LOCAL WEATHER HISTORY: REANALYSIS OF JULY 13, 1883 OUTBREAK OF SEVERE WEATHER

An outbreak of severe storms struck the area in the late afternoon hours of July 13, 1883, killing two people.

Posted: Jul 12, 2018 8:44 PM
Updated: Oct 9, 2018 2:31 PM

A severe weather outbreak struck the area July 13, 1883, which was part of a major severe weather outbreak (especially for mid-July) over a large area.

Locally, two people were killed (by falling trees), including a twelve-year old boy on horseback, as the worst of the severe storms blew up in the central parts of the the area in the late afternoon-evening. Arriving from the west, the severe wind did heavy damage to barns, homes, crops, trees & fences in northern Tippecanoe & southern White counties. Heavy damage to crops, trees, homes & barns was also done from Stockwell & Clark’s Hill to Frankfort & Rossville.  Although these were the areas of most-intense damage, it was reported at damage of some degree occurred county-wide in Tippecanoe & Clinton counties.  It was reportedly the worst, most damaging storm to hit Mulberry until July 1923.

Torrential rainfall accompanied the storms with flooding reported in White, Tippecanoe & Clinton counties. Although Lafayette proper did not see the serious wind damage, they saw the torrential rainfall with flooding streets & overflowing sewers.

An apparent tornado demolished much of the town of Beckville, in eastern Montgomery County with destruction to timber.  Wind, hail & possible tornado damage also occurred in & around the Indianapolis area.  Reports of damage extended from Elkhart County, in far northern Indiana, to Vincennes in southwest Indiana with even a destructive tornado northwest of Mt. Vernon, Indiana (at Carmi, in far southeastern Illinois).

This large, significant outbreak of severe weather (with likely multi-mode storms from supercells to bows to clusters to perhaps a large squall line) with wind, large hail, tornadoes & flash flooding from Nebraska & Kansas to Indiana, it was an active month overall.  Parts of the Corn Belt northwest of our area saw 15" of rainfall for July.  7.72" rain fell for the month near Peru & 6.81" at Kokomo.  Southern Missouri received major flooding & parts of Missouri reported their worst flooding since the great 1844 spring-summer floods.

A testament to the system & outbreak, homes were reportedly demolished by an apparent tornado (far south of July) at Eureka Springs, Arkansas on July 14.  14 buildings were completely destroyed by a tornado at New Hampton, Missouri on July 13.  Damage was extensive with a dozen killed & hundreds injured.  21 people alone were injured in northern Missouri when the winds lifted a passengar train off the tracks & flipped it over.

There were an enormous number of severe weather reports & this was before the advent of organized spotter networks.  Reports are from newspapers, diaries & the U.S. Weather Bureau at the time.  Most of the reports occurred on July 13.

1883 was just active for our area & over a large region. One of the largest tornado outbreaks on record for the state of Illinois occurred in May 1883. A massive F5 leveled Rochester, Minnesota August 21, 1883. With no hospitals in the city at the time & the closest being those in Minneapolis, William Mayo & his sons established a make-shift hospital to care for the wounded. This was the start of the now world-famous Mayo Clinic. It was the active, violent year of 1883 that was the catalyst for the establishment of this hospital.  Also, a tornado swept the heart of Joplin, Missouri May 22, 1883.

Note:  I did not plot the severe wind & hail reports over southern Pennsylvania to New Jersey during this period.

So what could be behind such an unusually strong outbreak for mid July?

It is of interesting note that some of the coldest, snowiest winters on record corresponded with some of the most violent outbreaks in recorded weather history in our area & regionally in the 1880s.  Whether it was residual cold air aloft during the spring & summer or what, all severe weather seemed to be amped up & on adrenaline in the 1883-86 period.  The Pacific must have been in a cold phase, corresponding with a moderate or strong La Nina during the time.  The most prolific & violent tornado outbreak to this day in our viewing area (& arguabley for Indiana) was in mid-May 1886.

From a surface perspective the outbreak focused on the 13th was not clear-cut.  It appears that an upper low was rotating through the northern Plains to Manitoba & a surface warm front was draped over the area.  On the morning of July 13, it is apparent that a surface low was in the process of forming in Iowa (notice the bulge in the isobars.  This was likely the surface low that formed in response to strong upper level winds in the region.  It is also this surface low that was a surface catalyst for severe weather on the 13th.

24 hours later, it appears that surface low may have exited very quickly into eastern Canada with a surface high following it just east of the Great Lakes.

Meanwhile, warm front was coming back through the area & another storm system was about to produce another big outbreak after producing severe weather in the Dakotas & Nebraska on the 13th.  That storm system over Minnesota here would end up producing a big severe weather outbreak over Wisconsin July 15-16 & some severe storms would impact our area again around July 18.

What we can glean from the observations of the time & taking those observations & mapping them for reanalysis (with interpolation between the gaps in data) is that surface (& mid & upper) pressures were unusually low for July over our area & northwestward during this time.  The southerly to southwesterly wind at the surface & at low levels were stronger that what is considered normal for mid-July.  Also, upper levels winds were anomalously strong for mid July, even as far north as Minnesota.  A diffluent upper jet scenario shows up in the last image, signaling very strong rising motion in an area from Missouri & Kansas to Illinois & Indiana. 

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