015 dollars[1])
Areas affected West-central Wisconsin

The 1899 New Richmond Tornado was an estimated F5 tornado that nearly destroyed the town of New Richmond, Wisconsin on June 12, 1899, killing 117 and injuring 125 people. More than US$300,000 ($8,504,000 in today's dollars) in damage was reported.[2][3][1]

What happened[edit]

June 12 was the day of the Gollmar Brothers Circus, which drew hundreds of visitors in addition to the town's 2,500 inhabitants. Around 3 pm, clouds began to build, and the sky became quite dark. As the circus ended for the day around 4:30 PM, a heavy rain, with some hail, began to fall. The rain let up around 5:00 PM, and people began to head home for the day. By 6:00 PM, the streets of New Richmond were full of tourists, travelers and residents.[4]

Meanwhile, the tornado had already touched down to the southwest. It began as a waterspout on the east bank of Lake St. Croix, about 15 miles (24.1 km) from New Richmond, at around 5:30 PM. It was described as a "boiling cloud", which seemed to skirt the hills to the east of Lake St. Croix, and then head straight for New Richmond. Passing over mostly open country, it destroyed several farm buildings near the rural communities Burkhardt and Boardman as it traveled northeast. Three people were killed there.[2][4]

There was little warning in New Richmond. The tornado was completely illuminated by lightning, but it was visible only for a few minutes before it reached the town. Homes and businesses were demolished and torn from their foundations, flying debris filled the air, and people were swept away. The brick, three-story Nicolett Hotel was completely leveled to the ground by the tornado.[5] Some barely had time to scramble for shelter in storm cellars, but many were caught in the streets. Even some who did take refuge were killed anyway, such as those who ran into the O.J. Williams dry goods store. The store was swept away, and the people taking shelter in the basement were pelted to death by flying bricks and timbers.[2][4] Most people who could not find shelter were killed. Debris of all sorts flew through the air at tremendous speeds. A 3,000 pound safe was flung a block from its original location. Trees and timbers were hurled "like javelins" through the air, and the intense winds swept people up and threw them against walls or the ground.[4] The northern residential section of town was completely obliterated by the tornado, with nothing left but small pieces of debris scattered about. Every home in that area was leveled or swept away. The tornado dissipated shortly after exiting the town.[6]

Back in New Richmond, another storm with strong winds swept through, sending people back into their shelters. It is likely that some died in fires while potential help was hiding from the possibility of another tornado.[4]


All but the extreme western end of the town was obliterated by the tornado and subsequent fires. More than 500 buildings were destroyed, and the only significant surviving structures were the Catholic and Baptist churches. The town's electrical plant and water facilities were destroyed, so fires ran rampant through the scattered debris. Many bodies found in the aftermath were burnt beyond recognition— it was impossible to tell if they died from the tornado or from being trapped and burned alive.[4]

Twenty-six families experienced multiple deaths, and six reported four or more deaths in the family. After order was restored, authorities determined that a total of 117 people had been killed (64 in the town itself) and more than 200 injured. This is the ninth highest death toll for any single tornado in American history.[2] The New Richmond Tornado is generally assumed to have been an F5 tornado, with winds in excess of 261 mph.[citation needed]

The town was so completely damaged that it had to be essentially rebuilt. Damage claims exceeded $300,000 ($7 million in 2006 dollars), however, they may have been as high as $600,000 ($14 million in 2006 dollars).[4][7]

Panoramic view of the damage


  1. ^ a b Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Grazulis, Thomas P (July 1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680–1991. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. ISBN 1-879362-03-1. 
  3. ^ The Tornado Project. #8: The New Richmond Tornado. Retrieved on 2007-06-27.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Sather, Mary. "They Built Their City Twice: A History of New Richmond, Wisconsin" Retrieved 2009-02-10.
  5. ^ extremeplanet (2013-01-17). "The Indefinitive List of the Strongest Tornadoes Ever Recorded (Pre-1970): Part I |". Retrieved 2013-06-20. 
  6. ^ extremeplanet (2013-01-17). "The Indefinitive List of the Strongest Tornadoes Ever Recorded (Pre-1970): Part I |". Retrieved 2013-08-04. 
  7. ^ Wisconsin Historical Society. Dictionary of Wisconsin History: New Richmond tornado (1899). Retrieved on 2007-06-27.

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