Heavy rain fell during January over the Ohio Valley with most areas receiving 6 to 12 inches for the month. Most of the rain fell on the 6-8th and the 11-12th with flooding occurring through late month as a result. The heaviest rain fell over the southern parts of the valley and Kentucky.
The Ohio River flooded and the high water caused the tributaries to flood, mainly in southern Indiana and Ohio. The greatest damage occurred in Kentucky along the Green River. The river reached widths of 2-5 miles in parts of Hopkins County, forcing residents to seek higher ground. The water remained high for several days, mainly over rural areas.
There was extensive damage to trees, electrical wires, and telephone services across the northern third of Illinois, including Chicago. During the overnight hours of February 20th and through 3 p.m. on the 21st, rain fell and froze on contact. Telephone lines were knocked down along with many trees from the weight of the ice. Strong winds moved in on the 22nd, breaking up most of the ice.
It was on the 13th of March that a deep area of low pressure moved out of the Rockies and into Texas, and then into Kansas that afternoon. At this time, strong southerly winds were developing across the midwest and northwest winds over the Northern Plains. These strong south winds pulled warm, moist Gulf air north into the Ohio Valley where temperatures reached the 60s, 70s, and 80s, setting many records for that early in the year. Meanwhile, in South Dakota and Nebraska temperatures had fallen 20-30 degrees, with heavy snow and sleet in Illinois. Iowa had a recorded pressure of 977 mb on the 14th. This was one of the lowest pressure readings to date across the Midwest, and the resulting impact from this large storm system was considerable loss of life and property.
The strong winds ahead of the system supported the development of storms with heavy rain and tornadoes over parts of Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia. The more notable tornadoes of this day originated in Hickory Flat, Mississippi around noon, killing one person. The same storm moved into Tennessee near Middletown where five more people were killed. It then moved on to Finger and McNairy. Seven miles east of Henderson three people were killed, then it moved onto Lexington around 2:15 pm where 3 more people were killed and a number of substantial buildings were damaged. The storm then continued moving northeast into the town of Cavvia and then Camden where a man was killed. At the same time this storm was occurring, around 2:30 pm another tornado struck Tishomingo, Mississippi killing two people and “every residence in the town was more or less injured". Another storm in northeast Hardeman County Tennessee killed six people.
By this time light rain and strong southerly gale force winds were occurring across most of the Ohio Valley. A series of violent storms occurred with this storm system, generally south of the Ohio Valley. Records show that during this time, a number of devastating tornadic storms formed over the Gulf and southeast states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana between the 13th and the 15th.
During the afternoon of March 13th, tornadic storms formed from Mississippi to Tennessee. In Tennessee, the tornadoes passed over western and central portions of the state, resulting in at least 20 known fatalities and more than 100 injuries with damages over $500,000. The first storm formed in Mississippi around 1:00 p.m. in Pontotoc County. This particular tornado moved through the towns of Algoma, Belden, Guntown, and Tishomingo resulting in multiple fatalities (exact number unknown) and considerable damage. The path was estimated to be 3/4 of a mile wide. The storm then moved into the Tennessee counties of Hardeman and McNairy for eight miles. The same system continued into Lexington and Henderson Counties where 50 homes and more public buildings were destroyed. The storm then moved into Kentucky near Lamont in Robertson County.
The second storm originated in western Giles County near the town of Bodenham, Tennessee around 3:00 p.m. A third storm in the same time period struck Brick Church in Giles County, ten miles east, which had a parallel path over to Marshal and Rutherford Counties.
More tornadoes developed in Alabama around 3:30 p.m. that afternoon, with the first two occurring in Calhoun and Talladega counties. The Calhoun County tornado produced the most damage in the town of Duke, killing one man and injuring several others before causing more damage in the countryside along a path that stretched for 12 to 15 miles. More lives were lost but no exact number of fatalities was available.
A tornado near Atlanta, Georgia moved through Dekalb County into Gwinnett for a total of 25 miles on the evening of March 13th, resulting in eight deaths between Clarkson and Tucker. Later that evening, a tornado passed between Aruchee to Calhoun, Georgia for a total of 20 miles, killing 15 people and injuring many more. Around 1:00 a.m. that night another tornado passed north of Louisville, Louisiana for approximately eight miles, killing two people. One of the more notable tornadoes developed around 3:30 a.m. on the 14th in Girard, Alabama and then moved into Columbus, Georgia where it damaged numerous businesses and homes, with damages estimated around $100,000.
High winds also occurred with the larger storm system. Widespread inland gale force winds with gusts around 60 mph were observed at Louisville, Kentucky on the 14th. Significant damage was caused by the wind, with numerous power poles and trees down across the region. At least two people were killed in Kentucky from straightline winds. In all the storms over the southeastern U.S. between March 13 and 15th, the results were about 100 fatalities and countless injuries and damages.
The third week of the year was dominated by waves of low pressure, resulting in large fluctuations in temperatures ranging all the way from 18°F to 85°F over the Valley. Prior to the period of the 23rd through the 27th, the rainfall during March had been near normal over the Ohio Valley. Conditions were dry during the two cold spells, but rain did precede them with only light rain on the 14th and heavier rain on the 20th-21st. Other than far northern areas, mainly in the Great Lakes Basin, there was no snowfall in the region. What snowfall had been around was able to melt during the second week's heat wave. ^TOP
On March 19th, a more powerful storm system began moving out of the Pacific Northwest and tracked eastward. On the 20th it was centered over Lake Michigan, with strong winds and snow. Another area of low pressure over Arkansas generated a series of significant tornadoes over the Gulf states the afternoon of the 20th. In Alabama, a series of tornadoes leveled towns and killed dozens on the night of Friday March 21. According to Logan Marshall in his 1913 book The True Story of Our National Calamity of Flood, Fire and Tornado, "Chickens and hogs stripped of feathers and hair wandered in bewilderment among the ruins."
A tornado in Florence Alabama killed three people and injured at least five after destroying 20 homes. In Decatur, Alabama two tornadoes struck the town. The first occurred at 5:00 p.m. where there was one fatality, the second nine hours later around 2:00 a.m. where three more individuals were killed. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee a tornado caused over half a million dollars in damage, but fortunately no known fatalities. The towns of Fulton, Florence, Nettleboro, Black Bend, and Camden, Alabama were affected but the most damage was in Lower Peach Tree. In Birmingham, the storms moved in on the morning of the 21st. Two tornadoes were on the ground around the same time and within a half a mile of each other, one of which can be estimated around an F4 or F5, given the description of large brick mansions leveled to their foundations and belongings being blown so far away as to never be found again. The Red Cross documents about the tornado in Peach Tree tell the story of survival as a family was lifted from their second story bedroom onto the roof of a shed, their lives saved by falling on a mattress and a door wedging over them for protection (The American Red Cross bulletin, Volumes 8-9, page 100).
The primary surface low intensified while centered over western Lower Michigan on the morning of the March 21st as it merged with the surface low from Arkansas. Over the Midwest and Lakes Region during this time, winds were sustained at tropical storm force, and upwards of hurricane force along the Great Lakes. The Weather Bureau Offices in Detroit reported “A gale of unprecedented severity swept over southern Michigan. Buildings were razed, roofs blown off, chimneys toppled over, signs blown down, trees broken and uprooted, overhead wires prostrated, and several lives lost as a result of the storm’s fury.” The storm had staggering surface wind measurements of 86 mph in Detroit, Michigan; 90 mph in Buffalo, New York; 64 mph in Cleveland, Ohio; 76 mph at Louisville Kentucky; and 84 mph in Toledo, Ohio. At least five people were killed around the Detroit area, two more in Indiana, one near Cleveland, and another near Columbus, Ohio. Meanwhile, heavy rains in Minnesota and southern Wisconsin resulted in damaging floods, and an ice storm developed over northern Illinois.
By the night of the 21st, the low pressure system had merged with another low coming up the east coast over Quebec, producing strong storms and winds from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina to Maine. At most of the Weather Bureau Offices along the Great Lakes, the strength and duration of the winds in this event exceeded those in the historic Great Lakes Hurricane which would occur later that year in November. The precipitation that fell with these storms averaged a half to one inch of rain, which was insufficient to produce flooding yet it saturated the ground, setting the stage for the floods to come.
By the 22nd, strong high pressure slid out of the Canadian Northwest, causing cold air to rush into the region. Temperatures dropped below freezing on that Saturday and Saturday Night. This high-pressure area blocked the next incoming storm system, which became locked over Nevada for about 12 hours. The high eventually slid off the eastern seaboard and away from the Ohio Valley on the morning of the 23rd, making way for the next storm system. The next area of low pressure originated in the northern Pacific. The low moved into Nevada, where it sat for half a day as it was blocked by the area of high pressure over the nation’s midsection. By the morning of Easter Sunday, March 23rd, the low was over Colorado. Temperatures at this time across the upper plains were in the thirties with light rain over western sections. Southerly winds ahead of the low pressure system brought in warm, moist air to the Ohio Valley. Temperatures rose there from the 30s in the morning to the lower 70s by late day.
By the afternoon of March 23rd temperatures, humidity, and winds out of the southeast had increased notably across the Midwest. This warm and unstable airmass provided the fuel for severe and tornadic storms the day and into the night. That afternoon, strong southerly winds at sustained speeds over 35 mph with gusts in the 50s had developed over central Kansas resulting in a severe dust storm. The strong winds then moved into Missouri, this time associated with heavy rain and hail.
The first reported tornado came around 5:00 p.m. local time southwest of Omaha, Nebraska in the town of Greenwood. Witnesses observed two tornadoes, one that struck the town from the south and one from the west. The northbound storm is believed to be the stronger tornado, and the one that subsequently swept through Omaha. The eastbound tornado was believed to have swept into Iowa where it damaged several towns there.
Just before 6:00 p.m. local time on the 23rd, a strong tornado tore through an affluent part of town, completely destroying hundreds of houses and displacing thousands. “The tornado that passed through the city of Omaha that evening of Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913, was undoubtedly the most destructive to life and property that ever occurred in the Missouri Valley and probably one of the most destructive in the history of the country.” (4 page 481 by Henry j. Cox). The tornado tracked for five miles through the heart of town with a width up to 1/4 mile. Meteorologists today have estimated that the tornado had wind speeds estimated at EF4 strength. This resulted in 103 fatalities in Omaha, with 49 more reported in other tornadoes and storms in Nebraska and Iowa.
The small town of Walton, Illinois was wiped out by a tornado leaving only one church building standing. Miraculously, only two injuries were reported. Near Peoria in Illinois, another possible tornado touched down. Reports of structures near Chicago, Rockford, Elgin, Wheaton, Bloomington, Galesburg, Erie, and Des Plaines were affected. Some of these reports may have been associated with strong winds in thunderstorms, but descriptions of homes blown to their foundations in Galesburg gives the distinct characteristics of a tornado.
By that evening, the storm system had moved into Michigan. Reporting stations observed sustained southerly winds of 40 to 50 mph with gusts to 60 mph over Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. From Chicago to Milwaukee there were reports of roofs blown off and city houses overturned. The strong winds crossed and felled powerlines which led to several fires in Ashland and South Omaha in Nebraska, Neola, Woodbine, and Monley in Iowa, and the worse-affected Yutan, Nebraska where damage to the waterworks plant prevented a means of fighting the resulting fire, causing 12 fatalities.
At 9:45 p.m. local time, a tornado passed through the southern end of Terre Haute, Indiana. Destroying over 300 homes, injuring over 250, and killing 21 people, the tornado passed through the south end of Terre Haute crossing the Wabash River. Based on reports of entire houses demolished with no walls left standing, meteorologists today have surmised that the tornado likely had the strength of an EF3 rating or higher.
Given the extensive telephone and utility line damage from this event and the previous storms, there was little way to send warning to states in the path of the powerful and destructive storm heading their way. Those left to clean up the damage had to contend with rapidly falling temperatures, strong winds, and snow.
On the night of the 23rd the storm system deepened as it advanced over Lake Superior. As it advanced, southerly winds strengthened across the region, with sustained speeds of 25 to 45 mph and gusts in the 50s lasting until 6:00 a.m. It rained most of the night and most of the day on Monday with isolated thunderstorms. Later that day, the storm system took the traditional track and lifted out of the Great Lakes and into eastern Canada and New England. Isolated flooding began in Indiana that afternoon from the thunderstorm rain, but with overnight downpours most of the state was flooding. People in lowlands were warned by people on foot to flee to higher ground. ^TOP
Starting in June of 1913, the central part of the country experienced unusually warm weather. The warm weather kept rainfall at a minimum which quickly developed into drought, most notably over the Great Plains and Mississippi Valley. The heat waves in late July and early August were especially damaging to the corn crop, which was almost a complete loss over the cornbelt states. The drought over Oklahoma and Texas damaged the cotton crop. Water had to be shipped by train to areas that exhausted any available resources. Many days during August and even the first week of September saw temperatures over 100 degrees. In Kansas, the Weather Bureau reported that the average high temperature in July was 100.9°F and 101.5°F in August. The highest observed temperature was in Farnsworth, Kansas on July 11 with a high of 116°F. At this site the daily maximum temperature was 100°F or higher from August 1 to September 7th, except for one day when temperatures dropped to 92°F. During this same stretch, the rainfall was 0.03 inches. ^TOP
The Weather Bureau office located at Greenland Ranch in Death Valley was only 10 years old when it recorded the hottest known surface temperature. The temperature, a staggering 134 degrees F, still remains the highest natural air temperature ever recorded. The thermometer was exposed in the shade under climatological station standards.
The record was beaten less than a decade later in El Azizia, Libya on September 13, 1922 where an observer reported a temperature of 58°C (136.4° F). In September of 2012 a World Meteorological Organization panel investigated the record and disqualified the Libya report, thus making the Death Valley 134°F the “new” record holder. The panel cited five concerns with the Libya reading: 1) problematic instrumentation; 2) inexperienced observer; 3) an observation site over an asphalted-like material which was not representative of the native desert soil; 4) poor matching of the extreme to other nearby locations; and 5) poor matching to subsequent temperatures recorded at the site. (https://www.nps.gov/deva/learn/nature/weather-and-climate.htm)
November gales are common across the Great Lakes, but what made the storm of November 7-10 historic was the long duration of the strong winds and the many disasters and causalities that occurred as a result. An area of low pressure over the Rocky Mountains strengthened as it moved over southeastern Minnesota (St. Paul, pressure 29.44 inches) with another low moving out of Texas.
The Weather Bureau issued storm warnings over the Great Lakes on the morning of the 7th and the Coast Guard hoisted lanterns signaling hurricane force winds. By the morning of the 8th, the low was centered over Lake Huron. The southern storm moved off the eastern seaboard where it brought gale force winds to the Carolinas. By the morning of the 9th, the storm over the Great Lakes dove south into Virginia where it merged with the southern low. The new low pressure system then moved to the north into Lake Ontario by the morning of the 10th, and then eventually moved on to eastern Canada.
More than a foot of wet snow had fallen over the Ohio Valley during this time. The unusual track of the storm kept strong gales across the Lake region going until the 10th at which time the storm began to weaken. Though stronger winds were observed during the Good Friday wind event that same year, the duration of the winds in this event far exceeded any other storm on record.
Also unlike the earlier storm, the snow accompanying this event reduced visibilities making navigation practically impossible. Breakwaters, marinas, and piers located along the windward shores were broken up. The heavy snow inland accompanied by strong winds dropped power and telephone lines, limiting communication. Many ships seeking safety in the White Fish Bay near Sault Saint Marie Michigan were sunk as they were driven into rocks. Mariners who lived to tell about the storm estimated winds of 60 to 80 mph on eastern Lake Superior where six ships sank. On Lake Huron eight ships, including some of the best ships on the lakes, sank. In all, an estimated 250 lives were taken and at least 19 ships sank.
The damages onshore were insignificant when compared to that which occurred on the lakes. The worst conditions began on the 9th and lasting through the 11th when the snow finally abated. The weather started off as rain, turning over to snow by 10:00 a.m. on the 9th. The heavy wet snow raged until 2:00 p.m. on the 11th. In Cleveland, 22 inches of snow had fallen. ^TOP
An area of low pressure over the four corners brought light snow to the Denver area on Monday, December 1, 1913. It continued to snow through midweek, but by Thursday the 4th the snowfall intensified, shutting down most of downtown. Denver Weather Bureau reported 45.7 inches of snow during the event, and 57.4 inches for the month, with a nearby weather observer in Georgetown reporting 87 inches. This snowstorm was the worst to ever hit the Denver area, and that December remains the snowiest month on record.
Below are tables for the Denver Climate Site. The first table shows the daily Weather Bureau readings during the snowstorm, and the second table shows the top 10 snowiest Decembers in Denver record.