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|Record Value||246 individuals|
|Date of Record||30 / 4 (Apr) 1888|
|Formal WMO Review||Yes|
|Length of Record||1873 to present|
|Geospatial Location||Moradabad, India [28.8°N; 78.8°E; elevation: 198m (650ft)]|
Cerveny et al. 2017: WMO Assessment of Weather and Climate Mortality Extremes: Lightning, Tropical Cyclones, Tornadoes, and Hail, Climate Weather and Society,
the storm occurring near Moradabad, India, on 30 April, 1888. This hail event is said to have killed as many as 246 people with hailstones as large as ‘goose eggs and oranges’ and cricket balls. A secondary event (discovered by one of the committee) in Nanking, China, in 1932 reported that 200 people were killed and thousands injured by a hailstorm that struck in Honan Province (NCAR 1970, Pickard 1932). But the NCAR (1970) information release that mentioned the 1932 Chinese hailstorm also cites the 1888 Moradabad, India, hailstorm as having “the greatest recorded loss of life” with a death toll of 246 (page 4).
Early sources to the event confirm a high fatality value for the Moradabad, India, event. The London Times (10 May 1888) reported that “India has been visited by a series of phenomenal storms, partaking very much of the character of the Dacca tornado. At Moradabad 150 deaths are reported, caused chiefly by hailstones … In Lower Bengal, at Rayebati, 2000 huts were destroyed, while 20 persons were reported to have been killed and 200 severely injured.” The journal Nature reported on the same day (10 May 1888) citing the same information as given in the London Times.
However, one of earliest and most complete references to this event was given in A.W. Greely’s 1888 book American Weather. At the time, Greely was the general in charge of the U.S. Signal Corps, one of the predecessors of the U.S. Weather Bureau, later to become the U.S. Weather Service. Greely gives verbatim the account by J.S. MacIntosh, C.S., which he said was “furnished [to] the author through the courtesy of John Eliot, Esq., Meteorological Reporter to the Government of India.” Committee members confirm that Sir John Eliot later became the first Director General of Meteorology, India Meteorological Department.
Eliot (through Macintosh) (in Greely, 1888): “A terrific storm of hail followed, breaking all the windows and glass doors. The verandas were blown away by the wind. A great portion of the roof fell in, and the massive pucca portico was blown down. The walls shook. It was nearly dark outside, and hail-stones of an enormous size were dashed down with a force which I have never seen anything to equal. As soon as the storm abated I went out … There was also long ridges of hail on the higher ground (of the race-course) one or two feet or more in depth … There is not a single house in the civil station which did not sustain the most serious injury … the really destructive hail seems to have been confined to a very small area, about six or seven miles around Moradabad.
Two hundred and thirty deaths in all have been reported up to the present time. The total number may be safely put as under two hundred and fifty. The majority of the deaths were caused by the hail. Men caught in the open and without shelter were simply pounded to death by the hail. Fourteen bodies were found in the race-course … Most of the deaths were on the bare and level plains round the station, where people were caught unawares. More than one marriage party were caught by the storm near the banks of the river, and were annihilated. No Europeans were killed. The police report that 1600 head of cattle, sheep, and goats were killed.”
One of our committee members has also uncovered Sir John Eliot’s official daily weather observations for this time. During the period of this severe hailstorm (30 April to 1 May 1888), Sir John Eliot was working in the office of Meteorological Reporter Mr. H. F. Blanford. After the establishment of India Meteorological Department in 1875, Blanford had been appointed Meteorological Reporter to the Government of India (15 January 1875 to 8 May 1889). In May, 1889, Sir John Eliot was appointed the first Director General of Observatories, India Meteorological Department at Calcutta headquarters and he continued to serve in that position until 31 December 1903 (http://www.imd.gov.in/pages/about_ex_dgms.php).
Although Eliot’s daily documents do not specifically mention a death toll, they do note “the [weather] conditions are very abnormal today, and weather is generally disturbed over the whole of Northern and Central India” (Eliot, 1888). Modern professional accounts appear to employ or confirm the value cited in the Greely book based on Eliot’s comments. Noted hail expert Snowden Flora in his well-recognized book Hailstorms of the United States stated that in the 30 April 1888 hailstorm, 230 people were killed at Moradabad and 16 others died at Bareilly to give a combined death toll of 246 people. This figure has been also cited by other meteorologists including C.F. Talman in his 1931 book The Realm of the Air and noted weather historian Patrick Hughes in the magazine Weatherwise (Hughes and Wood, 1993).