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The "Sudden Gust" of 1643
North America has been the location of many tornadoes from forest-razing twisters to mischievous whirlwinds. Obviously, tornadoes roamed the continent long before the first Europeans arrived. The first to be chronicled may have occurred in New England in July of 1643.
The only record of this storm is found in the journal entry of John Winthrop for July 5, 1643. (The date on our current calendar would be the 15th.) Winthrop had been appointed the first governor of the new Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629 and his journals give us an insight to life in that fledgling colony. He was also an astute observer of the weather. His daily weather journal began on his voyage to the New World and continued until 1649. Over nearly two decades, he recounted news of hurricanes, tornadoes, heavy snowstorms and nor'easters.
Describing the tempest which struck the colony that day, he wrote:
"There arose a sudden gust at N.W. so violent for half an hour as it blew down multitudes of trees. It lifted up their meeting house at Newbury, the people being in it. It darkened the air with dust, yet through God's great mercy it did no hurt, but only killed one Indian with the fall of a tree. It was straight between Linne [Lynn] and Hampton."
The "Sudden Gust" occurred in the northeastern corner of present-day Massachusetts, in what is now Essex County, and ended in the extreme southeast corner of coastal New Hampshire. It moved from Linne [Lynn] through Newbury to Hampton on a due northsouth pathway, a distance of about 35 miles (56 km).
Winthrop does not specifically mention a whirlwind in his entry, so we will never be positive as to its identification. The entry could also describe a straight-line wind produced by a line of strong thunderstorms similar to a derecho or perhaps a series of unconnected downbursts, or a combination of wind phenomena.
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