Local Weather History: November 22, 1992 Tornadoes

We were on the northern edge of this outbreak, which produced at least 97 tornadoes from Indiana to Texas to South Carolina & Virginia.

Posted: Nov 22, 2020 3:03 PM
Updated: Nov 24, 2020 12:36 AM

November 20-22, 1992 saw a significant long-lived tornado outbreak across the South from Texas to the Carolinas & Maryland.

However, the outbreak was in two pieces; the South & East & then in Indiana, Ohio & northern Kentucky.  The outbreak farther north was associated with the strong cold upper low, cold air aloft with sunshine appearing in very high helicity & shear environment.

The outbreak in the South was a larger outbreak with the cold front & very strong upper jet streak. 

It ended up being one of the largest tornado outbreaks on record for Indiana with 15 confirmed tornadoes. 6 were F3s & one was an F4......very impressive outbreak indeed.  Two tornadoes occurred in our viewing area, both being in Montgomery County.  One was one of the F3s.  It cut a path of heavy destruction through forests around Big Raccoon Creek after crossing IN 236.  It then damaged 50 farms across southern Montgomery County amounting to $5 million (inflation adjusted).  Quarter- to golfball-sized hail was also reported with this storm.

A brief F1 occurred just east of Parkersburg.

97 is the confirmed total, but it may have been as many as 104. 

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I remember this day like it was yesterday.  I was 12 years old living 35 miles southwest of Bloomington.  It was a Sunday & I remember being outside & seeing the low stratus clouds break, revealing an anvil overspreading the sun, dimming it into a faint ball near midday with a south wind.  It also felt uncommonly warm & humid compared to the previous day & after all of the rain in the night.  I remember seeing this t'storm anvil shield thinking, "this is like spring or summer".  I then remember hearing Dad talking about severe storms possible.

I remember gazing up & the sun looked exactly like this with broken cumulus/stratocumulus as the anvil from the storms overspread the sun.

(Image courtesy of Janne Naukkarinen):

We actually had a family get-together for Thanksgiving about 5 miles away at my great uncle's home in Raglesville, Indiana (my great Uncle Carl & Aunt Dorothy), so we actually left as the t'storm moved in.  It was absolutely pouring huge rain drops & it began to hail (pea-sized).  I then remember how quickly the sun began to come out seemingly as the storm had just began.  On the way to my great uncle's there was a pronounced rainbow in the east as it poured rain with bits of pea hail continuing, all the while sun began to appear with clearing in the west.

The storm left quickly & remember the dark sky in the east with the rainbow as the rain had just ended at our destination.

I remember it looking exactly like this looking east as the downpour & hail was occurring & when it had ended by the time we arrived at my great uncle's home.

(Image courtesy of the Las Vegas Journal-Review):

It was a beautiful rest of the day!  There were just some spotty fair weather cumulus humilis with a howling southwest wind!  I just remember walking with some cousins to the tree line behind the house & barn & seeing the bright green wheat field with the brilliant sunshine with all of the mud & all of the standing water in the feed lot for beef cattle.  It still felt pretty good outside & I was able to go outside upon arrival at home after the lunch.  It was sunny & clear in the late afternoon, but I specifically remember it getting cooler, but the wind was strong!  The bank of low clouds in the west was also a memory.

I remember seeing coverage of the weather on television, but I do not remember any other weather events after that until the white Christmas we had!  We had 2" of snow on Christmas morning!  It was the first White Christmas I every had as a kid, so it was exciting!

This was the visible image as the storm was moving over my location at that time southwest of Bloomington:

This is the IR satellite image from November 22, 1992, 7 a.m.  You can see the rainfall up here in our area & the tornado outbreak from Kentucky to Alabama & Georgia.

At 10 a.m. image shows the rainfall advancing northeastward through our area & the slot of rain-free weather with cloud break.

Cumulus towers were developing from southeast Illinois to western Kentucky.  You can see the brighter white cloud lines there.  These were the beginnings of that arc of severe t'storms.

Outlook at 7 a.m. November 22 from NSSFC or National Severe Storms Forecast Center (today Storm Prediction Center or SPC) shows the SLIGHT RISK well south & southeast of the area.

The new Convective Outlook out at 10 a.m. on Sunday, November 22 shows the MODERATE RISK to as far north as near Terre Haute, but an extremely sharp cut-off to the SLIGHT.

Our viewing area never ended up in the SLIGHT, nor did the Indianapolis area, areas that saw the bulk of the tornado outbreak.  The thinking was that the tornado risk with the upper low would be more over southern Indiana & Kentucky than a bit farther north.  The cloud breaks & warming actually moved farther north & overspread the area of highest shear, helicity (spin) & cold air aloft, leading to the hail & tornado outbreak.  Certainly, this was an overperforming round of storms.

Instability seemed to be a question so far to the north.  This is another great example of always remaining on-guard when severe risk is even nearby & when uncertainties arise in the forecast.

Of other interest was the fact that the South never ended up in a HIGH RISK for the outbreak.  It seemed with 1992 technology & model spatial data, it was hard to hone in on a zone of greatest severe weather risk.  With 1992 technology no Tornado Warning was even issued for the violent Jackson, Mississippi area tornado.  It would not be until widespread Doppler installation in 1994 that tornado warning accuracy would improve greatly. 

First Tornado Watch for Indiana was issued at 10 a.m.  An additional Tornado Watch followed by 1 p.m. farther to the north & northeast across central & southeastern Indiana. 

By 7 p.m., Tornado Watches were lined up to far western Pennsylvania.  The intense damage from the violent F4 in southeastern Indiana & the magnitude of the outbreak in central & southern Indiana was a real catalyst to line up the watches through the Ohio Valley.

For these tornadoes.......right there is the key....the strong upper low, the cold air aloft with much low gP heights shown.  Also note the very high helicity of up to +500 m2/s2 overlaying an area of 250 to as much as 400 J/kg CAPE that was becoming surface based with heating from some sunshine.  Also, 5,000' winds were up around 50 mph aimed right at Indiana.

November 21-22, 1992 7 a.m.-7 p.m. reports:

November 22-23, 1992 7 a.m.-7 p.m. reports (some reports appear to be missing on this map, including the large hail reports in the NCDC archives from Montgomery County):

This is historic footage as this tornado had just first developed near Worthville, Kentucky (Carroll County, Kentucky, south of Vevay, Indiana).  It would get much larger & turn violent rapidly (as you can see in the footage), carving a 27-mile path to southeast Indiana.  It quickly developed multiple vortices & .  One person was killed & 10 were injured. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjOfaDjudQw

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