Main street between 11th and 12th street after 1890 tornado…note railroad bridge over river in background.
On This Date in History:
The Courier Journal headline said a Demon visted Louisille.
Everyone knows about the tornado outbreak on April 3, 1974 that produced the tornado that ripped up Louisville that afternoon. But, very few people are familiar with an arguably more devastating and certainly more deadly tornado on this date in 1890. The tornado started in the Parkland area of Louisville and basically traveled right through downtown, terminating near the end of present day Zorn Avenue and the water tower. The present day water tower is a replacement for the one destroyed in 1890. Remember, we are talking about 1890 and that water tower was needed to be able to get the water for the city up the hill to the resevoir.
The city only had enough water for 6 days and water rationing was called on. I suppose it wasn’t all that dramatic given there is a big river right next to the city, but usage in the plumbing system would not be
possible and folks would have to use a whole lot of buckets. Just think what would happen today if the water system was shut down. Anyway, death toll estimates vary but most put it at upwards of 120, though I believe the offiicial number is 76. Either way the National Weather Service lists it as part of the top tornado outbreak in Southern Indiana and Central Kentucky…ahead of 1974. It probably would have been worse had it not hit between 8 and 9 pm since most of the businesses downtown were shuttered for the night. I am told by folks at Cave Hill that funerals were held every hour for a week. I first learned of the date of the tornado when Snow White and I wandered about Cave Hill and found a section with numerous headstones with the same date of death. I knew then that something catastrophic had happened and recalled the 1890 tornado. You can learn a lot from wandering around a cemetery.
We hear about the 1974 “outbreak”. Well this was a big outbreak as well. Twenty-four significant tornadoes were reported that day across the midwest. The Louisville tornado is estimated to have been an F-4 tornado. It destroyed some 766 buildings including 5 churches, 7 railroad depots, 2 public halls, 3 schools, 10 tobacco warehouses, 32 manufacturing plants and 532 dwellings were destroyed by the tornado. At least 44 people were killed at the Falls City Hall at 1124 West Market Street where 75 people (presumably men) were at a lodge meeting and 125 children with their mothers were downstairs taking dancing lessons. It is one of the highest number of deaths ever recorded in a single building in US history. The cost of the damage in 1890 dollars was $2.5 million.
Here is a link to photos from the UL Library
Here is a link from the NWS with the path and information on 5 tornadoes that day in Kentucky
Here is an article from the Filson Club
I would invite you to visit these websites. I cherry picked much of the information from the Filson society and the NWS sites. Also, I have this stuff in my head from the research I did for my thesis regarding 19th Century Louisville as well as other work I did as a graduate student. I think in all liklihood, local historian George Yater should be given some credit and I would encourage you to check out his work at the LFPL or the Louisville Encycolopedia if you want more information.
One thing I found rather interesting was that apparently the precursor to the National Weather Service, the US Weather Bureau, actually issued a statement saying that very nasty weather could be in the picture. I did not know they were issuing what we would call a watch that early in our history. I know it seems like that with all of our technology and mass communications today that severe potential gets screamed out so much by some people that it seems like overload. Fatalities and injuries are actually going up annually in this country the past several years after many years of falling rates. One might argue its from the “cry wolf” syndrome…tv foofs who try to make a name for themselves by scaring you into watching them. just check out my blog….I’ll usually tell you several days in advance if I think Mother Nature is up to no good. In 1890, the Courier Journal called it the “the whirling tiger of the air.” Lets hope that doesnt happen again, but it could…and in fact, I’d say someday it will…we all need to pay attention and don’t think “oh it can’t happen here”. Phooey. It can and actually has many times…so wise up…..and remember, if the “Demon” visited today, it would probably rival or possibly outstrip the carnage of the 1974 tornado, especially if it happened during the middle of a workday.
Weather Bottom Line: Well now. That should get your attention. And, just in time for the anniversary of the 1890 “Demon” we have a threat of severe weather Friday evening that will carry on through Saturday evening. If you want to check your watches, I believe the 1890 tornado occured at 7:49pm. This is not to say that we will have a tornado but, we certainly will be under the threat of strong storms both Friday and Saturday. And remember, this is not unusual. If you look at the map to the left, you will see the number of tornadoes that have visited the region during the spring. You’ll have to figure the color codes yourself but I think green is FO, F4 is orange and F5 is red.
Here’s the way it breaks down. There is general agreement with the indicies that Saturday evening will be the far greatest threat. Friday night looks to feature some thunderstorms and rain. Then a second wave, the main storm center, comes across and that is the biggest threat. You can tell from the SPC probability chart that the SE United States has the biggest threat but we’re in a decent threat area. The GFS has some very strong indicators for Saturday evening in all threat areas including the tornado parameters, high wind and the hail threat. It’s gonna be windy no doubt about it. The NAM is not as agressive with the tornado parameters but does indicate significant thunderstorms. The threat appears to be the highest about 9 or 10 pm. I would expect at least a severe thunderstorm watch Saturday evening and night and most likely at tornado watch. Rain totals will be somewhere between a half inch and an inch. Friday evening may produce a couple of strong thunderstorms but there is nothing to indicate a real big event Friday night. Saturday should be showtime. One item of note…the GFS goes bananas again on Thursday..but that’s a week away so we’ll worry about it then. In any event, this Saturday caper just may qualify for a Colonel Klink moment.
Friday should be a nice day for the most part…mid to upper 60’s I should think. Look for me and Snow White out at Cave Hill feeding our little duckies. I need to take a break from my searching. The SPC Saturday severe discussion is below.
DAY 2 CONVECTIVE OUTLOOK
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
1255 AM CDT FRI MAR 27 2009
VALID 281200Z – 291200Z
…THERE IS A SLGT RISK OF SVR TSTMS PORTIONS CENTRAL/SRN
APPALACHIANS AND OH VALLEY REGION…MOST OF SERN CONUS….
DOMINANT UPPER AIR FEATURE FOR THIS PERIOD WILL REMAIN STG MID-UPPER
LEVEL LOW — NOW EVIDENT IN MOISTURE CHANNEL IMAGERY OVER 4-CORNERS
REGION. THIS CYCLONE IS FCST TO PIVOT SEWD/EWD ACROSS SRN PLAINS
DAY-1…THEN LIFT NEWD FROM VICINITY SERN OK/RED RIVER VALLEY REGION
EARLY IN PERIOD. SHORTWAVE TROUGH — INITIALLY ANALYZED OVER BC
NEAR LARGE SCALE MEAN RIDGE POSITION — WILL DIG SEWD ACROSS NRN
PLAINS DAY-1…THEN PHASE/MERGE WITH EJECTING UPPER LOW OVER MS
VALLEY DURING 29/00Z-29/06Z TIME FRAME. BLENDED PERTURBATION THEN
SHOULD CONTINUE EJECTING NEWD ACROSS KY/INDIANA/OH…BASED ON SREF
CONSENSUS…ETA-KF AND OPERATIONAL SPECTRAL/NAM PROGS. ATTACHED
TROUGH WILL TRAIL SWD AND MOVE EWD ACROSS TN VALLEY AND GULF COASTAL
RELATED SFC CYCLONE WILL OCCLUDE DAY-1…WITH TRIPLE-POINT/OCCLUSION
LOW THEN DEVELOPING OVER ARKLATEX REGION AND LIFTING NEWD OVER
MID-SOUTH EARLY THIS PERIOD. PRIMARY SFC LOW THEN SHOULD MOVE NEWD
TO VICINITY SERN ONT BY 29/12Z…WHILE ANOTHER OCCLUSION BEGINS TO
OCCUR OVER CENTRAL APPALACHIANS. COLD FRONT — MOVING EWD ACROSS MS
AND SRN LA TO START DAY-2 — THEN SHOULD CROSS MOST OF SERN
CONUS…REACHING FROM CENTRAL/W-CENTRAL VA SSWWD ACROSS NRN/WRN
PORTIONS FL PENINSULA BY 29/12Z. WARM FRONT IS EXPECTED TO LIFT NWD
ACROSS PORTIONS GA/AL/SC EARLY IN PERIOD AHEAD OF COLD FRONT…THEN
NWD ACROSS NC/VA/MD TIDEWATER REGION FROM LATE AFTERNOON/EARLY
MEANWHILE…MID-UPPER SHORTWAVE TROUGH NOW OVER NRN PACIFIC — S OF
ALEUTIAN ISLANDS — SHOULD DIG SEWD THROUGH RETROGRADING LONGWAVE
RIDGE AND MOVE ASHORE PACIFIC NW AROUND 29/00Z…WITH POTENTIAL FOR
ISOLATED/ACCOMPANYING THUNDER. THIS FEATURE SHOULD AMPLIFY OVER
INLAND NWRN STATES DURING ENSUING 12 HOURS.
SPATIALLY WIDESPREAD POTENTIAL FOR SVR WILL EXIST THIS
PERIOD…INITIALLY CARRYING OVER FROM DAY-1 ALONG/AHEAD OF SFC COLD
FRONT FROM MID-SOUTH TO MS/AL GULF COAST…THEN
SHIFTING/REDEVELOPING EWD ACROSS SRN APPALACHIANS/PIEDMONT TO SRN
ATLANTIC COAST STATES.
WITHIN THIS BROAD REGION…CONDITIONAL DANGER EXISTS FOR
CONCENTRATED OUTBREAK OF SEVERE — SPECIFICALLY TORNADOES AND
DAMAGING WIND FROM NEAR MS/AL BORDER EWD TO PORTIONS CAROLINAS.
THIS THREAT — CURRENTLY FOCUSED INSIDE 45-PERCENT PROBABILITY LINE
— WILL DEPEND STRONGLY ON MESOSCALE PROCESSES RESULTING FROM DAY-1
CONVECTIVE/BOUNDARY ACTIVITY AND RELATED IMPACT ON MOISTURE
FIELD…AS DISCUSSED IN DAY-1 OUTLOOK.
WIND FIELDS WILL BE QUITE STRONG OVER BROAD WARM SECTOR COVERING
MUCH OF SERN CONUS…YIELDING DEEP-LAYER SHEAR AND — IN AREAS
RELATIVELY UNDISTURBED BY MCS ACTIVITY — LOW LEVEL HODOGRAPHS
FAVORABLE FOR SUPERCELLS AND BOW ECHOES.
MIXED-MODE EVENT IS LIKELY. QLCS SHOULD SUPPORT BOWS/LEWPS AND
PERHAPS EMBEDDED SUPERCELLS NEAR FRONT. POTENTIAL FOR CLUSTERED/MCS
ACTIVITY OR DISCRETE STORMS EXISTS NEARLY ANYWHERE WITHIN WARM
SECTOR AWAY FROM AREAS STABILIZED BY PRECIP AND PRIOR CONVECTION.
ANY SUSTAINED SUPERCELLS WILL POSE THREAT OF TORNADOES GIVEN FCST
RICH MOISTURE…LOW LCL…LARGE 0-1 KM AGL HODOGRAPHS…AND BROAD
AREA OF AOA 50 KT EFFECTIVE SHEAR MAGNITUDE. AREAS NOT AFFECTED BY
CLOUD/PRECIP COVER DURING DIURNAL HEATING PERIOD MAY ATTAIN MLCAPE
1000-2000 J/KG. SFC-BASED EFFECTIVE INFLOW PARCELS SHOULD BE
POSSIBLE OVER PORTIONS OF MID-SOUTH…AL/GA AND CAROLINAS E OF
MOUNTAINS WITHIN 10-12 HOURS AHEAD OF COLD FROPA. MAIN FACTOR
PRECLUDING SMALLER CORRIDOR OF GREATER PROBABILITIES ATTM IS
UNCERTAINTY OVER TIMING/LOCATION OF PRECIP-STABILIZED SWATHS AND
RESULTING MESOSCALE BOUNDARY CHARACTERISTICS.
INSTABILITY OF BOUNDARY LAYER AIR MASS ALSO IS FCST TO BECOME WEAKER
AHEAD OF COLD FRONT FROM KY NWD ACROSS OH VALLEY REGION TO GREAT
LAKES…WITH DISTANCE FROM OPTIMAL GULF RETURN-FLOW REGIME.
THEREFORE PROBABILITIES ARE RAMPED DOWN GRADUALLY WITH NWD EXTENT.
HOWEVER…POCKETS OF CLOUD BREAKS AND SUSTAINED DIURNAL HEATING
WOULD BOOST MLCAPES AND ENCOURAGE MESOSCALE CONCENTRATIONS OF SVR
POTENTIAL DURING 28/18Z-29/00Z TIME FRAME.