A significant serial derecho, with similarities to the one of April 19-20, 2011, struck the region late evening to early morning March 11-12, 1923.
Widespread, significant wind damage was found in many, many counties from Indiana & Ohio to Illinois, southward to Arkansas. Although three highly-apparent tornadoes were found, Weather Bureau meteorologists (now the National Weather Service) found that the wind damage was very widespread, uniform & of largely one direction, suggesting damaging straight-line winds, with perhaps embedded downbursts. This was the conclusion & continues to fit that conclusion, despite many buildings damaged or destroyed. It is possible that some brief tornadoes occurred that would not have been noticed in remote areas, especially in that belt from Evansville to Cincinatti & across northern Tennessee.
The forward speed of the derecho was very impressive at 75-80 mph, generally, with a deceleration once it reached Ohio to eastern Kentucky.
Damaging, high non-t’storm winds accompanied the storm farther northward from northern Illinois, through Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan to Pennsylvania to western New York. This wind was accompanied by heavy snowfall in Iowa to Wisconsin, resulting in blizzard conditions. In northern Illinois, rain & icing transition to all icing & then snow, resulting in widespread power outages & eventually near/blizzard conditions. A gust of 60 mph was measured in Chicago without any t’storms.
9 people were killed in western & central Kentucky alone where the damage amounted to $23 million dollars (inflation adjusted). 2 people were injured by a tornado near Cape Girardeau, Missouri that caused $702, 000 in damage.
A very intense, violent tornado in western Tennessee tracked 15 miles with some structures completely vanishing. This EF5 tornado resulted in gruesome damage with body parts of victims being found more than a mile away. 60 structures were destroyed or vanished & a freight train was thrown from a track. 20 deaths occurred though the width was only 1200′. Such extreme intensity shows the magnitude of the shear that day. The scientific question would be as to why, in a largely linear event, an unusual EF5 would occur, apparently embedded in the derecho.
In southern Illinois to southern Indiana, it was reported by the Weather Bureau, “Heavy property damage; public utilities companies suffer great loss; several person injured. Wire service crippled.” The wind even pushed a home off its foundation.
The 1923 derecho bears resemblance to the April 19-20, 2011 derecho. There were two bands in the storm system that produced tornadoes, one long-track in west-central Indiana. Otherwise, it was dominated by significant straight-line winds with embedded downbursts (large hail on the western fringe in the early stages of development).
Derecho was associated with a rapidly deepening surface low & warm moist air racing northward behind warm front. Strong cold front raced in on the tails of the derecho.