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Local Weather History: The Longest Severe Weather Event Droughts In Area Since 1845

Exhaustive digging for a long time has revealed the longest periods without a severe weather event or outbreak in our area.

Posted: May 20, 2019 10:06 AM
Updated: Jul 23, 2020 10:44 PM

Through years, months, days, hours of research, the library of data at home & here at work has allowed me to find the top 10 longest durations without a severe weather event or outbreak in our viewing area since 1845.

Prior to 1845, lack of newspapers & people reporting severe weather drops off significantly in our area.  There is no reference to severe weather prior to 1845 in our area until 1843 & prior to that, 1840.  Before 1840, only 1835 reports of severe weather pop back up.  There are mentions of flooding in 1836, 1837 & 1844, however.  Heat, cold, snow, frost, wet weather or droughts are reportedly on more frequently, but still not to the degree after 1845.

There were not as many observers back a century ago or even half a century ago, but it is amazing how well severe weather was documented in newspapers, diaries & in the archives of the U.S. Weather Bureau (National Weather Service) & the extreme detail our ancestors put into reports.  Photographs reveal very much, as well.  Some of the reports are much more detailed that what you would even find now!

Severe weather status would reach "event" threshold if at least three counties report a total of more than five severe weather/damage incidents or at least one tornado.

1.  March 20, 1849-June 1, 1851 - 2 Years, 73 Days

March 20, 1849:  A "very destructive" tornado tracked through northern Warren County.  Accounts state:  

We are indebted to Mr. Joseph Moose Jr., for some account of the damage done, which is said to have been immense, and not yet entirely ascertained. The storm commenced at Walnut Grove and tended in a northeasterly direction, carrying everything before it stated by men of undoubted veracity, that cattle which happened to be in the way of its principal channel, were carried (off their feet,) at least one quarter or a mile. Another informant living farther north says, one cow to his knowledge was carried upwards of one hundred yards, and killed in the fall.
A two story brick house occupied by Wm. Moore, lost its roof and second story to the top of the first story. At least one fourth of a mile distant, bricks were found to have been blown from this building. The houses of Mr. George Wolfer and Widow Hampton were laid flat, and strewed in the path of the tornado for a considerable distance. Two others belonging to Messrs. W. Timmons, and F. Mattex lost their roofs and second stories. Stables, barns and many other out houses, were torn to atoms, and the fragments of some of them carried to an almost incredible distance. The fencing within its whole range was laid flat. Wheat and hay stacks were scattered as so many feathers in the air. Orchards entirely destroyed though in some instance, we suppose fruit trees may be re-set.

Several were injured with lightning struck a farm house near Perrysville on the same date.

Extensive flooding was reported in the area at the time from heavy rainfall.

June 1, 1851:  Tornado tracked through northeastern Cass County (Adams & Bethlehem Townships) with heavy forest & orchard damage reported, but only one barn was unroofed.

I have found extensive accounts of severe storms in 1850 from Indianapolis & southward, but none in our viewing area, interestingly, to make for a severe weather event.  Also, June & July 1849 were reportedly very wet with bouts of flooding, but there is no reference to severe weather or tornadoes in our viewing area.  There are mentions of lightning, but no severe weather.  I have turned over every rock I can find so far on Summer 1849-Spring 1851.  I will keep looking!

2.  April 28, 1870-December 23, 1871 - 1 Year, 239 Days

April 28, 1870:  3" diameter hail struck Rensselaer around 6 p.m. with widespread damage to trees, plants, roofs reported.  Many windows were broken out.  Heavy wind damage was reported just north of Otterbein & at 6:30 p.m., a significant severe t'storm struck Lafayette. 

Numerous trees were toppled or otherwise damaged & a lot of substantial structural damage occurred.  Here are just a few of the many reports of damage to buildings in the Lafayette area according to the Lafayette Courier at the time:  The west wall of Mrs. Barbee's building, on Columbia street, lately destroyed by fire, was blown over, burying under it the one-story frame grocery store and dwelling of John Lynch. The escape of the family was providential, and had it not been for Mr. Toberty they would have been buried in the ruins. He saw the danger and gave the alarm just in time for the family to escape.  The house was totally demolished, and the household furniture was too fine for kindling wood...............

December 23, 1871:  Damaging tornado struck the heart of Lafayette with damage to most buildings in the downtown area & point northeastward.  Tornado was described an eyewithness as looking like a twisting corkscrew.  Two people were injured.

Small pieces of the account: 

It came from the southwest, traveling toward the north-east, and was not more than two squares in width.  The first building affected was the Falley Block, corner of Fourth and South streets, the rood of which was raised, on the south side, fully two feet, but which fortunately fell back and resumed the proper position.  The roof of Mrs. Peter Vall's new building, on Columbia street, near the corner of Fifth, came next in order, the tin upon which was rolled up like so much paper, though it was not blown clear off the building.  The Second National Bank building, north-east corner of the Public-square, better known as Reynold's store front, came next in the path of the wind. The tin covering of the whole roof was blown off, together with the timbers and sheeting of the entire southern half of it.

3.  January 20, 1928-June 30, 1929 - 1 Year 161 Days

January 20, 1928:  Day of damaging tornadoes at Cincinnatti, Ohio & Louisville, Kentucky with substantial damage.  Other severe weather in that outbreak south of here.  Two storms produced 1" hail reportedly from Fulton, Pulaski, Miami, Cass to Allen counties.  Wind damage reported in Allen County throughout the Fort Wayne area with the hail.

June 29, 1929: Significant wind & hail damage from Vermilion County, Illinois to Putnam County, Indiana.  Barns damaged to destroyed, trees & powerlines downed & extensive crop damage in two streaks of 5-8 miles long from southwestern Warren to southwestern Fountain & Montgomery counties. 

$372,000 (inflation-adjusted) in damage reported in 8-mile long, 0.5-mile strip in Vermilion County, Illinois.  No dollar amount given in Indiana.

Roofs were blown off of homes & barns near Greencastle & other barns blown from their foundations.  Heavy crop damage was also reported.

4.  July 9, 1951-November 26, 1952 - 1 Year, 140 Days

July 9, 1951:  An F2 tornado was on the ground for 4.3 miles & did $1/4 million in structural damage (inflation-adjusted) on the southside of Kokomo, as squall line raced through the area.  Also reports of hail to 1.75" in diameter in Fountain, Clinton & Howard counties.

November 26, 1952:  Low-topped squall line with 70 mph gusts & a gust to 76 mph at the Purdue University Airport.  Wind damage from downed trees & powerlines to fences & roofs was widespread.

Surface low pressure went from 1011 mb central pressure to 984 mb in northeast Iowa in 24 hours as the storm bombed. A strong cold front blasted through as the squall line hit with temperatures dropping from 61 to the 30s rapidly.

Even behind the line, it was windy all day with gusts to 55 mph.

5.  March 28, 1920-July 5, 1921 - 1 Year, 99 Days

March 28, 1920:  Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak of 1920 with at least 37 tornadoes (31 significant) officially recorded, but reports point to more like 43 (33 significant) over mainly Indiana, Michigan & Illinois with a few others in Ohio, one in Missouri, one in Wisconsin, then a family of strong to violent tornadoes also in Alabama & Georgia.

380 killed & nearly 1300 injured with at least 56 deaths in Indiana & one tornado tracking 100 miles over northern Indiana to Ohio.

In our viewing area, no tornadoes were reported, but a band of damaging winds swept through the area south of the warm front where all of the tornadoes seemed to occur.  Wind damage was reported in 8 counties of the area.

July 5, 1921:  Early morning derecho blasts through northeast half of the viewing area with widespread straight-line wind damage. Winds reportedly gusted 60-100 mph. Windows were blown out of homes east of Walton & a cottage was heavily damaged at Lake Cicott. Damage was reported in Cass, Fulton, Miami, Carroll & Tippecanoe counties with narrow strips of intense damage embedded in widespread less substantial damage. This occurred after highs of 98-104° on July 4.

6. May 12, 1888-June 16, 1889 - 1 Year, 35 Days

May 12, 1888:  Tornadic storm with damaging large hail up to hen egg size with tornado near Freeport, Illinois evolved into damaging wind event that produced widespread wind damage across northern Indiana, including Jasper, Pulaski, Fulton, Miami counties in our area.  48 train cars were blown off the tracks on the Nickel Plate Railroad & trees completely blocked the L. E. & W. Railroad.  150 telegraph poles were snapped.  Worst damage was reportedly just north of our area at Wanatah & Winslow Siding where a tornado may have occurred with homes & buildings heavily damaged.

June 16, 1889:  Very high damaging winds with hen egg hail devastated crops, trees & buildings in a zone from Bloomington, Illinois to Monmouth, Watseka & Milford.  Some homes & barns were damaged or destroyed by tornado embedded in the damaging winds at times.  A funnel was observed to touch down near Monmouth, which tore up fences small buildings, crops & trees there, according to local newspapers.

The storms produced wind damage to crops & trees near Kentland to Chalmers in a two strips 7-9 miles long & up to 1 mile wide.

A strip 1 mile wide & 10 miles long saw very heavy wind damage in Montgomery County east & southeast of Crawfordsville.  Called a "Cloud-burst" by the U.S. Weather Bureau at the time, it appears to have been a wet macroburst.  Barns were destroyed, crops flattened, roofs were damaged or partially removed & damage to timber & wires was impressive in the zone.

The rain was very heavy & some fields were said to have the taken the appearance of a "vast lake".  White County was reportedly hit hardest by the flooding rainfall with roads & crops washed away.

These storms produced a downburst or brief tornado at Macy, Miami County, which caused damage & destroyed the only saloon in town.

7.  June 10, 1939-July 11, 1940 - 1 Year 31 Days

June 10, 1939:  Wind damage in every single county of the viewing area from apparent derecho.  Damage was widespread across Illinois, Indiana & Ohio.  Tornado reported from northern Benton to southern Newton counties with nearly $1 million in damage (inflation-adjusted). 

There may have been a few other quick rain-wrapped EF0 to EF1s here, but it is hard to tell due to widespread, consistent nature of the wind damage.

Total damage in viewing area (inflation-adjusted) +$3 million.

July 11, 1940: Sporadic wind damage southern Warren, Fountain, Montgomery, Clinton counties. 

8.  April 3, 2018-May 19, 2019 - 1 Year 16 Days

April 3, 2018:  Two tornadoes, microburst in Lafayette & other wind damage in Fountain & Clinton counties.

May 19, 2019:  Wind damage in Fountain, Tippecanoe, Clinton, Montgomery, Cass, Howard & Miami counties.

9.  June 20, 1942-July 5, 1943 - 1 Year 15 Days

June 20, 1942: Part of Kokomo heavily damaged by tornado that had 35-mile path southwestward right into Clinton County. Dozens injured, but remarkably no deaths. Likely EF3.

July 5, 1943: Severe macroburst hit Cass County with extensive damage, while an EF0 tornado occurred near Waveland in Montgomery County.

10.  June 29, 1931-July 7, 1932 - 1 Year, 8 Days

June 29, 1931:  11 reports of wind damage across area with damage extending into Illinois.  This followed "extensive destruction" from significant wind event across Michigan to northern Ohio June 27 with heavy tree & power line damage, massive power outages & many reports of building damage.  Cleveland, Ohio was very hard hit.  6 deaths were reported.

Inflation-adjusted, damage of +$50 million reported in Cleveland.  No dollar damage estimates were given in our area.

In one likely macroburst in central Illinois, a 5-mile long, 3-mile wide area saw trees leveled, corn crop completely flattened & buildings "wrecked".

July 7, 1932:  Tornado at 9:30 a.m. with 4-mile path near Peru.  Barns damaged to destroyed & heavy tree damage in path.

11.  June 21, 1901-June 25, 1902 - 1 Year, 4 Days

June 21, 1901:  Significant evere weather outbreak state-wide amidst drought.  Widespread damage reports received from eastern Illinois & throughout Indiana according to Weather Bureau & the Western Union Telegraph Office at the time. 

It brought needed rainfall before July-August turned extremely hot & dry.  Large hail (no exact size given) with damaging winds broke windows & damaged roofs across the city of Lafayette.  Numerous trees & limbs were knocked down.  A home lost its roof east of Fowler.  Widespread damage reports received from eastern Illinois & throughout Indiana according to Weather Bureau & the Western Union Telegraph Office at the time.

Worst damage was reported in a strip from Warren & Fountain counties to southwest of Lafayette with heavy tree, crop, farm building & home damage.  Extensive damage was reportedly done to timber across Montgomery County.  A bridge was washed out by heavy rainfall near Alamo.

5 people were killed the following day at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania alone as the outbreak re-fired.

June 25, 1902:  Significant evere weather outbreak over central & southern Indiana with at least 7 tornadoes, killing 6 (up to 40 injured).  It was the deadliest & worst tornado outbreak since 1893 in Indiana. 

In our viewing area, widespread damage was reported.  The worst was apparent across Tippecanoe, Benton, Warren, Fountain, Montgomery & Clinton counties.  Thousands of trees were snapped or uprooted, houses and barns were reportedly leveled in places and telephone and telegraph wires are down all over.  Heaviest damage in the city of Lafayette was on the south side.  During
the height of the storm the street railway power house was struck by lightning and one of the large dynamos was damaged, fire broke out in the brushes of the machine, and the generator was made useless for several hours, leaving the street car lines without power.  Many business buildings were damaged or destroyed.  Casr standing on the Lake Erie & Western Railway siding were blown at Pine Village, five miles south of Oxford.
At Templeton the blacksmith shop owned by Chris Finch was blown over and ruined. At Romney a corn crib on the farm of Mark Inskeep was blown across some telephone wires, breaking twenty-two and cutting off communication from that place. At Clark's Hill,  great damage was done to fruit trees, and a large barn owned by Edward Bowles was razed. The schoolhouse was damaged by the wind, the roof being blown off.  At Linden a lumber shed was blown down and at New Richmond a blacksmith shop was blown from the foundation.  Dozens of other severe weather reports occurred. 

Lafayette
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Kokomo
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Rensselaer
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