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Local Weather History: Historic November 11, 1940 Armistice Day Storm

The Armistice Day storm was one for the record books for the Midwest & Great Lakes.

Posted: Nov 6, 2019 9:24 AM
Updated: Nov 6, 2019 9:50 PM

The Armistice Day storm of November 1940 was historic in the violence of its blizzard, destruction of its icing, wide scope of its wind & the severe weather it brought. At one point, blizzard conditions were occurring in western Iowa (after icing) with crashing temperatures, but a tornado was carving a 7-mile track of destruction in eastern Iowa with 60.

One extremely active weather week, a major storm (beginnings of the great November 11-12 storm) moved into the Pacific Northwest & caused the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the third largest suspension bridge span in the world at the time, to collapse.  The Tacoma Narrows Bridge, was an engineering wonder for the time.  On November 7, 1940 winds of up to 45 mph caused center span to swing up to 5 feet and the bridge collapsed before the center of the storm system reached the coastline with the storm center producing gale-force winds off the Washington coast for hours & hours. This low pressure translated to what would become the Armistice Day storm.

Up to 27″ of snow fell Nebraska & Iowa to Minnesota with drifts up to 20′ & a complete white-out (gusts +55 mph). A destructive ice storm occurred in a band just east of the blizzard & preceded the blizzard Nebraska to Minnesota.

Although the storm is largely know for its tremendous surface pressure drop, wind, blizzard & ice, it produced severe weather, as well. A tornado injured 7 people as it tracked through far northeast Louisiana to far southeast Arkansas, into western Mississippi. Path around Leota & Hollandale, Mississippi received the greatest property damage.

Another tornado struck near Huntsville, in southeastern Texas, while another tornado injured “several” in northwest Tennessee. Greatest property damaged was reported around Crocket Mills & Dresden.

The other tornado track was as close as 1 mile west of Davenport, Iowa. All of this severe weather occurred right after midnight-4 a.m.

In the pre-dawn/dawn hours, with temperatures up into the 60s, narrow, fast-moving squall line with a wall of howling wind raked the area. Damage reports indicate widespread 40-55 mph gusts & sporadic gusts 55-70 mph.

Behind the line, general gusts of 35-50 followed in the morning-early afternoon with sustained winds at 20-30 mph for several hours..

The highest measured gusts, like the 80 mph gust at Grand Rapids, Michigan, appear to have occurred with the ropey squall line in a low CAPE, but extremely dynamic & sheared environment. Tree damage, farm & residential home damage was common from Michigan to Missouri & Kentucky. There are indications of several brief, small EF0 tornado spin-ups from southern to northern Indiana. 27 people were injured in the winds with the line & the gusts following it. 100 were injured in Illinois.

It was the worst storm on the Great Lakes since November 9-10, 1913 with highs winds & massive waves.  The late October 1844 storm was similar & "swept the Great Lakes clean of sail".  January 1975 also saw such a storm with near/record warmth here with a severe weather outbreak.

I had to go through the reports carefully to determine was wind damage was with the line & what was with the gradient winds behind the line & front.  The four tornadoes were obvious, though (as said above) & some data suggests that a few of these wind reports were very brief EF0s.

Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-zczJXSxnw

Minnesota perspective:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QccI2GeLvk

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