Local Weather History: Remembering a Severe Weather Outbreak in Late October 1866

October has had its share of severe weather as we look back through local weather history. Here are accounts of an outbreak in October 1866.

Posted: Oct 17, 2018 4:13 PM
Updated: Oct 17, 2018 4:44 PM

Storm reports map of the October 21, 1866 outbreak:

A severe weather outbreak struck the region in the late afternoon-evening of October 21, 1866. At least eight tornadoes occurred, with wind damage & also large hail. This outbreak occurred just 11 days after a deadly tornado tore through Franklin, Indiana (south of Indianapolis). On that same day, large to very large hail was reported in western & central North Carolina & central Tennessee.  The October 21 outbreak certainly affected the viewing & may have spawned at least one damaging tornado.

At Greencastle, Indiana, two large business blocks were demolished by likely tornado. At Indianapolis, the National Road Bridge over the White River was partially unroofed and several homes were heavily damaged or demolished. Witnesses reported “roofs and trees careening through the air” near Indianapolis. All crops & fences in that region & northward into our viewing area were reportedly damaged or destroyed. Trees blocked the railroad from Crawfordsville to Greencastle, Indiana (Crawfordsville residents called it “the great storm”).

These are brief accounts I gleaned in local press with include the reports of an apparent tornado in Lafayette of possibly EF1 to EF2 strength & wind damage in the area.

Tornado. A tornado swept over this city about 8 o'clock last evening. It came from the southwest, and striking the new river bridge, stripped the roof from the middle and east span in a twinkling, filling the air with the flying shingles and the timbers of the wreck. A considerable portion of the roof of the east span lodged on the bank of the canal, and at the waters edge, but the most of it fell into the river and was swept down by the current. We hear of some damage in other parts of the city. A brickwood-house at the residence of Moses Fowler was partially demolished, Switzer Hall on the market space was unroofed, innumerable trees wer blown down, and several conservative old fences and cow sheds succumbed to the pressure. -Lafayette Courier.

Evansville Journal Evansville, Indiana October 25, 1866 Page 2

The great storm of Sunday afternoon and evening, of which our dispatches furnish full accounts, seems to have swept over a wide extent of country............Railroad trains were delayed by trees being blown across tho track and tho storm prevailed all over the western part of the State.

Crawfordsville Weekly Journal,Crawfordsville, 25 October 1866 Page 2

Other regional reports include a a fast-moving tornado that slammed into the village of Larkinsburg, northwest Clay County, Illinois in the evening, demolishing every home but two. Dozens & dozens were injured, but remarkably only one person killed, though many livestock perished in the storm. This demolished Larkinsburg to such a degree that it never recovered, despite being the first settlement in that part of the county, on a track toward economic prosperity. Very little remains of the village today.

Moving southwest to northeast, this storm may have been the same one that produced a tornado in the heart of St. Louis just hours earlier with damage path extending to O’Fallon, Illinois. There, it moved northeast, 4:30 p.m. It reportedly “seemed to twist like a screw” & was embedded in a larger swath of significant, highly-damaging straight-line winds/downbursts. Several people were seriously injured with scores of buildings demolished & hundreds damaged in the heart of St. Louis. Lots of larger hail also fell. Next morning’s observation showed that the sky was completely clear & it was windy, crisp & cool.

At Evansville, a new four-story marble front building was blown down & a nearby building under construction was demolished. Homes were damaged & trees toppled in the city.  Other damage in the city consisted of downed trees & damaged outbuildings. Tornado & wind damage was reported at Cairo, Illinois

Trees were toppled, fences destroyed & barns damaged/destroyed in Wayne, Knox, Daviess, Henderson counties, per newspapers from the time.

At Plymouth, Indiana (near Fort Wayne), damage was reported, while 5 people were killed & 12 injured by the downing of buildings by intense wind gust at Chicago. Wind damage was also reported at Milwaukee & Detroit.

Damage was reportedly widespread & “general” over the western half of Indiana & over Illinois. “Immense” wind damage was also reported around Louisville, Kentucky (one particular building heavily damaged) with “slight” wind damage at Cincinnati, Ohio.

Structural damage & tornadoes were also reported near Springfield & Bloomington, Illinois.

The worst of the damage seemed to have been concentrated in veins of persistent supercells, embedded supercells in a squall line &/or perhaps LEWPs.

The New Harmony, Indiana temperature (southwest Indiana) on the afternoon of the outbreak read 77 at 2 p.m. & was 59 at 7 a.m. At daybreak, after the outbreak (the thermometer was 67, but dropped to 65 by 2 p.m. & dropped to the 50s by late in the day. After this, much colder weather arrived & low stratus/stratocumulus clouds pivoted in from the northwest over a good part of the outbreak area, according to observations. Two days after the event snow showers/flurries were reported at Chicago & over northern Indiana with strong, cold winds.

Interestingly, there were no severe weather reported south or southeast of Cairo, Illinois to the Louisville, Kentucky area.

Other newspaper accounts:

The Storm In Indiana.

.......At Indianapolis considerable damage was done................The National Road Bridge over White River was partially unroofed and several houses were blown down or severely injured. The fences and standing crops in the surrounding country were blown down. At Greencastle, two large business blocks were demolished. At Evansville, a new four-story marble front building was blown down. The storm was general in the western part of the state.

The National Republican Washington D.C. October 24, 1866 Page 2


Sitting in our office on Sunday night we thought that the tornado which passed over our city at nine o’clock was but a small affair, nor did we begin to appreciate its force until when returning home, about twelve, we found branches of trees, end other movable articles, obstructing the sidewalk which we were traversing.

Yesterday morning we made a voyage of discovery and ascertained the following damage to havs been done. Commencing at the west, we found that the roof of Gelsendorff's flouring mill had been torn off, the west gable end of the building (of brick) blown in, and the molting apparatus and machinery considerably damaged by water. One piece of the roof, in falling, struck the office at the side of the mill and completely demolished it, while other pieces were scattered around promiscuously, one ol them having struck a bouse on the other side of the street and made quite a hole In the weather boarding. Another building, fifty by one hundred and twenty feet, a frame one in the rear of the woolen factory, belonging to the same owner, and which had been used as a drying house, was completely destroyed, many portions being carried to tho east side of the canal. The loss is estimated at $3,000.

In Stringtown Michael Vanblaricum lost the front gable end of his grocery, and the wing of his dwelling was separated from the main building, and the plastering considerably injured. Mrs. Turbervllle, also, had the front gable end of a small building used as a grocery, blown out. The damage In these cases was considerable.

The part of the east end of White River bridge containing the sign, etc., was torn off, and the White River saloon, a brick building, lost a gable end. At this place, Conductor Mendenhall, of the Citizens Street Railway, had rather a narrow escape. His car was on the switch, waiting for the arrival of another, when the wind took the place of the mule power and moved him out with his car, just In time to escape the falling brick of the saloon.

On Maryland street, between Delaware and Alabama, the building being erected for a Turner hall, and which was one story high, had the south and about half of the east wall blown down, equaling a loss of $300. Farther east, on the corner of Michigan and Noble streets, the house of Mr. Felix Deitch lost about one-third of the roof, while one-half the remainder was broken in, and almost the entire plastering of tbe upper story of the house broken through, or so saturated with water as to ruin it. His repairs will amount to about $500. The gable end of the Fifth Ward school house was also caved in.

These are the only cases of damage that we could learn of, except the blowing down of shade trees or the breaking off of their limbs, and our citizens have good cause to congratulate themselves that they are to few, when a storm, possessing the power the one has displayed on the Gelsendorff premises, has passed through the very heart of our city.

The passenger train on the Jeffersonville Railroad, yesterday morning, was delayed nearly three hours by a tree having been blown down across the track, by the storm of the night previous. Connections missed was the natural result.

Indiana Daily Herald Indianapolis, Indiana October 23, 1866 Page 4

The weather in this region has been changing from bad to worse lately in this region. A severe storm of wind and rain Sunday night was surrendered bv cold weather and a flurry of snow. Overcoats and comforters were at once fished from the bottom of chests and drawers, smoke curled from every chimney, and hot stoves became suddenly comfortable and popular. But moderation soon began to claim the season as her own and a we write the snow is melting. We are not ready quite for wintry blasts. We hope for many bright days yet before winter comes in earnest.....

Marshall County Republican Plymouth, Indiana October 25, 1866 Page 3

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