‘Extreme Weather’ – Before CO2 was being blamed for political points

Photo of the Eads Bridge after the May 27, 1896, St. Louis, Missouri, tornado

Imagine the wailing about ’caused by climate change’ if this happened today. From NOAA: This Month in Climate History: May 27, 1896, St. Louis Tornado

What remains the third most deadly tornado in U.S. history struck St. Louis, Missouri, on the afternoon of May 27, 1896, nearly 120 years ago. At the time, St. Louis hadn’t experienced a major weather disaster in nearly 25 years, and the city had grown into a large metropolitan area.

Shortly before five o’clock that Wednesday afternoon, the devastating tornado struck the city from the southwest, near the Compton Heights district. From there, the tornado made its way down the Mill Creek Valley, destroying countless homes as it headed toward the Mississippi River.

Once the tornado made it to the Mississippi, it decimated the steamboats and other vessels in the harbor, breaking them to pieces and scattering them from the Missouri shore to the Illinois shore.

Even the Eads Bridge, which was considered “tornado proof” as the first major bridge constructed by making use of true steel, was damaged by the powerful tornado with nearly 300 feet of its eastern approach being torn away. Much of the central portion of St. Louis was also destroyed, as were factories, saloons, hospitals, mills, railroad yards, and churches throughout the city.

Across St. Louis, the tornado completely destroyed block after block of residential housing. Hundreds of miles of electric wires and thousands of telephone and telegraph poles were torn down by the fierce winds. The tornado also uprooted trees more than half a century old and hurled them a distance of several blocks. Heavy iron fences, like the one that surrounded Lafayette Park, were twisted and tangled until they were nearly unrecognizable.

Photo of the Eads Bridge after the May 27, 1896, St. Louis, Missouri, tornado

In crossing the river from the Missouri to the Illinois shore, the tornado tore away some 300 feet of the super structure of the Eads Bridge. Some of the stone blocks were hurled several hundred feet, and a wagon that was on the bridge was dashed to pieces with its two occupants. Credit: NOAA Photo Library

During the less than half an hour that the tornado—which would most likely be rated as an EF-4 today— was on the ground, it tracked a three-mile-wide path of destruction across St. Louis, killing 255 people, injuring 1,000, and rendering countless families homeless.

For more information on the May 27, 1896, St. Louis tornado, see:

To see a list of the 10 deadliest documented tornado events in the United States, visit NCDC’s Deadliest Tornadoes page.

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25 thoughts on “‘Extreme Weather’ – Before CO2 was being blamed for political points

  1. Somewhat less devastating but equally newsworthy was the tornado that hit London in 1954. It ripped the sides off houses and tore the roof off of Gunnersbury railway station.
    Having not long been through the Blitz Londoners took it on the chin and moved on. Luckily no one was killed.
    If a similarly large tornado were to hit today would Londoners exhibit the stoicism of their forbears, I’d like to think so but the BBC/Met Office would probably do their usual ‘chicken little’ routine, hysteria being default setting of media types.

  2. In 1885/86 Karl Daimler and Gottlieb Benz developed the first gas powered automobile. In 1886 a tornado decimates St. Louis and damages the steel Earls Bridge. Climate change coincidence? I think not.

    Oh, the tornado was in 1896? Never mind…

    • @Tom J – Thanks for the laugh! But you should not have withdrawn the hypothesis. After all, it took a few years to get enough of those monsters on the roads. ;-)

  3. Hope formatting holds.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_most_intense_tropical_cyclones

    North Atlantic Ocean Hurricanes with Lowest Pressure Readings

    Cyclone Season Peak 1-min sustained winds Pressure
    Wilma 2005 295 km/h (185 mph) 882 hPa (26.05 inHg)
    Gilbert 1988 295 km/h (185 mph) 888 hPa (26.22 inHg)
    Labor Day 1935 295 km/h (185 mph) 892 hPa (26.34 inHg)
    Rita. 2005 285 km/h (180 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Allen 1980 305 km/h (190 mph) 899 hPa (26.55 inHg)
    Camille 1969 280 km/h (175 mph) 900 hPa (26.58 inHg)

    Western North Pacific Ocean Typhoons

    Cyclone Year Peak 10-min sustained winds Pressure
    Tip… 1979 260 km/h (160 mph) 870 hPa (25.69 inHg)
    June 1975 Not Specified 875 hPa (25.84 inHg)
    Nora 1973 Not Specified 875 hPa (25.84 inHg)
    Ida… 1958 Not Specified 877 hPa (25.90 inHg)
    Kit… 1966 Not Specified 880 hPa (25.99 inHg)
    Rita.. 1978 220 km/h (140 mph) 880 hPa (25.99 inHg)
    Vanessa 1984 220 km/h (140 mph) 880 hPa (25.99 inHg)
    Nancy 1961 Not Specified 882 hPa (26.05 inHg)
    Forrest 1983 205 km/h (125 mph) 885 hPa (26.13 inHg)
    Irma. 1971 Not Specified 885 hPa (26.13 inHg)
    Joan 1959 Not Specified 885 hPa (26.13 inHg)
    Megi 2010 230 km/h (145 mph) 885 hPa (26.13 inHg)
    Nina 1953 Not Specified 885 hPa (26.13 inHg)
    Marge 1951 Not Specified 886 hPa (26.16 inHg)
    Amy. 1971 Not Specified 890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
    Betty 1987 205 km/h (125 mph) 890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
    Flo… 1990 220 km/h (140 mph) 890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
    Ida… 1954 Not Specified 890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
    Louise 1976 Not Specified 890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
    Wynne 1980 220 km/h (140 mph) 890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
    Abby 1983 220 km/h (140 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Dot.. 1985 220 km/h (140 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Elsie 1969 Not Specified 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Elsie 1981 220 km/h (140 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Haiyan 2013 230 km/h (145 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Mac. 1982 220 km/h (140 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Marge 1983 205 km/h (125 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Patsy 1973 Not Specified 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Ruth 1991 215 km/h (130 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Sally 1964 Not Specified 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Vera. 1959 Not Specified 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Violet 1961 Not Specified 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Wilda 1964 Not Specified 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Yuri. 1991 220 km/h (140 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)

  4. Modifying Milo’s information above, with formatting set to ASCII-text only using “pre”
    Remember to use only spaces between the text sections, “tabs” fail to indent. the text, however, is not proportional font.

    milodonharlani says:
    May 27, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Hope formatting holds Well, It didn’t. 8<(.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_most_intense_tropical_cyclones

    North Atlantic Ocean Hurricanes with Lowest Pressure Readings

    Cyclone Season Peak 1-min sustained winds Pressure
    Wilma     2005 295 km/h (185 mph) 882 hPa (26.05 inHg)
    Gilbert   1988 295 km/h (185 mph) 888 hPa (26.22 inHg)
    Labor Day 1935 295 km/h (185 mph) 892 hPa (26.34 inHg)
    Rita.     2005 285 km/h (180 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Allen     1980 305 km/h (190 mph) 899 hPa (26.55 inHg)
    Camille   1969 280 km/h (175 mph) 900 hPa (26.58 inHg)
    

    Western North Pacific Ocean Typhoons

    Cyclone Year Peak 10-min sustained winds Pressure

    Tip     1979 260 km/h (160 mph) 870 hPa (25.69 inHg)
    June    1975 Not Specified      875 hPa (25.84 inHg)
    Nora    1973 Not Specified      875 hPa (25.84 inHg)
    Ida     1958 Not Specified      877 hPa (25.90 inHg)
    Kit     1966 Not Specified      880 hPa (25.99 inHg)
    Rita    1978 220 km/h (140 mph) 880 hPa (25.99 inHg)
    Vanessa 1984 220 km/h (140 mph) 880 hPa (25.99 inHg)
    Nancy   1961 Not Specified      882 hPa (26.05 inHg)
    Forrest 1983 205 km/h (125 mph) 885 hPa (26.13 inHg)
    Irma.   1971 Not Specified      885 hPa (26.13 inHg)
    Joan    1959 Not Specified      885 hPa (26.13 inHg)
    Megi    2010 230 km/h (145 mph) 885 hPa (26.13 inHg)
    Nina    1953 Not Specified      885 hPa (26.13 inHg)
    Marge   1951 Not Specified      886 hPa (26.16 inHg)
    Amy.    1971 Not Specified      890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
    Betty   1987 205 km/h (125 mph) 890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
    Flo…    1990 220 km/h (140 mph) 890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
    Ida…    1954 Not Specified      890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
    Louise  1976 Not Specified      890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
    Wynne   1980 220 km/h (140 mph) 890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
    Abby    1983 220 km/h (140 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Dot..   1985 220 km/h (140 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Elsie   1969 Not Specified      895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Elsie   1981 220 km/h (140 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Haiyan  2013 230 km/h (145 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Mac.    1982 220 km/h (140 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Marge   1983 205 km/h (125 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Patsy   1973 Not Specified      895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Ruth    1991 215 km/h (130 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Sally   1964 Not Specified      895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Vera.   1959 Not Specified      895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Violet  1961 Not Specified      895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Wilda   1964 Not Specified      895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    Yuri.   1991 220 km/h (140 mph) 895 hPa (26.43 inHg)
    
  5. “‘Extreme Weather’ before CO2 was to blame for political points”

    Can someone translate that headline for me. I haven’t got a clue what its supposed to mean. Before CO2, extreme weather was to blame for political points? What?

    [Clarified title. .mod]

  6. Hmmn.

    It would be interesting (or maybe not) to see how those storms would be if sorted by barometric pressure, then grouped by 5 years (ie, how they rank (rant ?) by CO2 ppmv) , and then how they rank by global average temperature in the year formed.

  7. RACookPE1978 says:
    May 27, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Thanks.

    Bear in mind that storms were less detectable before satellites & measuring their intensity harder.

    Prevalence of powerful WestPac typhoons during the recent warm interval is not particularly pronounced, if dated from 1977. But even just going by decades we have:

    1951-60: 6
    1961-70: 6
    1971-80: 9
    1981-90: 9
    1991-2000: 2 (both in ’91, following one in ’90)
    2001-10: 1 (Megi, 2010)
    2011-20: 1 (Haiyan, of which much was made).

    Please check.

  8. After the brutal cold winter Chicago had last season, the Chicago Tribune weather column (Thanks Tom Skilling !) had a little context article about wild weather in the past.

    It was about the extreme (or as Al calls it dirty weather) from May 1895.The month opened warm with 7 of the first 10 days hitting 80F, and May 9th was 90 degrees. The temps dropped 30 degrees May 11th followed by two weeks of record breaking chill, complete with frost that severely damaged rapidly growing spring vegetation” . Snow was reported May 13th !

    Talk about weird extreme weather.

  9. J. Philip Peterson
    May 27, 2014 at 11:10 am
    says:
    ‘I wonder if the St Louis Arch would have survived?’

    I would certainly hope so, but I wouldn’t worry too much. The base and lower portions of the arch are largely concrete filled: They’re heavy. All of it’s steel reinforced: the skin is welded stainless steel; and the overall shape and cleanness of the surface should shrug off the winds pretty easily. I consider it the most beautiful National Monument we have: a true gift by the people of St. Louis, and an awesome welcome to someone driving into St. Louis from the Interstate from Chicago or Springfield. It’s truly sad that its architect, Eero Saarinen, did not live to see its construction begin.

  10. Imagine if these or these weather events happened in 2014? There would be much wailing, grinding and gnashing of teeth. Pachauri and Gore would point to them as positive proof of our deteriorating climate.

    [The above are 1935 and 1936 bad weather events - terrible, terrible events.]

  11. Many here may be familiar with the worst tornado in our country’s history, The Great Tri-State Tornado which occurred on March 18, 1925.
    It began in the state of Missouri, tracked across Illinois and ended in Indiana. You can get the incredible stats at the link below.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tri-State_Tornado

    As a television meteorologist in Southwestern Indiana, an area that was effected at the end of this twister’s track, I would provide coverage on the anniversary of this event. Usually, it was just a graphic and less than a minute of describing it.

    One year, I think 1990, I did a special report. I located a number of residents still living in Griffin, Indiana which had been destroyed by the tornado 65 years earlier.
    I went out there with a photographer and we did numerous interviews. Needless to say, the folks we interviewed were pretty old, at least in their 70’s.

    Many of them had pictures and incredibly vivid stories. One that stuck in my head because it was so odd, came from a lady that was around 80. She had been in her elementary school, that fortunately had only been dealt a glancing blow. When everybody went outside, she said people were just walking and running around in a daze, others yelling(calling out to find their loved ones or for help).

    She noticed a bunch of folks that she thought were negroes(the term they used back in those days). After several minutes, it became obvious, that those people were actually just completely covered in muck, which they later learned, came from the Wabash River.

    As the crow flies (or tornado tracks) the Wabash River is around 20 miles to the southwest of Griffon. Apparently, the twister had sucked up enough muck from the river, to cover those people 20 miles away.

  12. I guess if this lady was in elementary school in 1925, then she must have been younger than 80 in 1990. We interviewed several residents that were 80 or older.

  13. Somehow, 400 ppm CO2 and AGW must have time traveled back to 1896 – watch the alarmies come out with something as absurd as that.

  14. During the less than half an hour that the tornado—which would most likely be rated as an EF-4 today— was on the ground, it tracked a three-mile-wide path of destruction across St. Louis,

    But I thought we were told the May 31, 2013 “News today from NOAA that Friday’s El Reno, OK twister than killed 18 people was an incredible 2.6 miles wide. That’s the widest tornado ever recorded in U.S. history.”

    http://blogs.mprnews.org/updraft/2013/06/tornado_history_26_mile_wide_o/

    So 1896 miles are not equal to ‘incredible miles’ of 2013?

  15. History is a living thing and subject to rewrite as needed. This tornado, or any other, can be made milder in retrospect. I am certain it is much worse now than we thought.

  16. just looking over extreme weather events, dates, and temps I seem to see a much stronger correlation with extreme weather events based on the actual act of warming or cooling, and it seems much less dependent on what the temp actually is (IE when the temps are relatively stable, like since ~2001/2002 to present we have less extreme weather despite the temps being higher than say, the 1980s/90s when temps were on the rise).

    I would suspect that when our current pause or plateau ends and temps start to rise or fall again we’ll see another decade or two of really rough storms while the climate re-regulates itself.

    I am only speaking as a layman, I don’t have any science background other than studying physics and climate science as a hobby, but much of the details go over my head. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t actually take a super detailed view to notice certain patterns.

    On a point of curiosity, there’s been so much emphasis put on CO2 as a forcing agent, but I look up data on carbon cycles, temp/CO2 reconstructions, ect. it would seem CO2 is almost always lagging temp changes making it seem more like the roll of a feedback than a forcing agent, is there some reason this doesn’t get discussed (genuinely curious about this)?

  17. I’ve been thinking about all of the things that global warming is going to make happen. So could these events or non events be used as a proxy for global warming? For example, global warming will kill polar bears. So the temperature proxy could be calculated on the population of polar bears.

  18. And there was the Armistice Day Blizzard in the Midwest in 1939, the worst on record.

    Regarding so called man made “Climate Distribution”: If the climate models can’t correctly estimate the amount of global warming, why trust them with the more difficult question of what a small amount of warming will cause?. Besides just a little warming.

  19. milodonharlani says:
    May 27, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Bear in mind that storms were less detectable before satellites & measuring their intensity harder.

    Prevalence of powerful WestPac typhoons during the recent warm interval is not particularly pronounced, if dated from 1977. But even just going by decades we have:

    1951-60: 6
    1961-70: 6
    1971-80: 9
    1981-90: 9
    1991-2000: 2 (both in ’91, following one in ’90)
    2001-10: 1 (Megi, 2010)
    2011-20: 1 (Haiyan, of which much was made).

    Please check.
    ———————————————————————————————————-
    The Air Force ended regular typhoon reconnaissance in 1987. However, there were experiments that tasked the USAF Hurricane Hunters to fly WPac storms in 1990,2008, and 2010. What you might be seeing here is that forecasters may be underestimating central pressure from satellite alone.

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