In January 1884, Finley took charge of the tornado-studies project, now moved from the office of the chief signal officer to the Study Room. During that year, the project received several hundred accounts of tornado events. (The number of tornado reporters now reached 957.) From this data base, a series of charts were produced detailing tornado outbreaks for selected dates. Included in the analyses was the great outbreak of 19 February 1884 when 60 tornadoes struck the southeastern states, killing an estimated 800 people.
Beginning 10 March 1884, Finley began a series of experimental forecasts for tornado conditions. Finley based his forecasts on an analysis of the morning surface weather map supplemented with climatological data. The nation east of the 105 degree West meridian was divided into 18 zones with four equal-sized sub-districts. Finley's forecast could cover an entire zone or part of one. These forecasts were similar in some respects to the tornado watch of today, stating whether conditions were favorable or unfavorable for the development of a tornado on that day. At first two predictions per day were issued, but beginning in late April and continuing through July, only one forecast per day was given.
Finley outlined his initial tornado forecast rules in an 1884 article in Science. They were:
there is a definite portion of an area of low pressure within which the conditions for the development of tornadoes is most favorable, and this has been called the dangerous octant;
there is a definite relation between the position of tornado regions and the region of high contrasts in temperature, the former lying to the south and east;
there is a similar definite relation of position of tornado regions and the region of high contrasts in dewpoint, the former being, as before, to the south and east;
the position of tornado regions is to the south and east of the region of high contrasts of cool northerly and warm southerly winds a rule that seems to follow from the preceding and is of use when observations of temperature and dewpoint are not accessible;
the relation of tornado regions to the movement of upper and lower clouds has been studied and good results are still hoped for;
the study of the relation of tornado regions to the form of barometric depressions seems to show that tornadoes are more frequent when the major axis of the barometric troughs trends north and south, or northeast and southwest, than when it trends east and west.
from Tornadoes: What They Are and How to Observe Them; with Practical Suggestions for the Protection of Life and Property, (1887)
He would later refine these rules and include features a forecaster should look for on the weather chart. These were published in 1888 in the American Meteorological Journal:
Presence of a well-defined low pressure area.
Slow progression of the low increasing flow northward of heat and moisture into the southeast quadrant.
A north-south or northeast-southwest orientation of a trough-like low.
The descent of a well-marked anticyclone in the rear of the low.
High temperature gradients.
Increasing wind velocities of the southeast, southwest, and northwest quadrants of the low.
Northward curve of the isotherms in the southeast quadrant and eastern portion of the southwest quadrant of the low.
Southward curve of the isotherms in the northwest quadrant and the northern portion of the southwest quadrant.
High temperature gradient between the noses of opposing curves of temperature.
Increasing high humidity in the southeast quadrant of the low.
Maximum areas of tornado frequency for each state.
Occurrence of tornadoes in certain parts of the country, in certain months of the year.
Tornadoes frequently occur in groups with parallel paths, within a few miles of each other.
Tornadoes always occur in the southeast quadrant of a low several miles southeast of its center.
Easterly curve in the southwest and northwest quadrants of a line separating the northerly and southerly surface winds of the low.
Finley later verified his forecasts including all situations. He felt that as much, if not more, effort was involved in producing a forecast of unfavorable tornado conditions as was spent in a forecast for favorable tornado conditions. Thus, in verifying the forecasts, he included both favorable and unfavorable forecasts in the analysis. As a result, he claimed an accuracy of 94-98 percent for the months March, April and May. However, if we look solely at those "favorable conditions" forecasts, only 28 percent produced a verified tornado within the forecast district. Only one percent of "unfavorable conditions" forecasts were incorrect.
Other meteorologists challenged Finley's forecasts and the verification. One G.E. Curtis suggested his usage of all districts biased his verifications since the occurrence of a tornado in May in north Texas was almost a given as were forecasts of no tornado conditions in New York and New England during these months. Curtis suggested a better scheme would be to look at a standard-sized, movable forecast zone in assessing the forecasts. Dr Gustavus Hinrichs, director of the Iowa Weather Service, suggested Finley was too lax in his identification of tornadoes. He felt some of Finley's tornadoes were actually squall wind damage or derechos (a term Hinrichs had coined), a straight-blow wind rather than a rotational wind. (Perhaps downbursts were categorized as tornadoes as well.)
In July 1884, Finley was commissioned as a second lieutenant and sent to Fort Myers for further instruction in military signalling and the advanced meteorology course for officers. In February 1885, he was pulled from the course and assigned to inspect Signal Service stations throughout the country. In addition, he was to report on the conduct and performance of the local weather observers. While travelling the country, Finley took the opportunity to lecture on his tornado work and recruit new tornado reporters.
Returning in May 1885, Finley completed the Fort Myers course, and in June returned briefly to the tornado-studies project to resume his tornado forecasting. By August, he again continued his inspection tour of Service offices.
Finley's initial forecasts never reached the public, but by 1885, many, including Finley, felt these forecasts should appear in official releases of the Signal Service. As a result, the chief signal officer agreed to include special warnings in the daily forecasts when Finley forecasted the conditions for violent storms were favorable. However, he specifically forbade use of the word tornado in the forecast a practice that would continue into the 1950s. The practice was expanded in the official instructions of 1886 which included provisions for the notification of the directors of the weather service in Minnesota, Ohio and Alabama if tornadoes poised a threat.
But within the country, other factors were coming to a head that would end tornado forecasts for many years. Since the inception of the US weather service, many in the United States had felt civilians rather than the military should control it, particularly the Chicago Board of Trade who petitioned Congress for better trained forecasters under civilian control. Some within the military agreed with the civilians, but for a different reason. They felt the division had too much latitude, which was not conducive to the national military effort, and a drain on military funding. The fact that the Service disbursement officer Captain Henry Howgate had entered prison for embezzlement did not sit well with Congress. As a result, the Allison Commission began investigating the Signal Service in 1884. In its final report of 1886, the Commission urged transfer of the weather service from the Signal Service to the War Department and the closure of the Fort Myers training center and the Study Room.
Finley incurred the wrath of his superiors when he testified to the Commission that his military duties, classroom training and tornado studies resulted in a 17-hour workday. During the testimony, Finley was accused of harsh and abusive treatment of enlisted personnel. His testimony had immediate repercussions. Finley was taken from his studies at Fort Myers and sent on the station inspection tour.
General Hazen later ordered the tornado-studies project relocated from Fort Myers to Washington so that Finley might "devote more time to the prosecution of his special studies of tornadoes, and which work can be properly done by constant reference to the records and charts of this office (Washington headquarters)." Early in 1886, Hazen appointed Finley to take charge of the Meteorological Records Division of the Service; the division's main function was to assess the quality of observational data and correct any errors found.
Signal Service Office in Washington, D.C., located on G Street near the War Department. This building housed the headquarters of meteorological operations for the Signal Service.
Finley summarized the work of the tornado-studies project in his June 1886 report to the chief signal officer. In it, he wrote that the number of tornado reporters had reached 1562, and the number of tornado forecasts issued in a three-month period in 1884 was 2812.
Later Military Meteorological Work
During his years on the tornado-studies project, Finley had other additional weather assignments. One, whose report was published in 1884, looked at the monthly and annual distribution of the tracks of low pressure systems across North America, the Atlantic Ocean, and Europe for a 14-year period. The intent of these charts was to aid navigators crossing the Atlantic.
In November 1886, Hazen assigned Finley to the command of the New York City Signal Service station. There, he was to assist the maritime agencies in providing storm warnings to mariners, but the assignment was short-lived, and Finley returned to Washington that December.
During this period, General Hazen took ill and died the following January (1887). Command of the Signal Service now fell to General Adolphous W. Greely. While Hazen had continued to provide military and civilian personnel with the means for continuing research, Greely could not control the continuing feud between the factions over the weather office. Faced with reduced budgets, he ordered the closure of the Study Room in March 1887 as recommended by the Allison Commission.
With the demise of the Study Room, Greely reassigned Finley head of a new Meteorological Records Division in early 1887. The tornado-studies project was now incorporated into the Division but it was evident that its focus had changed. In Finley's annual report, he noted that the number of spotters had increased to 2376 by June 1887 but that most of the activity of the project was in compiling the reports from those reporters. No mention was made of forecasts. From the Report of the Chief Signal Officer for 1887, it was obvious that the forecast activities of Finley had been curtained. It stated that "it is believed that the harm done by such a prediction would eventually be greater than that which results from the tornado itself." The official position was that a tornado forecast would lead to public panic, but personal differences and politics likely played a prominent role in the decision.
Though no longer a forecaster, Finley still collected tornado reports from his spotters and by June 1888, he had 2403 tornado spotters reporting to him. In January 1889, General Orders Number 2 was issued by order of the chief signal officer that no storm could be called a tornado "unless there is noted a well-defined pendant, funnel-shaped cloud, with attendant rotary winds."
In addition to his duties with the records division, Finley found time to compile his previous publications and studies into a comprehensive book: Tornadoes: What They Are and How to Observe Them; with Practical Suggestions for the Protection of Life and Property. This tome contained many practical suggestions for residents in tornado-prone areas of the nation. The book urged residents in these areas to become their own forecasters and gave rules of thumb for recognizing potentially dangerous tornado weather. He also recommended residents to have a tornado cave or dugout located in a place easily and quickly accessible. For those caught in the open, he commanded: "never run toward the storm nor with it, either run to the northward or southward at a right angle from it, giving the benefit of the doubt in favor of the storm."
One rule set out by Finley to those caught in a tornado would prove eight decades later to be incorrect, and perhaps more deadly than other actions. He wrote: "Under no circumstances, whether in a building or in a cellar, ever take a position in a northeast room, in a northeast corner, or an east room, or against an east wall." [his emphasis] This left the south and southwest corners as the best places for refuge. Though few likely picked up his recommendations from reading the book, the advice was to be quoted in newspapers for decades usually distilling it by advising readers to take shelter in the southwest corner of the basement or home.
(His words remained unchallenged until 1966, when Professor Joseph Eagleman of the University of Kansas undertook a detailed survey of tornado damage to determine the safest location. Eagleman's study of damage from the the Topeka tornado of 8 June 1966 determined that the south side and southwest corners of a home were the least safe areas, and the north side of homes were the safest. Eagleman found similar results from the Lubbock, Texas tornado of 11 May 1970. In fact, the southwest quadrant of the houses proved unsafe in 75 percent of homes damaged, double that for the northeast quadrant.)
Finley remained in command of the Records Division until June 1889 when he was assigned to the Signal Service office in Boston, Massachusetts. While in Boston, Finley received word that he had won first prize in the American Meteorological Journal in an open competition for tornado essays. In third place was H.A. Hazen, a second cousin of General Hazen, who was now entrusted with the task of investigating tornadoes for the Signal Service.
In May 1890, he was sent to assume charge of the new weather forecast office in San Francisco. His name already familiar on the Pacific Coast from his tornado work, Finley furthered his reputation with accurate forecasts, gaining a high reputation with the press. A relatively dry start to the fall brought smiles to the faces of the local raisin growers, who needed the dry weather for their crops. When Finley foresaw an approaching storm from the Pacific, Finley issued a forecast for rain, then had the foresight to send the forecast to the Fresno Signal Service station so that the sergeant in charge could warn the raisin growers to protect their crops. After the very dry autumn, another storm approached the coast at the beginning of December. Finley predicted an end to the drought, and, as forecast, the storm brought several days of heavy rains to the entire coastline. His accurate forecast brought much praise from the press.
Amid his commendable forecasting duties, however, Finley began a fight with his superiors over his military status. First, Greely had proposed a major reduction in the number of second lieutenants (Finley's rank) to Congress. Second, Greely's evaluation of Finley's efficiency was damaging to Finley's chances of retention with in the Service and for promotion to first lieutenant, which Finley felt he deserved. In addition, that report was based on biased information written by a disgruntled Hazen four years previous. Finley fought the evaluation and sought influential support for his cause in Washington. (His uncle had been a famed officer during the Civil War and had influence in the War Department.) The bottom line is that Finley not only made the list of second lieutenants retained, but eventually received his promotion. (Though it was issued by the War Department, his promotion request had been turned down by the local command in 1891 due to deficiencies "in the professional qualifications necessary to enable him to perform efficiently the duties of the grade of 1st Lieutenant of Infantry".)
Finley remained with the San Francisco Forecast Office until October of 1891 when he was relieved of those duties by the first civilian head of the newly formed Weather Bureau, Mark A. Harrington. He returned to Washington DC for six months on assignment to the Weather Bureau where he produced a special report on climate of the Dakotas for Congress. The report Certain Climatic Features of the Two Dakotas was published in 1893 and would be the last official weather report by Finley for the government.
With the switch of the Weather Bureau from the Signal Service to the Department of Agriculture, Finley returned to San Francisco as one of two Army officers assigned to the now-civilian weather service. He remained there until October 1892 when he was ordered to join his regiment, the 9th US Infantry at Fort Ontario near Oswego, New York. This formally ended his career as a military meteorologist.
But that was not the end of Finley as a meteorologist, though his meteorological work was put on the back burner as he was shipped around the country over the next decade. He was later sent overseas to the Philippines and ultimately to the southern Philippines island of Mindanao in March 1903. Finley was appointed Governor of the district, stationed in Zamboanga and given the task to subdue the indigenous Moros, who were warring with the Americans and with each other. While Governor of Zamboanga, Finley was promoted to Major in December 1907. In July, 1913, the Army promoted Finley to Lt. Colonel and ordered him back to Manila in the Philippines where he remained until September 1914. Finley returned to the States stationed with the 29th Infantry in Fort Niagara, New York and was promoted to full Colonel in July 1916. From there he again travelled the country on various assignments. In April 1918, Colonel John Park Finley retired from active duty after 41 years of military service. He was 64 years old.
In those later military years, Finley kept his interest in meteorology active. He published a note for Monthly Weather Review in 1909 listing weather terms in English, Spanish, Malay and two Moro dialects. He also took an interest in typhoons and monsoons while stationed in the Pacific. In his "retirement" Finley returned to full-time meteorological work. He became one of the nation's first private consulting meteorologists, forming the National Storm Insurance Bureau in New York City in 1920.
Relying on his vast knowledge of severe storms, Finley provided insurance underwriters with assessments of risk from tornadoes, windstorms, and hail to life, property, and crops across the country. He continued to write and lecture on his many subjects of interest and became a prominent authority in the weather-insurance field. Finley also became a charter member of the newly formed American Meteorological Society and was later elected a fellow of the Society.
Toward the end of the 1920s, Finley took an interest in aviation weather and produced numerous weather surveys following aviation accidents. In 1932, Finley, age 78, returned to Michigan where he opened the National Weather and Aviation School in Ann Arbor. There he taught courses on theoretical and applied meteorology and climatology. The school also focused on weather forecasting in relation to aviation. Finley continued to teach at the school until he was 85 years old when he retired for good in 1939.
John Park Finley died at the Percy Jones Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan on November 24, 1943, at the age of 89 years. Perhaps because he was a military meteorologist rather than an academic scientist, Finley is not as well know as some of his contemporaries, but his body of work stands as a solid base for tornado climatologists to build on.
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