Some of the most popular photographs of a tornado ever taken, were the work of Lucille Handberg, a sixteen year-old school girl. She took them of a twister that occurred near Jasper, Minnesota, on July 8th 1927. A little over a year after the photos were taken, the San Antonio Light ran the following story:
The most remarkable photographs of a tornado, or twister, ever taken were recently made at the risk of her life by Lucille Handberg, a South Dakota school girl. Lucille not only faced the twister long enough to photograph it, but chased it a quarter of a mile to get two other snaps of it.
Lucille took the chance she did because she wanted to win a prize offered at the State Fair for the most unusual snapshots. Racing along though the wind and the lowering gloom, with nothing but an ordinary camera in her hand, she succeeded where scientists, safely ensconced in cyclone-proof shelters, with the most complex photographic apparatus have failed. Experts all over the world are now studying Lucille’s three pictures, and the United States Government has asked her for prints in order that its experts may learn something about tornadoes that they had not known before.
And Lucille certainly won that prize for snapshots at the State Fair!
It was a very hot, still afternoon that Lucille, standing beside her father on their porch, saw him cock a weather-wise eye up to the sky. There was a big black cloud almost overhead, sweeping southward. As they watched, they saw another black cloud approaching from the south. And suddenly, the two clouds seem to leap and send out whirling streamers of vapor towards each other.
“Jehoshaphat!” exclaimed Father Handberg, “Here comes a twister! Get to the cellar, Lucille, quick!”
Now the most violent storms on earth are these “twisters” or tornadoes that sweep across the cyclone belt of the United States. Springing up almost in a moment, they form gigantic funnel shaped whirlpools of wind, so swift that no instrument has ever ben able to measure their velocity. Moving over the ground like a waterspout at sea, the tornado picks up houses, barns and automobiles, and carries them for hundreds of yards, scoops up cattle and, in fact, anything movable in its path, and destroys what is not movable.
Furthermore, once a twister is started, its path cannot be predicted. The wind-spout is like a gigantic tentacle thrust out from the breast of the storm cloud. It writhes and coils like a snake and its suction arm, called “the broom,” will leap in an instant sometimes over half a mile of ground, leaving objects under it untouched, but striking with deadly efficiency everything upon which it lands. These objects are then either sucked up, as though by a vacuum cleaner or are whirled away hundreds of feet as dust is by the stroke of a broom.
All this Lucille knew, and as she stood staring, the clouds met, boiled for a moment and the out from them writhed the lead colored and awe inspiring tentacle of the twister.
“My goodness!” said Lucille to herself. “If I could only get a good picture of that, I could win that snapshot prize at the State Fair!”
Her father was calling the field hands and shooing them into the cyclone cellar. Lucille ran back into the house and seized her camera. She had a fairly accurate idea that her father would object mightily to what she planned to do, so she ran out the back door to the side of the house.
By this time the twister had dropped on the house of Oscar Kulsrod although Lucille had not known that, because neighbor Kulsrod was three miles away. It had not quite reached the ground yet, so it merely took the chimney off the Kulsrod house, broke down all the trees around it, sucked all the supper plates off the table and distributed them nicely unbroken from the door to the barn.
But in that brief time that it had taken Lucille to get her camera, the twister had traveled two miles. It was, it appeared, an accommodating twister, and seemed to know that Lucille wanted its picture, because those miles that it had journeyed made it two miles closer to her and it was then only a little over five thousand feet away. It was headed for the Petersen place, about a half a mile off. The great tentacle was clearly outlined in the sky and its broom end could be seen between the trees and neighbor Petersen’s house.
“Fine!” murmured Lucille. And with steady and rapid hands, focussed in the lens, and snapped it.
Looking up, she saw that the twister was still coming, but the Petersen house and farm buildings did not look at all the same. There was a reason for that. The enormous snake of air had sideswiped neighbor Petersen’s dwelling place, left only half a house where a whole one had been, and had scattered the windmill and water tank and a few outer buildings over a square mile of prairie.
Lucille did some quick thinking. She wondered whether that first picture had been a success. She wondered whether she had time to take another. She wondered whether she would have time to drop into the cyclone cellar. All this in a split second, because the twister was now only about a quarter of a mile away from her.
Then abruptly, by one of the unknown laws that govern its progress, it changed its direction, sweeping away from her.
“My goodness! Hey—wait!” cried Lucille, quite forgetting in her excitement that the twister had no ears, except about several thousand ears of corn which it had just picked up from a field and was lavishly distributing for several miles around. She ran into the open, dodging and ducking to get a good view of the tremendous whip that was writhing and squirming like an enormous air serpent. She saw that its end, “the broom,” was contracting and expanding rapidly, “just like a person breathing heavily,” she described it afterwards. “It looked just as though it were alive.”
The light abruptly became clear and good, the twister seemed to pause accommodatingly and Lucille’s steady hand took Picture Number Two, which with Number One are unquestionably, in the opinions of experts, the finest ever made of a tornado. It shows, as the reproduction on this page proves, the terrifying spectacle from ground to sky at close range. It was close range, too, for Lucille’s skirt was blowing out straight, her hair whipping like halyards in a hurricane, and Father Handberg, back in the house, had just emerged from the cyclone cellar and was running frantically toward her.