Natural Disasters - January 2014

photo by Argil Shock


When researching historical subjects pictures are one of your best resources for information. And when it comes to natural disasters like floods and snowstorms residents always seem to capture these moments. If you look through any box of family photos I guarantee that at some point you will find a picture of something unusual that Mother Nature has done.

With all the unusual weather we've been having lately I wanted to take a look back at some of our other bouts with weather. You can't talk about storms without discussing the Blizzard of 1978 and the Great Flood of 1913.


I was 8 years old in 1978, and on Wednesday, January 25th Indiana was paralyzed by a snow storm that is still today on record as the worse snow storm for Hoosiers. The storm started out early on Wednesday with heavy fog and a temperature in the mid-30's. By 7:00 am it started snowing. By 4:00pm it continued to snow and the temperature stayed in the mid-30's but the wind increased. By early Thursday morning in continued to snow but the temperature dropped to only 10 degrees and the wind changed from 18 mph to 40 mph. Finally by early morning on Friday the snow let up but the wind speeds were still sustaining at 20 mph. The winds continued well into Saturday morning before dissipating. Wind gust were recorded as high as 50 mph and snow fell for 31 hours with the wind chill approaching -50.

When it was all said and done the storm had set records that we had never seen. It produced the largest recorded snow on the ground with 20 inches and the most snow for the month of with 30.6 inches. Eleven people perished in the storm. In some areas up to 3 feet of snow fell. The howling winds would push drifts up to as much as 20-25 feet. Visibilities would remain at or below one quarter mile for 25 hours.

Emergency and medical staff used methods that they never had before. They reached people on skis and snowmobiles. People escaped their homes through second story windows. The governor sent National Guard tanks onto I-65 to removed stranded semis. Trains were stalled on their tracks. Indiana Bell was forced to halt all phone traffic but emergency calls, and Indiana State police closed all roads.

The storm here was simply known as the Blizzard of '78 but to others in the Ohio Valley it was known as the Cleveland Superbomb as they were the hardest hit. The storm was generated by moist Gulf air which clashed with a low-pressure system. The merger of the subtropical jet stream and polar jet stream would lead to the low-pressure system that unleashed a snowbomb on the Midwest, hitting Cleveland, Ohio the hardest.


Not only have we had a lot of snow lately we've also had a lot of rain. You can't talk about heavy rain events and flooding without talking about the Great Flood of 1913.

The flood was the result of 48 hours of rainfall. The Brandywine flowed over Main Street like a large river. It carried away every bridge in town. It began on Monday, March 24, 1913 and reached a high point on Tuesday, March 25, 1913 when it flowed over the National Road (US 40).


Many residents east of town stayed up all night to watch. On Monday night, the Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge across the Brandywine gave out, and the last train crossed it at 11 pm. Pott's Ditch overflowed the bridge at Fifth Street. The Fourth Street Bridge floated down stream. The new East South Street Bridge, built in 1912, was the only bridge in the city to survive. The bridges south of Greenfield and the one north of Greenfield were also destroyed. Cars on the Interurban Line were stranded, and mail was not delivered. Most of the community was without power. Flooded telegraph lines crippled communication and isolated the city. Roads at that time were still dirt or gravel and most were eroded and not passable due to the heavy rain and flooding. Thousands were driven from their properties and for three days or more the entire State was at a standstill.


This picture is of a bridge collapse in Indianapolis but it provides a good picture of what all bridges in the State would have looked like. The rain stopped on Tuesday, March 25, 1913, at 5:30pm. At 6:30 pm. The Brandywine crested.


During the rain storm 11 inches of rain had fallen. With the loss of the bridges it made transportation impossible especially by train, which was the major source of transportation. Statewide, more than 90 people drowned and at least 180 bridges were destroyed.


Once the waters receded it's hard to imagine the aftermath. The Great Flood of 1913 brought a lot of changes in how the national weather forecasting identifying storms and communicated them to the public. Local government passed stricter code enforcement to insure flood areas were guarded. And the storm brought the resurgence of the Red Cross as a national relief agency.

It never ceases to amaze me how we always manage to rebuild bigger and better than before when natural disasters occur. The thought of having to cleanup and rebuild is always a daunting, impossible thought. But if it wasn't for pictures and newspaper reports most of us today would never know that these events took place. In the mean time I hope everyone has warm, dry thoughts!!

Greg Roland

Images of America – Hancock County by Joseph Skvarenina
Indianapolis Star
The Greenfield Daily Reporter


More Greenfield History

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