Local Weather History: November 22, 1874 Bomb Storm (Like December 1987) & Violent Tornado Outbreak In the South

A wind storm caused by a bomb hit our area, while spawning a violent tornado outbreak in the South...

Posted: Nov 23, 2021 12:11 AM
Updated: Nov 24, 2021 11:08 PM

A "bomb cyclone" (bomb refers to low pressure dropping at least 24 mb in 24 hours) occurred in the Midwest & Great Lakes late November 22-23, 1874.  In the storm track from the western Corn Belt to near Chicago to South Bend, Indiana, the surface pressure dropped from 999 mb to 975 mb in 10 hours.  The pressure bounced back to 979 mb just 2 hours after tanking to 975 mb in northern Indiana.  

Called "The Great Storm" in the press at the time, it was a monster in the degree of shipping losses it caused on the lakes (though weather bureau warnings certainly cut losses to a degree), the damage done from wind & lake flooding from Chicago to Buffalo, the crippling of the telegraph wires over the East Coast & South & the violent tornadoes it caused.

It was similar to another recent bomb, December 14-15, 1987.  The 1874 surface low bombed out near the 1987 low bomb (near Kankakee, Illinois in '87 case), but it appears that the '74 one was just slightly northeast of the '87 one.

Either way, both brought damaging non-t'storm gradient winds to the area with many trees blown down by +60 mph gusts for 8 hours in our area.  Signs were also blown down & roof damage occurred.  Like in 1987, this bomb had severe weather occur with multiple strong to violent significant, long-track tornadoes.

The "gale" was not wanted here, but the rainfall was reportedly very, very much needed after a hot dry summer & very warm, dry Fall. 

These intense tornadoes impacted Alabama the most.  Only 4 months later, a significant & historic outbreak would occur in March 1875 (while we received 8-14" of snow from the same storm).  Yet another historic, major outbreak of tornadoes would rip through the South from Mississippi to the Carolinas in February 1884.

When we compare the December 14-15, 1987 to November 21-23, 1874 severe weather reports, you can see the severe weather axis is shifted a bit.  In 1987, we saw the deadly strong F3 near Memphis, Tennessee, but likely two EF4 tornadoes in Alabama in 1874, in addition to two EF3s.  At least 16 people were killed & hundreds injured.  Tuscumbia & Montevallo, Alabama were the hardest hit communities.  +$12.5 million (inflation-adjusted) in damage occurred to Tuscumbia alone.  Evidence strongly suggests a single tornado from northwest of Demopolis to near Columbiana in central Alabama.  The Tuscumbia tornado appears to have continued to as far northeast as Lincoln County, Tennessee (southwest of Tullahoma).

Tornadoes also occurred farther to the northeast where up to quarter size hail & damaging wind also occurred.  2 people were killed & more than +30 injured (many seriously) by an apparent tornado at Keyser, West Virginia when a tornado plowed through part of a railroad roundhouse.  A tornado also resulted in 3 deaths at Trenton, New Jersey where most of the injuries occurred when it damaged a row of 6 houses.  The same storm spawned another tornado at Passaic, New Jersey.  $3 million (inflation adjusted) in damage was done alone in the Trenton area.

Some of the reports includ the severe storms being "very destructive" to structures & trees at Shippenshey, Pennsylvania & a barn was picked up & blown off its foundation before being blown down a hill & destroyed in Rye Township, Pennsylvania.  At Knoxville, Tennessee, the U.S. Weather Bureau office there measured a wind gust of 60 mph with 1.19" rain in 1 hour (2.54" total) with a surface pressure drop to 999 mb as the severe storms passed.  The temperature just prior to the storm was 68.

Many other reports of structural damage occurred to barns, buildings, signs, then trees & telegraph wires from Arkansas to New York.  Structural damage & many snapped trees was reported at Covington & Newport, Kentucky to Cincinnati, Ohio, then "up the Miami Valley".  An intense damaging wind & heavy rain with the storm was reported at Evansville & Mt. Vernon, Indiana & Henderson, Kentucky.  Destruction of a railroad bridge near Memphis may have been the result of a tornado, but it is too difficult ot ascertain & not enough damage details exist for classification to a tornado.  Many vessels in the Northeast & elsewhere to the Great Lakes saw schooners & ships overturned by the wind (gradient &/or severe storm).

Like in December 1987, damaging +60 mph gusts occurred with snow on the backside with blizzard conditions at times.  In our high winds on the back side of the bomb, "a snowstorm" was reported in Benton County with "roaring gale".

The U.S. Weather Bureau at the time remarked:

......extraordinarily violent and extensive cyclone also had a North-
western origin, and may, perhaps, be traced to the Pacific coast. It is first distinctly
visible on the night of the 20th in western Wyoming, and pursued thence a course
slightly east of northeast to southwestern Dakota, over which it passed on the
night of the 21st, moving very leisurely. On the morning of the 22d, after taking a
southeast course, it was central in northern Nebraska, and thence commenced advanc-
ing more rapidly to the Mississippi valley, which it crossed near the southern boundary
of Iowa on the evening of the same day. It now struck off in a different direction,
nearly due northeast, to Lake Huron, sweeping over that inland sea on the 22d.

The electrical phenomena of this storm were very extensive and intense, although
the cold season had so far advanced. The most terrific lightning and thunder were ob-
served at Baltimore (during the furious winds there which destroyed about $60 000
worth of property,) in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Connecticut, Massachusetts, West
Virginia, New York and along the Atlantic seacoast.

Thus, while heavy snow mas filling on the northern edges of this immense cyclone, its southern quadrants were illuminated by brilliant lightning. The effects of the storm were felt in powerful winds as far south as Cape Hatteras, where the storm wind reached 53 miles per hour..................perished into high and dangerous seas, and the cyclone immensely exerted its force to the Northwest and far South west as well as over all the interior districts.

Thunder and Lightning.-There is a marked falling off this since October, although it was abundant during the Great Storm.

The heavy rains which occurred from the 22d to the 24th, raised the Ohio and its tributaries from Pittsburgh to Cairo, and also raised the Cumberland and Tennessee, which subsequently affected the Mississippi.

A Milwaukee paper, speaking of the small number of disasters from the Great Storm of the 23d, says: “This undoubtedly due to the Cautionary Signal which kept vessels in port.” The signal was hoisted here nine hours before the storm began, and not a single vessel left port during the display, and several owners and captains afterwards stated that their cargoes and vessels were saved by obedience to the sigual. The insurance companies refused to take risks on any vessel disobeying the signal.  All along the Lakes, the benefit of the warnings was largely and most favorably commented upon.

The lowest barometers recorded were: At Buffalo, 28.93 inches—considerably be-
low the lowest record of the past two years at this station; at Alpena, an uncorrected
barometer read 28.20—the lowest reading ever taken at this station; at Dubuque,
29.07-—the lowest record of the station; at Milwaukee, 28.84 inches.

Note the above normal temperatures in our area.  Colder than normal temperatures were in the West.

Like in 1987, we turned quite mild, but lacked any severe weather here & we ended up with warm, windy weather with rain & t'storms to snow & near blizzard conditions within hours.

In 1874 press reported it "as warm as April" then "blinding snow squall with gale".

Brief Trace to 3" snow amounts occurred (most of the snow in our western & northern areas it appears).

Cold air wrapped around storm.  Temperature at Indianapolis went from 58 to 18 quickly & 52 to 12 at Chicago.

Gradient, broad, non-t'storm winds were abnormally high from the Rockies & Plains to the Midwest.

Winds peaked as storm bombed near South Bend, resulting in the hot spot of high, damaging winds in Indiana on November 23.

Note the reconstruction of the surface low.  When it was in central Illinois, it was still not overly deep, but note the very rapid strengthening as it tracked over northern Indiana & then to southern Michigan.

Note the extremely tight surface pressure gradient with our high wind event on November 23 in the third & fourth images.

These are actual surface maps of the storm.

November 22, 1874:  1 a.m.

November 22, 1874: 4:35 pm

November 23, 1874: 1 a.m. (note the very impressive deepening with storm bombing getting underway.  By 1 a.m., pressure had already tank to 979 mb at Chicago & the temperature was 57 at Indianapolis).

High winds continued November 23 at 4:35 p.m. in our area.

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Logansport
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More active weather headed our way...
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