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Local Weather History: The Top 10 Worst Ice Storms In the Viewing Area's History

Here is a look at the worst ice storms on record for the viewing area.

Posted: Nov 28, 2018 2:28 PM
Updated: Dec 4, 2018 12:29 PM

1.  March 12-13, 1991

The March 1991 ice storm caused more damage & more interruption than any of the ice storm studied in the 1842 to present period.  +2.5" ice accretions occurred, resulting in catastrophic ice damage.  Radio tower & high-tension towers were toppled, entire counties were with out power & tree damage was exceptionally high.  In fact, more than 100 steel high-tension towers were crumbled to the ground like aluminum foil.  It was very impressive!

Ice damage occurred area-wide, but the worst was in a band over Clinton, Howard & Carroll to Tippecanoe & Warren counties.  Entire cities were in the dark for days.

Power was out for more than one month in some areas & WLFI was off air for days due to damage to the tower at Rossville from the ice.

Trees, powerlines made many roads impassable for more than a week, as well.  It was overwhelming the amount of clean-up needed & many power companies were called from other states to come in & help.  This damage was all very similar to the historic 2008 ice storm along & south of the Ohio River.  Damage from the 1991 ice storm was estimated at $183 million (inflation-adjusted).  This was one of the key historic weather events of our viewing area in 1830-present weather history.

Winds also gusted to 40 mph toward the end of the ice storm, resulted in enhanced damage.

Like many other ice storms, this icing was widespread from Kansas to New York.  Damage similar to our area was seen,especially over Ohio, Pennsylvania & New York.

Clinton County ice storm video special:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51r14vXK2zU

Carroll County ice storm video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTDrfGnSw28

Same ice storm event, Rochester, New York:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTXcaynJZ6U&list=PLVicyeikHiAvqtgxU6YEl4QcbNYAhasF_

This picture is from Mary Anne in Remington, taken from Kentland after the ice storm.

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2.  January 8-9, 1930

Sleet at the onset culminated to hours of freezing rain January 8-9, 1930.  Damage to trees & power lines was extensive, especially in the southern & southeastern half of the viewing area.  Entire counties were without power & roads impassable. 

This was part of a historic ice storm from northern Texas to northwestern Ohio.  Tens of millions of dollars in damage resulted.  For the nation as a whole, this was the worst U.S. ice storm until the major ice storm south of our area from Texas to the mid-Atlantic in 1951.

Flooding occurred on area rivers & streams with extensive flooding across the southern half of Indiana with heavy rainfall.

In the 1930 storm, impressive maximum ice accretions of 2" occurred on surfaces in Tippecanoe, Montgomery, Clinton & Howard counties. 

Frankfort picked up 2.58" of liquid, with all of it, except a trace of sleet & snow, falling as freezing rain.  At West Lafayette, 2.72" fell with 0.5" of sleet & up to 1.25" of ice accretion.  The 2.49" at Crawfordsville was all freezing rain with damaging accumulations.  The 0.88" at Rensselaer was largely sleet with 1" measured & some freezing rain.  The lowest ice accumulations were in northern Newton County with 3" of snow & sleet & little ice near Morocco.  This melted down to 1.42" of liquid.

Overall, this was overall the worst, most-damaging ice storm until 1947, followed by 1991.

Looking north on S. Clay Street from E. Armstrong Street in Frankfort (photo courtesy of Indiana Memory collection):

(Courtesy:  Ball State Repository):

Surface maps:

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3.  February 2-4, 1883

This ice storm ranks as one of the greats in the viewing area.  This band of damaging icing was the same band of icing that hit central Illinois, along with thunder & lightning.  Note scene from Lincoln, Illinois in the image below, courtesy of the National Weather Service.  There was actually less sleet & snow (than in this picture) & greater icing in White, Benton, Cass counties the viewing area.  Icing occurred area-wide, but it was reportedly the worst in Benton & White to Cass counties.

It ended up changing to rain for a while in West Lafayette, at Purdue University after 0.75" of ice.  It stayed as freezing rain much longer north & westward in the area with 2" of ice accretion reported in White County.  Of interest, it the fact that thunder & lightning occurred in the early morning hours of February 3 at Purdue with the freezing rain.

It was the worst icing since the 1871 ice storm in the same area & the worst until the 1909 event.  This ice storm was part of a month of historic flooding on rivers with this ice storm being a big precipitation event, followed by multiple rounds of heavy rainfall mid & late month.

At Purdue University, it was one of the wettest Februarys on record with 7.43".  3.27" of liquid fell in the ice storm event

The Arctic air was entrenced in place with a low of -6 & a high of 14 on February 1.  This -6 was the lowest temperature of the entire month, which turned out to be quite mild!  The low on the morning of February 2 was 8 at West Lafayette on the morning of February 2 with a late high of 30.

After hours of freezing rain with temperatures 30-32, the high reached 37 on February 3 with the changeover to rain.

Surface map................note the similarities to the 1930 ice storm.

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4.  February 14-15, 1909

From Missouri to Ontario, this was a devastating ice storm.  This ice storm was highly-impactful in our viewing area with many trees & powerlines downed with an ice storm followed by snow.  Up to 1.5" of ice accumulated & that round of snowfall followed at the end of the storm with up to 8"!  The wet, gloppy snow tended to add to the weight of the ice, causing further tree damage.

Liquid amounts included:

4.77"  Judyville (Warren County)    4.7" of that was snow after damaging icing.

2.62"  Logansport  No snowfall amount is down, but damaging icing was reported.

2.24"  Rensselaer  6.1" of snow fell with the icing.

2.00"  Rochester  8" of snow fell after the icing.

1.85"  Kokomo  No snowfall amount is written down.

1.80"  Delphi  3.5" of snow with damaging icing of up to 1".

1.77"  West Lafayette  2.3" of snow with icing.

1.47"  Veedersburg  2.5" of snow after icing.

Per local press, the greatest ice accumulations occur over Benton, White to Cass counties.

This image is from the same ice storm band.......taken at Findlay, Ohio.

Surface maps:

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5.  January 29-30, 1947

Another highly-damaging ice storm hit the area in early 1947.  So extensive was the damage to the power grid that rates went up substantially to fix the damage. 

The worst icing was in Carroll, Cass, Howard & Miami counties, where accretions of 1.75" were reported.  However, ice accretion of up to 0.5" occurred viewing area-wide.  Even in northern Jasper County, the 1.40" of liquid only added up to 0.1" of sleet & snow before falling as mainly freezing rain. 

The 2.14" of rainfall at Delphi was all freezing rain, except for a trace of snow at the end.  2.15" at Kokomo & 2.25" at Burlington was all freezing rain.  1.97" at Crawfordsville was all freezing rain, as was the 1.95" at Peru.

At the Purdue Airport, the 1.56" of liquid was mostly freezing rain, except for a trace of snow. 

Bermuda high pumping deep tropical moisture northward with cold air bleeding in via Arctic high over Manitoba & lift of the warm, moist air over a warm front resulted in the ice storm.

Images courtesy of Indiana Memory Digital Collection (taken actually in Huntington County, Indiana, near Markle):

Surface maps:

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6.  February 17-18, 1871

Snow, sleet & freezing rain hammered the northern part of the viewing area, but it was all freezing rain elsewhere.  In fact, it was the worst ice storm until 1883 & reportedly the worst since before the Civil War.  Heavy tree damage was noted in White County with reports that saplings were completely bent to the ground & large chunks of trees snapped.  Not accumulation amounts are given, but 2.03" fell at Indianapolis as rain with upper 40s to 50.  This shows a shows a moisture-rich storm system for an ice storm & a sharp warm front, resulting perhaps in some convective elements with the rainfall.  This may have enhanced the icing in the band over White County.  Damage points to 2" of ice, when compared to other events.

This image is just north of us in Porter County.  There, like Jasper, Newton, Pulaski there was a blanket of sleet & snow, but also icing, as seen in the picture.

Surface map:

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7.  January 20, 1920

This ice storms inspired a new era in meteorology.  This storm was so destructive & widespread that it inspired study of what was happening in the troposphere during these events.  With early, primitive weather balloons released during this time, a clear summary of the temperature profile was received.  So, much more was understood about how sleet & freezing rain develop given the new balloon data gathered in this event.

In our area, accumulations were similar to the 2008 ice storm with up to 0.70".  Some sleet & snow also occurred.  Limbs & powerlines came down with the weight of the ice accretion.  Widespread damaging icing occurred from Oklahoma to New York, Massachusetts, then eventually to Maine.  This ice storm was the most destructive in New York with Hudson Valley orchards devastated & destructive icing even reported in New York City (as the Arctic air wedged in) before changing to rain.

Note in the map below how the freezing line is south of our area, but the observations show rain with some sleet.  Note the massive sleet storm that occurred with a wedge of Arctic air in the Northeast.  Also note how it was near 60 in southeastern Indiana, but more like 25-30 here.

Some images from the U.S. Weather Bureau study:

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8.  December 18-19, 2008

Up to 0.70" of ice accumulated with this ice storm, most of it within a 4-hour period in the early morning of December 19, making it the worst since the historic storm of March 1991.  Trees, limbs & powerlines came down.  In fact, at one point, 90% of Logansport was without power, as was much of Monticello.

This all occurred as warm, moist air was thrust up & over a warm front.  This air was then pushed upward over an early-season Arctic airmass over the area, resulting in many hours of wintry precipitation from snow & sleet to the freezing rain.  The window of freezing rain obviously caused the most headaches!

Mary Anne, Remington:

Diana Marion, Monticello:

Stuart Sullivan, Twelve Mile (Cass County):

Ben Bonsett, Logansport:

Surface maps (note how this was a very similar set-up to the 1947 ice storm):

Here is a 12:25 a.m. regional radar image (without the winter mask or pink, purple, blue, green colors depicting mix, ice, snow, rain) on December 19.  Note the bright banding of the sleet along the Kankakee River & the moderate to heavy freezing rain elsewhere:

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9.  April 3-4, 1957

Unseasonably cold Arctic air bled south, while the warmth of early April, with deep moisture (& even a squall line of storms south of the area) led to this ice storm.

This late-season ice storm caused tree & powerline damage north of Route 26.  It was especially bad along & north of U.S. 24. 

Heavy rain also occurred as temperatures warmed, causing creeks & streams to swell & flood.  Wabash River spilled over its bank in the ensuing, longer-duration lowland flooding event.

Surface maps:

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February 11-12, 1842

This damaging ice storm reportedly grounded thousands & thousands of flocks of geese on the prairies.  Wings covered in ice, it was reported that it was hard for them to flying in the drying freezing rain.  Many were captured by animals & humans alike as they tried to take flight or just ran as quickly as they could.

Tree saplings were bent completley to ground & limbs broken by the ice accretion in White & Tippecanoe counties.  Prairie grass was completely matted & flattened like a roller had moved over it, due to the heavy ice accretion.

Icing was observed in January 1846 & 1847, as well as 1855, but not as much as the February 1842 icing episode.

The 1841-42 was reportedly much milder than the winter to come in 1842-43.  There was a pronounced spring spell in the 1842-43.  The rest of the winter was brutal.

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