Local Weather History: The Early January 1887 Polar Vortex Event In Our Area (With Coldest Temperature Ever Recorded at Greater Lafayette)

1886-87 was a bad winter like 1884-85 & it saw the coldest reading at Greater Lafayette on record.

Posted: Feb 17, 2021 8:30 PM
Updated: Feb 19, 2021 6:33 PM

First three images courtesy of the NOAA historical collections.........

The coldest temperature on record for Greater Lafayette was recorded on the morning of January 7, 1887 with -33. 

January 1887 records taken at Purdue University (note the big warm-up late in the month though & there were actually multiple damaging tornadoes in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas & Alabama on that day with a high of 62!).

Year         Month          Date      Liquid     Snow                    Daily High Temperature    Daily Low Temperature

11" of snow was on the ground & another 3.5" would fall on the 8th & 9th with a warm-up (teens for highs), only to be followed by lows of -18 & -19 a few days later.

1886-87 ranks up with the winter of 1884-85 as a stand-out for brutal cold & snow in the weather history of our area.

All of the top 5 lowest temperatures in the viewing area as a whole occurred in the winters of 1883-84, 1884-85 & 1886-87.

These winters led to the complete collapse of the cattle industry in the Plains & wiped out the early citrus farming industry in Texas, Louisiana & northern Florida.  It shifted southward after complete groves were killed.

Rivers were completely frozen over or clogged with ice from our region down through parts of the South by mid to late January.

 

Interesting optical phenomena was seen around the sun & moon are frequent times in the month with falling ice crystals in the Arctic outbreaks.  Parheliac Circles, Parhelias, halo were also seen.

Interestingly, in the cold, dry frequent northwest flow (with strong winds), multiple large forest & prairie fires were reported from Oklahoma to Texas & over Florida during the month.

Heart of the extreme, record cold wave of early January not only brought the deadly cold here, but across the Midwest where Lacon, Illinois dropped to an incredible -32.  This early January cold led to 3 at Gadsden, Alabama, -3 Eureka, Arkansas, -22 Omaha, Nebraska, -2 Nashville, Tennessee, -15 Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

The lowest temperature in New Jersey was not as bad with 0 in northwestern New Jersey, showing that the brutal cold did not move too far east in the Mid-Atlantic & New England region.  The worst cold wave to hit the Northeast occurred around January 19-21 with -40 in New England.

Abilene, Texas dropped to 6, Brownsville, Texas 28.

Jacksonville, Florida dropped to 22 & 8 consecutive days failed to get highs out of the 40s.

At Key West, Florida, two days failed to reach 60 with two daily highs at 59 & a low of 50.

The temperature dropped to 20 at Pensacola, Florida & two consecutive days saw highs only in the lower to middle 30s.

Other minimum temperatures in this event include from -34 at Minneapolis-St. Paul to -60 at St. Cloud, Minnesota & then to -34 at Cedar Rapids, Iowa (newspaper clippings courtesy of Indiana Historical Society from Lafayette & Crawfordsville newspapers):

Enos Simonton, 13 years old, was lost in the preceding snow storm on January 6 & was found dead in a snow drift near North Crane (present-day near Wyandot Road & US 52).

Fires were numerous.  This is two of many in the area as heating demand was greatly increased & various fires ignited as a result.

There were many, many house fires in the viewing area & region with multiple deaths & injuries.

In southern Indiana's Harrison County, there were 3 major building/school building fires & other house fires.

The snowy, brutal weather was tough on the railroads & trains, as well.

Note the extreme below normal temperatures from the Plains to Midwest January 5-7.

Also note the anomalies January 1-9 & where the core of the Polar Vortex segment is likely occurring.

Core of the cold & vortex around January 7:

Core shows up well South Dakota to Iowa in upper level jet:

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