Snowfall Information & Reconstructing an 1854 Winter Severe Weather Outbreak

February 5th, 2013 at 9:50 pm by under Chad's WLFI Weather Blog

Snowfall data is largely NWS COOP site Purdue Ag Farm.  Some of it is combined in some years, as I found in a few “0″ Januaries, there was actually snow in West Lafayette, making some of the “0″ Januaries seemingly inaccurate.  For example, in 1990, Ag Farm had “0″ in January, but Purdue & Throckmorton Ag Farm sites had 1-2″ & WLFI has 1.5″, so this may have been a mistake in the data or the snow melted before observation time.  Some of the data in the Ag Farm COOP set has 1″ falling on some days & 10″ being on the ground after that 1″, obviously an error, so I had to look at stations around that site to give the most accurate picture of snowfall for the Lafayette/West Lafayette area.

I noticed last year that I would measure 3″ of snowfall at the station for an event & it would all melt off before 7 a.m. the next morning. after falling in the afternoon.  At the 7 a.m. observation time the next morning at the Ag Farm it would read “0″ even though we did have 3″, but it had melted.  This would mislead you to believe much less snowfall occurred last winter than what actually fell. 

So, some of the “0″ months were misleading & I replaced them with the COOP station near Purdue data (FCWOS) with a look at the fragmented WLFI weather records taken during the 1990s & 2000s before I started consistent, daily observations at WLFI in 2009.

Data before 1901 is taken on the Purdue University campus at the original Civil Engineering building.  Data prior to 1887 is from Lafayette.

TOP LEAST SNOWY JANUARIES IN WEST LAFAYETTE

1. 0  1908, 1932, 1944, 1989

2.  Trace  1900

3.  0.2″  1898, 1916, 1973

4.  0.3″  1998

5.  0.5″  1919

6.  0.7″  1896

7.  0.8″  1933

8.  1.0″  1986, 2013

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THOSE TOP 8 LEAST SNOWY JANUARIES (IN TERMS OF SNOWFALL)

DID DROUGHT FOLLOW IN THOSE YEARS?

Jan.    Feb.    Mar.    Apr.

1896   0       0.7″   0.8″     9.5″    Trace (on 3 days)

Drought?  No.  Very wet summer with normal rainfall in the spring.  In July, 10″ of rainfall occurred at West Lafayette with

frequent heavy t’storms & very high dew points  August was wet & the fall had normal rainfall.  1894-95 & 1897 were major drought years, however

This was after drought & record heat in the fall of 1891 & major drought & record heat wave in the summer of 1887 after similar conditions in the summer of 1881.

1898   0.2″   2.9″    6.3″      0

Drought?  No.  Rainfall was normal in the spring & summer with slightly-below rainfall in late fall.  1897 was a major drought year, however.

1908   0         14″       0          0

Drought?  Yes.  Significant Drought July-November (1.84″ Aug. 1-Nov. 30)…Reaches Extreme Status

1916   0.2″     4″        3.6″      0

Drought?  Yes.  August to October

1919   0.5″     0.2″    3.5″       0

Drought?  Sort of.  Abnormally Dry August-September

1932   0         0.5″     8.5″     0.2″

Drought?  Yes.  April to August

1933   0.8″    2″         7.5″     0

Drought?  Yes.  Significant Drought (Only 0.32″ in June…….Reaches Extreme Status)

1944   0         9.7″     3.3″      0

Drought?  Yes.  June-December (Reaches Extreme Drought by November)

1973   0.2″     1″         2″        0.5″

Drought?  No.  Above-Normal Rainfall Over Summer & Normal Rainfall In Fall

1986    1″      8.3″      1″          0

Drought?  No.  Ample Rainfall Over Summer & Fall (Very Wet May & September)

1989   0         7″         1″         0

Drought?  No.  Ample Rainfall

1998   0.3″    0          4″          0

Drought?  Sort of.  Wet Until July (Very Wet at Times)  August-September Only 2.26″ with Abnormal Dryness

2013    1″        ?          ?           ?

JANUARY 20, 1854 SEVERE WEATHER OUTBREAK

In the Annual Report of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture, it states that an “unequaled storm” occurred at Indianapolis on January 20 with hail that “drifted into hills” & that some places “blew a tornado”.  The temperature also dropped from 60 to near 0 in 24 hours.  In the second image, I have taken reports from the newspapers, early government weather observers, that early tornado survey, as well as diaries to plot storm reports.

Article from the New York Times:

AWFUL TORNADO IN OHIO — THE TOWN OF BRANDON AMLOST SWEPT AWAY — MOUNT VERNON PARTLY INUNDATED — IMMENSE DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY.

Mount Vernon, (Ohio,) Saturday, Jan. 21.
Yesterday afternoon this section of the country was visited by the
heaviest storm of wind, rain, thunder and lightning, that we have experienced since 1828. A perfect tornado was experienced some six miles south of this. The town of Brandon was almost entirely destroyed, scarcely a house being left to mark the site of the place. DR. WHEATON was seriously, if not mortally injured, and a MRS. SMITH was also badly hurt. The tornado was about half a mile wide, tearing up everything in its track, but the full extent of the damage we have not yet been able to learn. Our streams have overflowed their banks, and EBENEZER JENKINS, while attempting to cross Armstrong River last evening, was thrown from his buggy and drowned. BUCKINGHAM & Co’s stable was struck by lightning and destroyed. The lower part of our town was almost inundated by the tremendous quantity of rain that fell, and out streets look more like rivers than thoroughfares. The damage must be very heavy, as the sectioni through which the storm passed was thickly settled.

Here’s a newspaper article from Feb. 14, 1854:

“To-day, about 4 o’clock, P. M., the town of Harrison, (twenty miles northwest of Cincinnati) was visited by a fearful and destructive tornado, tearing down dwellings, stables, &c. The course of the current of air was nearly from southwest to northeast, and the width of its track was about one hundred yards. A thunder shower came on from about N.W., with indications of a heavy rain which was realized. Probably ten or fifteen minutes after the commencement of the rain, the tornado came down the White Water Hills, northwest of town, and about west of GOODLEY’S Mill, and struck the town in the direction of the Presbyterian Church, and crossing the pike near the east end of the town. It left in its track such destruction and desolation as we have never before seen. Houses, stables, fences, trees and out-buildings were prostrated, and in many cases blown into the adjoining lots. We were on the ground in a few minutes after the destruction, and gathered up in a hasty manner the items of destruction and loss. There are of course many omissions in the individual losses. A young man by the name of WM. PRUDEN, had his leg broken, and IRONAS HOMAN was dangerously wounded, and several others are more or less injured; but no lives lost. It is a miracle, too, for several houses and shops were entirely blown down.”

Below is an early NWS-type tornado survey in the the American Journal of Science & Arts of November 1854 from O.N. Stoddard of Miami University in Ohio.  He calculated the winds in one particular twister in Knox County, Ohio peaking at 173 mph, based on the damage.  This would equate to an EF4 tornado by today’s standards.

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