March 1913 Tornado Outbreak By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
May 10, 2013
The March 1913 Tornado Outbreak sequence was a devastating series of tornado outbreaks that affected the Northern plains, the Upper Midwest, and the South over a two day period between March 21-23, 1913. The sequence began with a tornado outbreak in Mississippi early on March 21. Several tornados there killed seven people in one family and another destroying most of Lower Peach Tree, Alabama, with twenty-seven deaths, all in that time. March 23, Easter Sunday, was the most violent tornado outbreak in the Great Plains ever on so early a date in the year. The deadliest tornado of the day was an F4 that grew to 440 yards in width as it passed through northern Omaha, Nebraska, killing at least ninety four in the city and three in rural areas. Easter Sunday began under cloudy skies in Omaha. Rain threatened, but never fell. In the afternoon the skies darkened as a massive storm moved into the area from western Nebraska. At 5:20 the first tornado touched down outside Craig, Nebraska. It traveled into Iowa without causing major damage. A second tornado touched down at 5:30 year Ithaca and claiming its first casualties. The Omaha tornado struck at approximately 6 p.m. on March 23, 1913. The storm’s path was reported as 40 miles long and half a mile wide and included eight distinct tornados. It followed Little Papillion Creek as it entered the city, then moving along the Missouri Pacific Railroad, destroying the workers cottages in the area. The tornado was so strong that later steel train cars were found pierced by pieces of shattered lumber from demolished homes. It then followed a shallow valley where large mansions were no match for the storm. Buildings were chopped in half, pipes and supports dangling in space. At 24th and Lake Streets a large crowd was enjoying an Easter performance when the tornado flattened the building and killed more than two dozen people. The tornado then skirted the downtown area and moved into Council Bluffs. There was no warning save for the sudden sharp fall in barometric pressure. Few had time to seek shelter. In all 103 people died, 94 of them in Omaha, and to add insult to injury so to speak, a cold front moved into Omaha as the newly homeless residents of Omaha struggled to escape the snowy weather. In all, the two consecutive outbreaks of tornados killed at least 241 people and caused at least 19 tornados, possibly more as weaker tornados may have gone undetected.
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