JULY 12, 1923: THE HIGHLY-DAMAGING STORMS WITH LARGE HAIL, WET MICROBURSTS & FLOODING RAINFALL

A small, but damaging cluster of torrential storms occurred on the afternoon of July 12, 1923. Wet microbursts, flooding rainfall, in combination with tremendous amounts of large hail in places, resulted in much damage.

Posted: Jul. 11, 2018 2:06 PM
Updated: Jul. 11, 2018 5:50 PM

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An apparent microburst flattened a 1.5-mile radius of crops near Mulberry in the afternoon hours of July 12, 1923. On a 25-acre field, nothing was reportedly standing, “beat down like a heavy roller over it.” Hail of golfball-size also stripped the area of crops.  The damage from the tremendous amounts of that hail was only exacerbated by the intense damaging winds. Shovel fulls of hail were reportedly still scooped up well after the storm (still 0.75-1” diameter even then). It was said to be the worst storm in the Mulberry area since May 1883 when a severe weather outbreak occurred with a tornadic severe storm tracking from around Dayton through Mulberry.

Wind damage was also reported in other areas of Clinton County, including the city of Frankfort, accompanied by torrential, blinding rainfall.

This heavy rainfall caused the Wildcat to flood, as it went up 11’ very quickly. Flooding rainfall resulted in 3 washouts of railroad track between Lafayette & Mulberry, about 100’ in length.  In the article snippet above, an impressive 800' long railroad washout also occurred.  Such extreme flash flooding would warrant "Flash Flood Emergency" issuance by the modern-day National Weather Service.  This is an upgrade from a "Flash Flood Warning".

The storm was was not as violent in Lafayette, but 1.72” rain still fell in just 1.5 hours.  4.66" rain fell at Frankfort fell in two hours, but it was reported that 6" was measured to the west.  Amazingly, storms occurred over a relatively small area; most other National Weather Service COOP stations in the area saw ZERO to very small amounts of rainfall.  Only the station 3 miles west-southwest of Kokomo saw a relatively heavy rainfall with 0.95".  Crawfordsville saw 0.09" of rainfall.  This is indicative of a supercell-type storm or cluster that developed over a few counties' area.

It was a very humid, tropical environment with 7 a.m. temperatures in the mid 70s to near 80.  You can see a subtle frontal boundary stalled in the area with clusters of storms from Colorado to New Jersey in the early morning of July 12. 

The morning of July 13 shows the frontal boundary sinking southward & our winds from the east & northeast.  Temperatures are cooler in the upper 60s to lower 70s with surface high over northern Wisconsin bleeding gradually cooler, drier & more stable air in.  All of the storms, at that point, are in southern Indiana, but considerable rain & storm action is found from Kansas to Virginia.  Virtually every observation site from Wichita to Evansville to Cincy to Richmond to Charlotte to Nashville & Memphis to Oklahoma City ALL were reporting a storm in progress at 7 a.m.

Storms of such intensity indicate shear in the mid levels (not the surface) to keep the hail suspended to accrete to golfball size & loaded in the storm (with a tilting storm). Very high PWATs (water available) were likely present to produce such rainfall rates which equates to very high surface dew points & a deep layer of moisture.  A high degree of downdraft CAPE had to be present, as well, working in tandem with the high amounts of precipitable water (a loaded sponge) to enhance the downburst threat.  Tremendous CAPE that is well-distributed from surface to a deep layer in the troposphere was likely also present for storm to go up (updrafts) like this & then come down (downdrafts) in such a violent matter.  There are mentions of tremendous lightning in the storm, which points to a loaded CAPE profile of +3000 J/kg.

This likely supercell or a supercell cluster may have evolved from a decaying MCV from previous nights storms to our west.  We can only wonder.  However, an interrupted environment that heated up quickly, had good cumulus bubbling up prior & not interruptions to rapid destablization was likely the case.

There was also likely some backbuilding of the storms & training to cause such tremendous rainfall rates for an hour or two.

This image, courtesy of Shannon Family Farms, was taken near Mace (Montgomery County), August 24, 2016.  The damage may have looked like this (near Mulberry), except the corn crop also shredded by the large hail too.

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Rain and thunderstorms continue through the weekend - non severe.
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