Let’s set the stage…..
A major, historic drought & persistent, chronic heat wave associated with stagnant upper ridge caused one of the deadliest hurricanes on record to take a less traditional path.
The block also caused the remnants to slow & then stall, resulting in heavy rainfall over a large area of the central & northern U.S., greatly diminishing the drought.
As the remnants merged with a storm system & cold front, the gusty winds of the front, fanned on-going forest fires in the Great Lakes. This wind led to the great disaster: the massive deadly Thumb of Michigan fire charred a massive area of forest land.
Now the details………….
The summer of 1881 was historic for the central & eastern U.S. (& the Tri-State) in the extent & intensity of the heat & drought. It ranks as one of the outstanding weather events in Tri-State weather history, comparable with the extreme summers of 1839, 1841, 1854, 1887, 1901, 1934, 1936, 1953, 1954, 1988, 2012
Temperatures reached as high as 111 in the Tri-State with reportedly many deaths from heat strokes.
Each month June -September saw temperatures reach the 100s over the Tri-State, but the heat seemed to peak in mid-August.
To this day, 1881 is still the driest August on record for the Evansville metro area with just 0.11″ rainfall.
Some other peak temperatures from the June-September period:
115 Milton, Pennsylvania (South-Southeast of Williamsport): this would be the state record, compared to the modern state record of 111 set July 9 & 10, 1936
112 Lincoln, Nebraska
112 Present-Day North Dakota
109 Long Branch, New Jersey (20 Miles Southeast of Newark)
108 Fort Benton, Montana
108 Portsmouth, Ohio
108 Franklin, Ohio (Near Columbus)
108 Clinton, Illinois (south of Bloomington, Illinois)
108 Danville, Illinois
108 Plano, Illinois (West-Southwest of Chicago)
108 Independence, Kansas
108 Topeka, Kansas
107 Weldon, North Carolina (Near Virginia State Line in the North-Central Part of the State)
106 Burlington, Iowa
106 Champaign, Illinois
106 Spencer, Indiana
106 St. Louis, Missouri
106 Shelbyville, Indiana
106 Ashwood, Tennessee (Southwest of Nashville): Long called “Memorable Hot Friday”
106 Richmond, Virginia
106 Petersburg, Virginia
105 Louisville, Kentucky (Hottest Since 1841)
105 Springfield, Illinois
105 Clarksville, Tennessee
105 Logan, Iowa (Hottest Since 1856)
105 McGregor, Iowa
105 Tuscola, Illinois (East of Decatur)
105 New Albany, Indiana (Hottest Since 1821)
105 Shreveport, Louisiana
104 Lacrosse, Wisconsin
104 Little Rock, Arkansas
104 Madison, Ohio (Between Cleveland, Ohio & Erie, Pennsylvania)
104 Bluffton, Indiana (Southwest of Fort Wayne)
104 Connersville, Indiana (East-Central Indiana)
104 South Bend, Indiana
104 Marshalltown, Iowa
103 Janesville, Wisconsin (Near Madison)
103 Augusta, Georgia
103 Des Moines, Iowa
103 Manchester, New Hampshire
103 Hanover, New Hampshire
103 Nashville, Tennessee
103 Cape Henry, Virginia (North Shore of Virginia Beach)
102 Bradford, Vermont
102 Charlotte, Vermont (Just South of Burlington, Vermont, in Northwestern Part of State)
102 Jackson, Michigan (South of Lansing)
101 Wilmington, Ohio (Hottest Since 1841)
101 Norwich, Vermont
100 Albany, New York
100 White River Junction, Vermont
July 1-September 13, 1881 Temperature Anomalies:
100s over the Tri-State occurred in early September & over the eastern U.S. under the ridge. The ridge guided the Great Georgia Hurricane westward on the underbelly of the ridge where it slowly turning to the north & stalled at times. This led to significant rainfall & some flooding Nebraska to Minnesota, Iowa & Wisconsin & helped elevated September 1881 to being one of the wettest on record for some of those areas.
The rainfall was extremely welcome, given the hot, dry summer.
As the remnants combined with a mid-latitude or typical frontal system, great deepening occurred with some severe weather occurring. This caused a strong pressure gradient over our region & especially over the Great Lakes. Multiple forest fires had been burning due to the extreme drought & heat since August in Michigan. However, once widespread +35 mph gusts took over ahead of the system, multiple fires were fanned & merged to form the great Thumb Fire. It merged into an uncontrollable inferno fire near where a massive fire occurred in the fall of 1871. This fire, northwest of Detroit, spread uncontrollably in the heat, strong winds in thickly-timbered pine forest. The only thing that stopped the fire was Lake Huron.
It continued to race northeastward, encountering older, virgin pine forests. 150′ crowns of tree ignited & spread even faster. The fire moved so fast that many sought shelter by jumping down into wells. At least 300 people were killed. Nearly 2100 structures were burned to the ground, including 51 schools.
The area burned would be the equivalent to a region bounded by Princeton, Huntingburg, Owensboro, Calhoun, Dixon, Mt. Vernon to Poseyville.
Other large forest fires, some deadly, occurred in Ontario & over New York State for a month.