Enigma Tornado Outbreak

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.

From late morning on Feb. 19, 1884, until late the next evening, more than 60 tornadoes touched down in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, both Carolinas, Virginia, and Tennessee, as well as Illinois and Indiana.

The strongest recorded tornadoes in this outbreak measured an F4 on the Fujita scale of tornado intensity, which is quite sobering since the scale starts at F0 and only goes up to F5. Only 1.1% of tornadoes are thought to reach the F4 level of intensity.

As if the tornadoes alone weren’t enough, the stricken states also experienced other serious weather phenomena, like thunderstorms, flash floods, strong winds, and downbursts, which are downward currents of air strong enough to cause tornado-like damage.

The Enigma Tornado Outbreak struck the Southern U.S. affecting Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. At least 182 people were killed and 1056 others were injured. 37 tornadoes created F2 damage or greater on the Fujita scale. No town was directly hit but damage totaled $4 million, a very large sum for the rural south for this time period.