Great Natchez Tornado

Last updated
Great Natchez Tornado
FormedMay 7, 1840, 1:00 PM
Max rating1 Unrated tornado
Damage$1.26 million
($31.6 million in 2018 dollars [1] )
Casualties317+ fatalities, 109+ injured
Areas affected Natchez, Mississippi
Vidalia, Louisiana
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale

The Great Natchez Tornado hit Natchez, Mississippi, on Thursday, May 7, 1840. This tornado was the second deadliest tornado in United States history; at least 317 people were killed and at least 109 were injured.

Natchez, Mississippi Sole incorporated city in Mississippi, United States

Natchez is the county seat and only city of Adams County, Mississippi, United States. Natchez has a total population of 15,792. Located on the Mississippi River across from Vidalia in Concordia Parish, Louisiana, Natchez was a prominent city in the antebellum years, a center of cotton planters and Mississippi River trade.

Tornado Violently rotating column of air that is in contact with both the earths surface and a cumulonimbus cloud in the air

A tornado is a rapidly rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the Earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. The windstorm is often referred to as a twister, whirlwind or cyclone, although the word cyclone is used in meteorology to name a weather system with a low-pressure area in the center around which, from an observer looking down toward the surface of the earth, winds blow counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern. Tornadoes come in many shapes and sizes, and they are often visible in the form of a condensation funnel originating from the base of a cumulonimbus cloud, with a cloud of rotating debris and dust beneath it. Most tornadoes have wind speeds less than 110 miles per hour (180 km/h), are about 250 feet (80 m) across, and travel a few miles before dissipating. The most extreme tornadoes can attain wind speeds of more than 300 miles per hour (480 km/h), are more than two miles (3 km) in diameter, and stay on the ground for dozens of miles.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.


Event description

This massive tornado formed southwest of Natchez, shortly before 1 p.m., and moved northeast along the Mississippi River. It followed the river directly, stripping forests from both shores. The vortex then struck the riverport of Natchez Landing, located below the bluff from Natchez. This windstorm tossed 60 flatboats into the river, drowning their crews and passengers. Other boats were picked up and thrown onto land. A piece of a steamboat window was reportedly found 30 miles (50 km) from the river. Many doing business on shore were also killed. At Natchez Landing, the destruction of dwellings, stores, steamboats and flatboats was almost complete. It then moved into the town of Natchez, though its full width of devastation also included the river and the Louisiana village of Vidalia. It was reported that "the air was black with whirling eddies of walls, roofs, chimneys and huge timbers from distant ruins...all shot through the air as if thrown from a mighty catapult." The central and northern portions of Natchez were slammed by the funnel and many buildings were completely destroyed. Forty-eight people were killed on land, and 269 others were killed on the river. [2]

Mississippi River largest river system in North America

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. Its source is Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and it flows generally south for 2,320 miles (3,730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. The main stem is entirely within the United States; the total drainage basin is 1,151,000 sq mi (2,980,000 km2), of which only about one percent is in Canada. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Flatboat rectangular flat-bottomed boat with square ends

A flatboat was a rectangular flat-bottomed boat with square ends used to transport freight and passengers on inland waterways in the United States. The flatboat could be any size, but essentially it was a large, sturdy tub with a hull.

Steamboat Smaller than a steamship; boat in which the primary method of marine propulsion is steam power

A steamboat is a boat that is propelled primarily by steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels. Steamboats sometimes use the prefix designation SS, S.S. or S/S or PS, however these designations are most often used for steamships.

Numerous other deaths may have occurred further along the path as the tornado struck rural portions of Concordia Parish, Louisiana as well. The Free Trader stated that "Reports have come in from plantations 20 miles distant in Louisiana, and the rage of the tempest was terrible. Hundreds of (slaves) killed, dwellings swept like chaff from their foundations, the forest uprooted, and the crops beaten down and destroyed. Never, never, never, was there such desolation and ruin." [3]

Concordia Parish, Louisiana Parish in the United States

Concordia Parish borders the Mississippi River in eastern central Louisiana. As of the 2010 census, the population was 20,822. The parish seat is Vidalia. The parish was formed in 1807.


The final death toll was 48 on land (with 47 deaths in Natchez and one in Vidalia) and 269 on the river, mostly from the sinking of flatboats. In addition to the 317 deaths, only 109 were injured, a testament to the tornado's intensity. The tornado is to this day ranked as the second deadliest in American history, and caused $1,260,000 in damage. The actual death toll may be higher than what is listed, as slave deaths were often not counted during this time period. [2]

Senate Document No. 199 (27th Congress, 2nd Session) was the report of the Commission to fix the demarcation between the United States and the Republic of Texas. In the Journal of the Joint Commission under date of May 26, 1840 at page 62 of said document, is written the following: "We crossed to-day the path of a recent tornado, which had prostrated trees and cane on the river banks. Its course was observed to be from south 72 degrees west to north 72 degrees east, and the track to be from 300–400 yards [274–366 meters] wide. This was supposed to be the same tornado which occasioned such dreadful destruction of human lives and houses in Natchez on the 7th of May." These observations were made on the Sabine River which is the boundary between Louisiana and Texas.

Sabine River (Texas–Louisiana) river in the United States of America

The Sabine River is a river, 510 miles (820 km) long, in the Southern U.S. states of Texas and Louisiana. In its lower course, it forms part of the boundary between the two states and empties into Sabine Lake, an estuary of the Gulf of Mexico. Over the first half of the 19th century, the river formed part of the Spanish–American, Mexican–American, and Texan–American international boundaries. The upper reaches of the river flow through the prairie country of northeast Texas. Along much of its lower reaches, it flows through the pine forests along the Texas–Louisiana border, and the bayou country near the Gulf Coast.

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Natchez people Native American people who originally lived near the present-day city of Natchez, Mississippi

The Natchez are a Native American people who originally lived in the Natchez Bluffs area in the Lower Mississippi Valley, near the present-day city of Natchez, Mississippi in the United States. They spoke a language with no known close relatives, although it may be very distantly related to the Muskogean languages of the Creek Confederacy.

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  1. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2019.
  2. 1 2 Grazulis, Thomas P (July 1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. ISBN   1-879362-03-1.
Preceded by
New Brunswick, NJ (1835)
Costliest U.S. tornadoes on Record
May 7, 1840
Succeeded by
Grinnell, Ia. (1882)