Most Americans probably know that Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm to examine the properties of lightning. But did you know that he was also one of the first recorded storm chasers?
As early as the mid-1750s, Ben Franklin was chasing tornadoes on horseback. It was something of an accident, Franklin evidently being out with some friends for a pleasure ride. But when a small funnel formed, Franklin was not one to miss the opportunity.
While his friends huddled in terror, Benjamin Franklin urged his horse on through the woods toward the tornado. Just how close he got to the funnel we may never know for sure. If Franklin’s own account is accurate, he could have whipped it with his riding crop.
Fortunately for Franklin and subsequently for the rest of the nation, the tornado was very weak and quickly died out.
But Franklin was more than a thrill-seeker—he had an inquiring mind and a thirst for knowledge. He was probably one of the earliest Americans to attempt to forecast the weather in a scientific manner through observation of principles.
A short list of Franklin’s investigations and achievements in the realm of weather would include:
- Charting the Gulf Stream, which affects U.S. temperatures.
- Theorizing that storm movement is related to high- and low-pressure areas.
- Demonstrating that lightning is nothing more than electricity.
- Theorizing that the bottom of a storm cloud is negatively charged.
- Promoting the widespread use of the lightning rod.
- Proposing a hypothesis that the upper atmosphere is colder than the lower atmosphere, thus allowing for hail formation even in summer.
- Writing about the motion of whirlwinds.
- Sketching waterspouts.