MAY 12-13, 1886
In a significant severe weather outbreak over the region from Kansas to Ohio & even Virginia, wind damage was reported Tri-State-wide with a major severe t’storm hitting Evansville. The loss of property in the city alone was +$300,000 (1886 dollars), which would be +$8 million today. The storm uprooted & tore down trees, roofs were torn off of houses, windows were broken & buildings & factories were damaged.
This was the worst outbreak over the area since the violent February 1876 outbreak & the worst until the big March 27, 1890 tornado outbreak.
The roof of a three story building blown off and entire stock deluged, the side of another building caved in and roof crushed through to the floor ruining stock, while the roof blew off another downtown building with the stock ruined. Armstrong Furniture Co., had its roof blown off while Miller Bros., dry goods store had the roof off taken off and stock deluged.
Besides these there were reports of damage to 35 other merchants’ buildings. Many homes had considerable roof damage nearby & roofs were rolled off of buildings.
In Evansville, much of the damage points to intense downburst/straight-line winds of +100 mph, but there is evidence of a brief tornado in the heart of downtown with some building debri thrown counterclockwise, based on reports. In this short corridor, roofs are lifted & tossed around, while nearby, roofs were lifted off. In the tornado corridor there was considerably greater debri bruising & window damage on various sides of structures, pointing to vorticity. Granted, horizontal rolls can occur in downburst/straight-line wind damage that can subtly resemble tornado damage, this roof damage was thrown 180 degrees from the storm track & debri was hurled up in the air & thrown long distances over town.
A steamer encountered the storm between Henderson & Evansville. The intense wind blew the steamer “into a raft of saw logs”. The chimneys were blown off and the steamer was carried up river a quarter of a mile, while the bell was blown 150 feet on shore. A tugboat had to rescue the steamer after the storm.
Two men were tossed & drowned in the storm when on a skiff, they tried to outrun the storm as it approached. It came on too quickly & they did not make it to shore. Reportedly, towns all over the region were affected “as telephone and telegraph wires are all down, but the loss must be great”.
Reconstructing this, it appears that this was a High Risk event of storms of all modes in the region. There were families of cyclical HP supercells north/northwest of our area closer to the warm front & also closer to the surface low. There was a sluggish-moving negatively-tilted upper trough pivoting through the Plains & Midwest in a warm, humid, high-CAPE environment. Given the sheer number of strong to violent tornadoes across north-central Illinois, Indiana & northwestern Ohio, it appears that the HP supercells maintained their own separate identity & structure to be so consistently robust & violent. The cells show signs that they merged more in Ohio, but multiple strong to violent tornado tracks north of wind damage swaths indicate embedded supercells/LEWPs in a line.
Like other High Risk-type events, it looks as if a squall line of main wind damage & some embedded weaker tornadoes followed. All the Tri-State reports were wind & perhaps a couple/few brief tornadoes. There were no reports of large hail. The large, significant tornadoes, large hail & embedded downburst reports were mainly north, northwest & northeast of our area, indicating that we missed most of those storms.
This rather large, long-duration event shows that the supercells also trained & were very heavy rainfall producers. Given the fact that we had this & the squall line, flooding (some very significant reports) match up with other combo severe outbreak/flood events in recent time. 7-9″ of rainfall fell within hours around Xenia, Ohio, just after strong to violent tornadoes swept through the area. Significant flooding was reported just north of Indianapolis, in Tipton County, Indiana, after multiple large tornadoes & downbursts with large hail swept the county.
The Indiana tornado list is below (Vanderburgh County may be added pending more analysis):
Date County or Counties Affected # Killed # Injured
5/12/1886 Warren, Fountain 9 21
5/12/1886 Warren 0 0
5/12/1886 Hancock 3 1
5/12/1886 Madison 1 4
5/12/1886 Jay 1 0
5/12/1886 Tipton 0 4
5/12/1886 Tipton 0 4
5/12/1886 Tipton 2 12
5/12/1886 Madison 43 +100
Notice deep trough West with low heights & much higher heights in the east.
Loaded lower atmosphere of water, latent heat energy was combined with the dynamics & kinematics to produce the historic outbreak.