The Tornado That Saved America


In August 1814, during the war with the British, much of Washington, D.C. was burning. image from Smithsonian magazine
In August 1814, during the war with the British, much of Washington, D.C. was burning. image from Smithsonian magazine


Although sometimes very destructive, tornadoes do not always bear completely bad news. In fact, there is one weather incident that may have changed the course of American history. This event occurred during the war og 1812 and probably included a series of severe thunderstorms, as well as embedded tornadoes. The end result from Nature’s destructive forces may have been responsible for driving the British troops out of our newly formed national capitol, located on the north shore of the Potomac River, just a few miles upstream from George Washington’s plantation in Mt. Vernon, Virginia.

The Event

Today August 25, 2015 is the 201st anniversary of the tornado that helped save Washington, D.C. from British invasion. To put it mildly, on this date in 1814, the new nation was in dire straits. The new capitol was burning and all naval activity on the Chesapeake Bay was controlled by Her Majestry’s Service. The British troops had arrived the day before and set fire to many buildings, including the White House. The Madison’s were forced to vacate the newly-built property at Pennsylvania Avenue and retreat to nearby Georgetown. On the night of August 25th long term British occupation of the new capitol seemed like a certain thing.

That is until a line of thunderstorms, partially fueled by daytime temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, approached the city. The torrential rain doused many of the fires and one (or more) tornadoes tore through city, uprooting trees and sending British cannons flying through the air. Dozens of British troops were killed in the tempest, mostly by collapsing buildings. The next day, the British forces left the city and the place has not been militarily attacked or occupied since.

The Result

According to many historians, the evacuation of Washington may have figured in the end of hostilities between the two nations (America and Britain) and provided the groundwork for a peaceful settlement that ended the war and re-established a sovereign nationhood for the U.S., Great Britain, including the British territory located to the north (now called Canada).

National Tornado Day

Perhaps, August 25th should be declared National Tornado Day, not only to celebrate the survival of Washington during the War of 1812, but also to acknowledge that there aspects of natural disasters that are beneficial to mankind. Hurricanes bring rain, forest fires help regenerate certain types of forests and tornadoes may possibly aid in the continuation of some grasslands. None of these disasters are man-made and may certain long-term benefits, despite their immediate destructiveness.


A tornado cab cause great destruction and misery, image from wikipedia
A tornado cab cause great destruction and misery, including lost of life and property.  image from Wikipedia


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