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Local Weather History: The Historic 1891 Late September Heatwave

Late September 1891 saw the hottest, most persistent heat wave so late in the season on record.

Posted: Sep 15, 2021 9:17 PM
Updated: Sep 23, 2021 9:30 PM

Accompanying image is Purdue University, 1891. 

Image courtesy of Purdue Special Collections & E-Archives:

https://earchives.lib.purdue.edu/digital/collection/pbuildings/id/2268/rec/1

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The most significant heat wave so late in the season occurred in late September 1891.

To be near 100 in late September &/or 12 days of 90s so late is a once in a century event.

The persistent heat waves & significant droughts of 1881 & 1887 & the mid 1890s have garnered much attention, but 1891 saw a streak of heat so late in the season, it still beats all modern records.  Unusually dry weather accompanied the heat wave with some reporting stations from the Tennessee to Ohio Valleys & Midwest seeing 0.00" precipitation for the month.

The late September 1891 heat wave was known for its persistence, not only here, but all over the central & eastern U.S.

With the misery of the heat, local Typhoid outbreaks were emerging, especially in south-central Indiana & Diptheria outbreaks were closing schools.  All Lafayette school were closed in late September from the outbreak.

At Purdue, you can see that most of the September 17-27 records highs have yet to be broken.  1940 rivaled it briefly, the persistence has not been eclipsed.

The 96 on September 30 was the highest temperature so late in the year until 96 on September 30, 1953.

It is also important to note that no healthy rainfalls occurred in our viewing area until November 8-10, 1891.  2.74" fell during that period at Purdue.

Purdue University weather observations for September 1891 (every day September 16-27 reached the 90s with a peak of 96 on the 26th):

September 1891 was exceptionally dry over a large amount of real estate in the Lower 48.  The South & the Southern Plains were exceptions with above normal rainfall.

From Virginia to Mississippi to Missouri to Nebraska to Montana & then over Wisconsin & over New England, most sites reported less than 1" of rainfall & some saw 0.00".

Drought was a topic of conversation & extensive wildfires developed in Wisconsin & the Dakotas to Minnesota.  Wildfires were also reported in the Ozarks of Missouri & Arkansas.

In Indiana, the very dry weather & rapid drying & maturation of corn was well-noted.

"Throughout the State there is a complaint of the drought" was a common statement in local press.

Wildfires were widespread in Minnesota, but rainfall was reported to have brought the flames "under control" on September 28.

Moderate to Severe Drought occurred June-August 1891 from Minnesota & Wisconsin to Iowa & Illinois & also over parts of the Southeast.

The Southwest & West was unusually wet.

The center of the greatest temperature anomalies in the Northern Hemisphere for September 15-27, 1891 were over the Midwest.

However, it is possible that it was just as anomalously warm in western Russia to the Ukraine, but lack of widespread observation station prevented greater analysis of the warmth.

There are signs of extensive warmth in that area & also parts of the Middle East. 

The set-up is a bit similar to March 2012 when Russia & Ukraine were unusually warm like we were.  The same places that were unusually cool in mid to late September 1891 were similarly anomalously cool in March 2012.

Upper winds show the highly-loopy upper jet.  Note the blocking ridge around & east of Greenland & another from the Aleutians to the Northern & Central Pacific.  Hot, dry, intense upper ridge was over the central U.S. & over Russia & the Ukraine in mid to late September 1891.

Similar set-up occurred in March 2012:

The greatest surface temperature anomalies in mid to late September were concentrated from Indiana to Illinois, parts of Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin & Minnesota.

The reconstructions also show an anomalous south to southwest wind for that period, especially in Nebraska & Kansas.

This is another view of that south to southwest wind anomaly.

In terms of Omega or vertical velocity, you can see the overall sinking air with the very dry, hot airmass in the Midwest, but the high Omega values, which lines up with the above normal rainfall in the High Plains & Southwest to West.

Between September 8 & October 14, four hurricanes & two tropical storms affected areas from the western Caribbean to Newfoundland.

Two tropical storms hit the Florida Peninsula between October 4 & 10, while 3 of the 4 hurricanes affected the Canadian Maritimes.

This followed the Great San Martinique Hurricane that hit south Florida in late August.

Note the August-November tropical storm & hurricane tracks with the heavy tropical rains with the storms staying offshore.  This helped to keep the eastern & central U.S. drier than normal.

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