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Local Weather History: April 24, 1880 EF5 in Illinois & the Bit of an Enigma Here

On April 24, 1880, a violent tornado outbreak hit central Illinois with an EF5 in Christian County. However, here, there were a lack of severe weather reports despite such violence being reported nearby. What happened?

Posted: Apr 30, 2021 12:10 AM
Updated: May 11, 2021 10:52 PM

Still working on this....

April 18-24, 1880 was an exceptionally violent period of weather from the Plains to Midwest.  April 18-20 saw a tornado outbreak from Oklahoma to Illinois, Wisconsin & Michigan.  Upwards of 170 people were killed & at least 516 injured by up to 25 tornadoes, 8 being strong to violent.  On April 18, 99 were killed alone in the Marshfield, Missouri area (near Springfield).

On April 24, 1880 multiple strong to violent tornadoes central and southwest Illinois. At least 3 killer mid to high-end F4 tornadoes tracked through west-central & central Illinois from near Jerseyville and just north of Carlinville with dozens & dozens of buildings completely leveled. The most intense tornado was the Christian County F5 tornado, which tracked over rural areas & completely obliterated any structures, leaving no trace in many cases.  People & cattle were carried up to a half mile.

Tracks seem to run north of St. Louis to south of Decatur & near Jacksonville to northwest of Springfield.  It was reported that "large hailstones" & "heavy hail" occurred with the storms.

At Ashland, Illinois (northwest of Springfield), press reported that the heavy rainfall occurred after the tornado all night & caused significant flash flooding.  Major flooding was reported from Kankakee to Dewitt & northern Champaign County with creeks "unprecedented" & "higher than every before".  Many roads were flooded &/or completely washed out.

The day after, tornado damage occurred near Meridian, Mississippi with 17 reportedly killed & at least 28 injured.

A severe storm was reported at Greensburg, Indiana, but it was very heavy rainfall & large hail, no wind damage or tornadoes were reported, though many barns in Indiana were struck by lightning & burned.  Decatur County saw several, as did Elkhart County.  A woman was injured by lightning at Seymour, Indiana (Jackson County). 

Usually when such a violent outbreak occurs in Illinois, we see severe to even very violent weather here.  Such was the case in the April 19-20, 1996 with a relatively recent example being November 17, 2013.

In some rare instances, Illinois bares the brunt of a significant tornado outbreak, but little severe weather happens in Indiana.

One might ask how this could be possible, but a situation like this did occur May 9-10, 1995.  Note the outbreak in Illinois in the evening of May 9 & how it all ended before it reached the state line.

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However, April 1880 was a slightly different situation.....& appears to resemble March 12-13, 2006 set-up & outbreak the most.

Here is the April 23-24, 1880 storm reports map:

So let's dig in & reconstruct what happened.

First, let's start with the 1880 outbreak.  Note the intense precipitation rates from Illinois through Indiana to Ohio & northern Kentucky, as well as the Dakotas in the composite mean:

This was a big rainfall anomaly in our area with torrential downpours & flooding reported.

Note the surface temperature anomaly from the abnormally warm air in Missouri, Illinois & southern half of Indiana & the much colder than normal air over far northern Illinois & northward (so we know there was a strong warm front from central Illinois to part of our viewing area):

Note the very strong upper jet stream with embedded jet streaks showed by this graphic depicting the areas of anomalies.  Upper flow in Illinois & Indiana was from the south with the stronger upper wind fields in Illinois:

Note position of the surface low in the Plains & the warm front stretched again from central Illinois to Indiana:

Note how the surface low actually moves from April 24-25.  The center of it tracks right over central Illinois & the viewing area.

Note the anomalous strong low-level jet moving northeastward with southwest component to the wind.  Note how the 5,000' wind flow is strong & see how the wind shifts along the warm frontal boundary in Illinois:

Mid-level winds are anomalously strong, especially over Illinois with southwest component to the wind:

There is an especially noteworthy wind shift with unusually strong winds at only about 4,000' off the ground from southwest to east & northeast in Illinois.

At around 9,000', wind shifts southwest to southeast along warm front in Illinois where higher wind speeds are located.

CAPE anomalies are noteworthy from Missouit to Oklahoma & over southern Illinois & Indiana.

High CAPE was advecting northward:

Omega or vertical motion at the 5,000' level is unusually strong in Illinois & then into our viewing area:

Very high amounts of water through entire troposphere are noted from Illinois to Indiana & Ohio.

However, there is less in Illinois compared to Indiana & a nose of much drier air punching in from the southwest:

You can see the high relative humidity at upper levels show that it was cloudy at that level from Wyoming to Colorado to Minnesota to Indiana & Ohio.

A key component here is the lack of cloudiness in an apparent dry slot in Iowa, Missouri & Kansas. 

The violent tornadoes all see to occur on the edge of that dry nose.

There are indications of a dryline & warm front intersection there with the low in Nebraska/Kansas.

Another detailed view of the precipitation rates from the Illinois violent supercells to the apparent large MCS/MCC in Indiana to Ohio & even supercell development in southeastern Missouri.

The modeling matches the actual surface maps very well!

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Now, let's compare March 2006.

Like April 18-20 & 24-25, there were multiple episodes of violent weather in March 2006.

An outbreak on March 11, was followed by outbreaks on March 12 & 13.

Multiple F3 & F4 tornadoes occurred from central Missouri to Illinois & baseball-sized hail was reported from monster supercell with long history of tornadoes through the central part of the state (heavy damage at Springfield).

Similarly, not as heavy, but still locally-heavy rainfall & storms were occurring in our area.

Also, similarly, just like in 1880, tornadoes hit Mississippi & Alabama the day after the violence in Illinois.  Meridian, Mississippi was hit very hard by the killer, apparent EF3 tornado, on April 25, 1880.

However, of the 15 tornadoes March 13, 2006 near Meridian & eastward into Alabama, none exceeded F1 in strength.

Now, let's dig into March 12-13, 2006:

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