100 Years Ago Today: The Omaha Palm Sunday Tornado of 1913

March 23rd, 2013 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

I ran across an old pamphlet with photos of the tornado which struck Omaha 100 years ago today, and thought I would post a few. The tornado killed 140, injured 350, and demolished 550 houses (click on the photos for the full-size versions).
Here’s the 1st page description:
Nut-Shell Story of the Deadly Tornado
This most destructive windstorm hit Omaha about six o’clock in the evening, Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913. To the eye it had the distinctive funnel-shaped twisting character of the typical tornado, sweeping along at a furious rate of speed.

To the ear it conveyed the sound of a crashing din and a mighty rush of water. It was accompanied by a lurid brass-yellow luminous atmosphere followed immediately by dense darkness and a heavy downpour of rain lasting nearly an hour.

It came from the southwest, crossing the city diagonally striking the most densely populated residence districts, the poorer dwellings in the lowlands, and the most beautiful homes on the hills. It’s passage was almost without warning except a sharp fall of the barometer and temperature; it came and went within a few seconds, giving people scarcely time to get to their cellars.

The path of the tornado through the city is from two to six blocks wide and four and a half miles long. Its destructiveness is not uniform, being mostly noticeable at intervals indicating an undulating movement of the storm cloud, rising and falling each time it struck with full force.

The damage done and the desolation left in its wake are clearly portrayed by the photographs taken the next day, and by those taken a second day after a light snowfall.

The description suggests an isolated supercell thunderstorm merging with a squall line, which was followed by a cold air mass. Clearly, had they known about the science of tornadoes back then, the event would have been blamed on the methane emissions from their horses. /sarc

Check out the cool skull-tornado artwork:



Note the board driven through the side of this upright piano:





If the tornado had hit this area today, there would be much more damage simply because there are more structures. It is hard to say what the loss of life would be, though, with a higher population density but better warnings.

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