March 1913 tornado outbreak sequence

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March 1913 tornado outbreak sequence
1913 Omaha Tornado.jpg
Photo of the 1913 Omaha tornado, the deadliest of the outbreak
TypeTornado outbreak
DurationMarch 21–23, 1913
Tornadoes confirmed≥ 19
Max. rating1F4 tornado
Duration of tornado outbreak2~2 days
Damage≥ $9.68 million
Casualties≥ 241 fatalities, hundreds of injuries
Areas affectedSouthern and Midwestern United States
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale
2Time from first tornado to last tornado

The March 1913 tornado outbreak sequence[nb 1] was a devastating series of tornado outbreaks that affected the northern Great Plains, the Southern United States, and sections of the upper Midwest over a two-day-long period between March 21–23, 1913. Composed of two outbreaks, the sequence first began with a tornado outbreak that commenced in Mississippi early on March 21. Several significant tornadoes occurred, one of which killed seven people in one family and another destroyed much of Lower Peach Tree, Alabama, with 27 deaths all in that town. The tornado at Lower Peach Tree is estimated to have been equivalent to a violent F4 tornado on the Fujita scale, based upon damage accounts. The tornadoes occurred between 0630–1030 UTC, or pre-dawn local time, perhaps accounting for the high number of fatalities—a common trend in tornadoes in the Dixie Alley.[2] In all, tornadoes in Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama killed 48 people, perhaps more, that day and injured at least 150 people.

March 23, Easter Sunday, was the most violent tornado outbreak to affect the northern Great Plains on so early a date in the year—a record that still stands as of 2012.[nb 2] That day, four F4 tornadoes affected portions of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, killing at least 168 people. The deadliest tornado of the day was a potent F4 tornado that grew to 0.25 miles (440 yd) in width as it passed through northern Omaha, Nebraska, killing at least 94 people in the city proper and three in rural areas. Damage in Omaha reached at least F4, possibly even F5, intensity, though confirmation of F5 damage could not be determined from available evidence. The tornado is the 13th deadliest ever to affect the United States and the deadliest to hit the U.S. state of Nebraska as of 2014. No other violent tornado would affect Omaha for another 62 years. Outside the Great Plains, the outbreak of March 23 also produced two other F4 tornadoes, one each in Missouri and Indiana, including a devastating path more than .5 mi (880 yd) through southern Terre Haute, Indiana, killing 21 people and injuring 250.

In all, the two consecutive outbreaks killed at least 241 people and caused at least 19 tornadoes, though only significant events were recorded and other, weaker tornadoes may have gone undetected. The outbreak sequence also produced seven violent tornadoes, nearly half the documented total of tornadoes for the sequence. Tornadoes struck Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, and Indiana. At least $9.68 million in damages were reported.[nb 3]

23 March meteorological synopsis[edit]

A series of potent storm systems traversed the US during March 1913,[3] described by the US Weather Bureau as "...the most extraordinary situation in regards to the weather since the creation of the bureau." Anomalously high moisture had gathered near the US Gulf Coast, as an intense upper level storm system moved in from the west. According to retrospective numerical modeling of this event,[4] a strong cap aloft was in place over the central Plains, as is common as the elevated mixed layer advects eastward from the Rockies. Observations taken at 13Z 23 March 1913 showed that surface low pressure was located in Colorado, and a warm front stretched due eastward from there into Illinois. Morning temperatures near this front were in the 30s. South of the front warmer and moister air was present, but dewpoints in the upper 50s were confined to southern Oklahoma and Arkansas, far away from where the tornadoes were to later occur in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.

As the day progressed, the surface low ejected through Nebraska, with a dry line and trailing cold front. South winds blowing 40-50 knots at times brought the moister air rapidly northward. One of the worst dust storms on record occurred behind the dry line in western Kansas, but in the warm sector the day remained dry until mid afternoon when light showers began to form in central Nebraska. A cooperative observer in Osceola noted that the wind shifted from S to NW at 2230Z (4:30 PM local). Professors at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln noted that the relative humidity there jumped from 53% at 2150Z to 78% at 2230Z, indicating much higher dewpoints had rapidly arrived in Lincoln since the cold front was still to the west near Osceola. They also noted that the surface low passed just to the north of Omaha and was in western Iowa at 01Z 24 March 1913.

With all of this observed information, it is likely that the quality moisture required to produce convection strong enough for tornadoes arrived just an hour or two before the strong forcing associated with the surface low pressure and attendant frontal systems. At the time of the tornadoes it is estimated that surface temperatures were in the upper 60s, dewpoints were in the upper 50s, and surface winds were southerly around 25-30 knots. Numerical modeling estimates that 500 hPa flow was around 80 knots from the WSW and that CAPE was from 1000–2000 J/kg. These conditions are similar to those found in other tornado outbreaks.[5] Tornadic storms developed from 5:00-6:00 PM local time and while storm motions were to the NE, the prevalence of tornadic storms moved southward with the dryline/cold front intersection, lasting until 8:00 PM local in NW Missouri. A serial derecho then formed and moved across Iowa and Illinois through the nighttime hours, hitting Chicago in the early morning.

Tornado table[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
? ? ? 10 2 7 0 ≥ 19

Confirmed tornadoes[edit]

March 21 event[edit]

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F2 S of Madison to near Buckhead Morgan 0600 8 miles (13 km) 1 death — Tornado hit five plantations and destroyed 30 buildings.
F2 Near Ruleville Sunflower 0610 unknown 3 deaths — Tornado completely destroyed homes.
F2 Louisville to N of Macon Winston, Noxubee 0630 30 miles (48 km) 9 deaths — Family of tornadoes destroyed or damaged roughly 25 homes near Louisville, killing two people and injuring 15. Five people in one family were killed as the tornadoes passed north of Macon. Paths of individual tornadoes could not be identified.
F2 Rienzi to Corinth Prentiss, Alcorn 0630 5 miles (8.0 km) 2 deaths — Tornado killed two people as it reportedly leveled the entire town of Rienzi. Was not rated higher due to poor building standards in the rural South at that time.
F2 Near Florence Lauderdale 0700 unknown 3 deaths — Tornado destroyed seven barns and 20 homes, killing three children.
F2 W of Decatur to near Meridianville Morgan, Limestone, Madison 0730 40 miles (64 km) 3 deaths — Tornado destroyed numerous sharecroppers' tenant homes, other homes, and an Episcopal church. Probably a tornado family. Two of the deceased were children.
F2 E of Talladega to Heflin Talladega, Clay, Cleburne 0900 35 miles (56 km) Tornado destroyed 12 rural homes near Talladega. May have been a tornado family as two tornadoes were observed 1 mi (1.6 km) apart and the path was not continuous.
F4 E of Fulton to Lower Peach Tree Clarke, Wilcox 1030 13 miles (21 km) 27 deaths — Tornado began at Scyrene and destroyed 100 homes at Lower Peach Tree, with F4 damage to about 20 well-built homes. All deaths at Lower Peach Tree. Tornado damage $100,000 with major flood damage after the tornado. Total losses from tornado and flood at least $200,000. Path .25 mi (0.40 km) wide.
F2 E of Camden Wilcox 1100 12 miles (19 km) 1 death — Tornado began from the same supercell thunderstorm that produced the Lower Peach Tree tornado.
Sources: Grazulis 1993

March 23 event[edit]

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F3 W of Craig to NW of Blencoe, Iowa Burt (NE), Monona (IA) 2300 15 miles (24 km) Tornado hit rural areas; 12 farms damaged and 11 homes destroyed in Nebraska. Also caused damage in Iowa.
F4 SE of Mead to W of Logan, Iowa Saunders, Douglas, Washington (NE), Harrison (IA) 2330 55 miles (89 km) 22 deaths — Tornado destroyed southern side of Yutan, Nebraska, killing 17 people, half of them children. Destroyed 40 homes plus four churches in Nebraska; losses nearly $100,000 in the state. Two deaths in Iowa.
F3 Near Havelock, Lincoln, to E of Greenwood Lancaster, Cass 2330 15 miles (24 km) Tornado destroyed homes along its path as it hit Prairie Home and passed east of Greenwood. Parent thunderstorm later spawned the F4 Omaha tornado.
F4 Ralston to SE of Beebeetown, Iowa Sarpy, Douglas (NE), Pottawattamie (IA), Harrison, Shelby 2345 40 miles (64 km) 103 deathsSee section on this tornado. Photographs indicated possible F5 damage at Omaha but may have reflected clean-up efforts, so only F4 rating was assigned.
F4 Bellevue to SE of Harlan, Iowa Sarpy (NE), Pottawattamie (IA), Harrison, Shelby 0015 48 miles (77 km) 25 deaths — Likely tornado family hit southern section of Council Bluffs, causing 17 deaths in small homes. Other deaths at Gilliat (two), east of Weston (two), and near Neola (three), all in Pottawattamie County, Iowa. One final death southeast of Harlan. Final 15 mi (24 km) in the track probably a separate tornado. Losses $400,000.
F4 S of Douglas to near Macedonia, Iowa Otoe, Cass (NE), Mills (IA), Pottawattamie 0015 60 miles (97 km) 18 deaths — Longest-lived, continuous tornado of the outbreak; caused F4 damage to many farms northwest of Syracuse, Nebraska, along with major damage to Otoe, then called Berlin, and 12 deaths there; losses $250,000 at Otoe. Entered Iowa after passing through Rock Bluff, Nebraska. More F4 damage to farms in Mills County, Iowa, with three deaths north of Bartlett and two more southeast of Glenwood.
F2 Burchard Pawnee 0100 5 miles (8.0 km) Tornado unroofed and destroyed a school and four homes.
F2 NW of Saline Bienville 0100 6 miles (9.7 km) 1 death — Tornado hit and destroyed tenant homes along with a large estate. Another deadly tornado may have hit Bossier Parish.
F4 N of Prairieton to Terre Haute Vigo, Clay 0230 22 miles (35 km) 21 deaths — Tornado destroyed or damaged 300 homes and produced F4 damage to a five-block swath in southern Terre Haute. All 21 deaths in Terre Haute with downburst damage in nearby communities. Major floods followed the tornado, causing 12 more deaths at Terre Haute and 260 in other areas. Total damage $1,000,000.
F4 SW of Savannah to E of Albany Andrew, Gentry, Harrison 0230 45 miles (72 km) 2 deaths — Tornado killed two people as it passed just southeast of Flag Springs. F4-level damage north of King City and south of Darlington, with damage to 30 farms in Gentry County. Occurred at the same time as the F4 Terre Haute tornado.
Sources: Grazulis 1993

Notable tornadoes[edit]

Omaha, Nebraska[edit]

Coordinates: 41°15′N 96°00′W / 41.25°N 96°W / 41.25; -96

1913 Omaha Easter Sunday tornado
F4 tornado
Omaha Tornado Damage 1913.jpg
Photograph of tornado damage in Omaha
FormedMarch 23, 1913 6:00 p.m. Central Time
Max. rating1F4 tornado
Damage$8 million
Casualties103 fatalities (94 in Omaha)
Areas affectedOmaha, Nebraska
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale

The Omaha Easter Sunday tornado struck Omaha, Nebraska, at approximately 6:00 p.m. on March 23, 1913. The storm's path was reported as being 1412 mi (0.40–0.80 km) wide and contained multiple vortices.[6]

Outbreak death toll
State Total
Alabama 34
Georgia 1
Indiana 21
Iowa 33
Louisiana 1
Mississippi 14
Missouri 2
Nebraska 135
Totals 241
All deaths were tornado-related

The Omaha tornado followed the path of Little Papillion Creek as it entered the city. It moved through the west side of town alongside the Missouri Pacific Railroad, destroying the small workers cottages in the area. The tornado was so strong that steel train cars were later found pierced by pieces of shattered lumber from the demolished homes.

By the time the tornado reached Dewey Avenue it was five blocks wide. When it reached Farnam Hill, the tornado followed a shallow valley through this upscale neighborhood. The large mansions of Farnam were no match for the winds, and many houses were torn to pieces, along with several in the Gold Coast Historic District including the Joslyn Castle, which sustained considerable damage. Buildings were found chopped in half, pipes and supports dangling into space, such as the Duchesne Academy which was nearly obliterated.

At North 24th and Lake Streets in the Near North Side neighborhood a large African American crowd was enjoying an Easter Sunday performance when the tornado flattened the building and killed more than two dozen people. Other brick structures in this small commercial district took similar hits, and more people died here than in any other part of Omaha. A streetcar running down North 24th Street in North Omaha encountered the tornado near this area. Thanks to the quick action of operator Ord Hensley in ordering passengers to lie on the floor of the car, everyone survived. Later, photographers would spot the wrecked machine and would call it the "Streetcar of Death", imagining that no one on board could have survived given the immense damage.

The F4 tornado skirted the downtown area and moved over the Missouri River into Iowa, causing further damage before dissipating.

In all, 103 people died, 94 of which were in Omaha, and another 400 were injured. Reportedly, 2,000 homes in Omaha alone were destroyed, with $8 million total damage from the storm, $5.5 million of which was in Omaha (financial damage estimates vary; the NOAA reports more damage than this). In the aftermath of the tornado, a cold front moved into Omaha and caused further misery, as newly homeless residents struggled to escape the snowy weather.[7] Many homes throughout the northern side of the city were leveled, and some were swept away. Photographs at the time showed empty foundations, which possibly indicated F5 damage, but these may have been related to post-tornado clean-up.

Non-tornadic effects[edit]

The same storm system that struck Nebraska created a dust storm in Kansas and hit Missouri with hail and heavy rain.[8][9][10][11] The Omaha tornado marked the beginning of the destruction from storms associated with the Great Flood of 1913.[12] On Monday and Tuesday, March 24 and 25, the storms brought heavy rains to the Midwest and upstate New York, causing widespread flooding.


Remarkably, operators from the Webster Telephone Exchange Building in Omaha did not leave their stations either during or after the tornado. The building was used as an infirmary for the wounded and dying, with physicians and nurses coming from area hospitals. US Army troops from Fort Omaha set up headquarters in the building, as soldiers patrolled the area for looters and to offer assistance.

Initially, James Dahlman, the longtime mayor of Omaha, refused assistance from any outside sources, including the federal government. However, he relented after seeing the extent of the damage throughout the city. The federal government poured in assistance soon after. The massive damage caused by the tornado inspired new engineering techniques aimed at creating a tornado-proof edifice. The first such building was the First National Bank of Omaha building, built in 1916 at 1603 Farnam Street. The 14-story building was built in a "U"-shape.

See also[edit]


  • Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. Environmental Films. ISBN 978-1-879362-03-1.
  • — (2003). The Tornado: Nature's Ultimate Windstorm. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3538-0.


  1. ^ An outbreak is generally defined as a group of at least six tornadoes (the number sometimes varies slightly according to local climatology) with no more than a six-hour gap between individual tornadoes. An outbreak sequence, prior to (after) modern records that began in 1950, is defined as, at most, two (one) consecutive days without at least one significant (F2 or stronger) tornado.[1]
  2. ^ A tornado outbreak that affected the same region on March 13, 1990, produced four F4 tornadoes, but one of them occurred in eastern Iowa, outside the Great Plains.
  3. ^ All damage totals are in 1913 United States dollars unless otherwise noted.


  1. ^ Schneider, Russell S.; Harold E. Brooks; Joseph T. Schaefer. "Tornado Outbreak Day Sequences: Historic Events and Climatology (1875-2003)" (PDF). Norman, Oklahoma: Storm Prediction Center. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
  2. ^ Robinson, "Natural Disasters", Encyclopedia, p. 584
  3. ^ Evan Kuchera (2014-07-05). "23 March 1913 Omaha area tornadoes". Retrieved 2014-07-05.
  4. ^ Compo, G. P.; et al. (2011). "The Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. 137 (654): 1–28. doi:10.1002/qj.776. ISSN 0035-9009.
  5. ^ Craven, Jeffrey P.; Brooks, Harold E.; Hart, John A. (2004). "Baseline climatology of sounding derived parameters associated with deep, moist convection" (PDF). Natl. Wea. Dig. 28 (1): 13–24.
  6. ^ Condra, G. E.; G. A. Loveland (May 3, 1914). "The Iowa-Nebraska Tornadoes Of Easter Sunday, 1913". Bulletin of the American Geographical Society. XLVI (2): 100–107. Retrieved 2009-08-15.
  7. ^ Jackman, William James; Patton, Jacob Harris (1911). "Chapter CII. '1913, Great Damage By Tornado And Flood'". History of the American nation. Vol. 6. Western Press Association. pp. 1750–1756.
  8. ^ Christopher Klein (2013-03-25). "The Superstorm That Flooded America 100 Years Ago". History. Retrieved 2013-07-03.
  9. ^ "The Great Flood of 1913, 100 Years Later: The Storms of March 23-27, 1913". Silver Jackets. 2013. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
  10. ^ Williams 2013, p. 23.
  11. ^ Trudy E. Bell (Spring 2006). "Forgotten Waters: Indiana's Great Easter Flood of 1913" (PDF). Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Indiana Historical Society. 18 (2): 5–6.
  12. ^ Williams 2013, p. 16.
  • Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Vol. I, ed. Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris (New York: Anchor Books, 1989).
  • Williams, Geoffrey (2013). Washed away : how the Great Flood of 1913, America's most widespread natural disaster, terrorized a nation and changed it forever. New York: Pegasus Books. ISBN 978-1-60598-404-9. OCLC 785079140.

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