Great Blue Norther of November 11, 1911

Last updated
Great Blue Norther of November 11, 1911
Type Extratropical cyclone
Winter storm
Cold wave
Tornado outbreak
Tornadoes confirmed15+
Max rating1 F4 tornado
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale

The Great Blue Norther of November 11, 1911 was a cold snap that affected the central United States on Saturday, November 11, 1911. Many cities broke record highs, going into the 70s and 80s early that afternoon. By nightfall, cities were dealing with temperatures in the teens and single-digits on the Fahrenheit scale. This is the only day in many midwest cities' weather bureau jurisdictions where the record highs and lows were broken for the same day. Some cities experienced tornadoes on Saturday and a blizzard on Sunday. [1] A blizzard even occurred within one hour after an F4 tornado hit Rock County, Wisconsin.

A cold wave is a weather phenomenon that is distinguished by a cooling of the air. Specifically, as used by the U.S. National Weather Service, a cold wave is a rapid fall in temperature within a 24-hour period requiring substantially increased protection to agriculture, industry, commerce, and social activities. The precise criterion for a cold wave is determined by the rate at which the temperature falls, and the minimum to which it falls. This minimum temperature is dependent on the geographical region and time of year.

Central United States geographical region of the USA

The Central United States is sometimes conceived as between the Eastern and Western United States as part of a three-region model, roughly coincident with the U.S. Census' definition of the Midwestern United States plus the western and central portions of the U.S. Census' definition of the Southern United States. The Central States are typically considered to consist of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Sometimes Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama are also considered to be central states.

Fahrenheit unit of temperature

The Fahrenheit scale is a temperature scale based on one proposed in 1724 by Dutch–German–Polish physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686–1736). It uses the degree Fahrenheit as the unit. Several accounts of how he originally defined his scale exist. The lower defining point, 0 °F, was established as the freezing temperature of a solution of brine made from equal parts of ice, water and salt. Further limits were established as the melting point of ice (32 °F) and his best estimate of the average human body temperature. The scale is now usually defined by two fixed points: the temperature at which water freezes into ice is defined as 32 °F, and the boiling point of water is defined to be 212 °F, a 180 °F separation, as defined at sea level and standard atmospheric pressure.


The main cause of such a dramatic cold snap was an extremely strong storm system separating warm, humid air from frigid, arctic air. Dramatic cold snaps tend to occur mostly in the month of November, though they can also come in February or March. [2] These arrivals of Continental Polar or Arctic air masses are generally called northers, [3] [4] and the one in question was marked by a mass of steel blue clouds in the vicinity of the surface front, hence the name. [5] Although temperature drops of this extent have happened on other occasions, as recently as February 2009, the fact that the 1911 cold front passage was during the autumn and came after such warm weather contributed to the properties mentioned in this article. [5]

Kansas City

Temperatures in Kansas City had reached a record high of 76°  F (24 °C) by late morning before the front moved through. As the cold front approached, the winds increased turning from southeast to northwest. By midnight, the temperature had dropped to 11°  F (11.7 °C), a 65 Fahrenheit degree (35 Celsius degree) difference in 14 hours. [2]

Kansas City, Missouri City in western Missouri

Kansas City is the largest city in the U.S. state of Missouri. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city had an estimated population of 491,918 in 2018, making it the 38th most-populous city in the United States. It is the central city of the Kansas City metropolitan area, which straddles the Kansas–Missouri state line. Kansas City was founded in the 1830s as a Missouri River port at its confluence with the Kansas River coming in from the west. On June 1, 1850 the town of Kansas was incorporated; shortly after came the establishment of the Kansas Territory. Confusion between the two ensued and the name Kansas City was assigned to distinguish them soon after.

Springfield, Missouri

In Springfield, the temperature difference was even more extreme. Springfield was at 80 °F (27 °C) at about 3:45 PM, before the cold front moved through. Fifteen minutes later, the temperature was at 40 °F (4 °C) with winds blasting out of the northwest at 40 mph (64 km/h). By 7:00 P.M. Central Standard Time (01:00 UTC 12 November) the temperature had dropped a further 20 °F (3.9 °C), and by midnight, a record low of 13 °F (11 °C) was established. It was the first time since records had been kept for Springfield when the record high and record low were broken in the same day. The freak temperature difference was also a record breaker: 67 °F (37 °C) in 10 hours. [2]

Springfield, Missouri City in Missouri, United States

Springfield is the third-largest city in the state of Missouri and the county seat of Greene County. As of the 2010 census, its population was 159,498. As of 2018, the Census Bureau estimated its population at 168,122. It is the principal city of the Springfield metropolitan area, which has a population of 462,369 and includes the counties of Christian, Dallas, Greene, Polk, Webster.

Central Time Zone time zone

The North American Central Time Zone (CT) is a time zone in parts of Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central America, some Caribbean Islands, and part of the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

Oklahoma City

Record highs and lows were established on the same day in Oklahoma City as well with a high of 83 °F (28 °C) and low of 17 °F (−8 °C); temperature difference: 66 °F (36 °C). Both records still hold. [6]

Oklahoma City State capital city in Oklahoma, United States

Oklahoma City, often shortened to OKC, is the capital and largest city of the U.S. state of Oklahoma. The county seat of Oklahoma County, the city ranks 27th among United States cities in population. The population grew following the 2010 Census, with the population estimated to have increased to 649,021 as of July 2018. The Oklahoma City metropolitan area had a population of 1,396,445, and the Oklahoma City-Shawnee Combined Statistical Area had a population of 1,469,124 residents, making it Oklahoma's largest municipality and metropolitan area by population.

Anomalous weather

The front produced severe weather and tornadoes across the upper Mississippi Valley, a blizzard in Ohio, and the windy conditions upon front passage caused a dust storm in Oklahoma. [2]

Tornado Violently rotating column of air that is in contact with both the earths surface and a cumulonimbus cloud in the air

A tornado is a rapidly rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the Earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. The windstorm is often referred to as a twister, whirlwind or cyclone, although the word cyclone is used in meteorology to name a weather system with a low-pressure area in the center around which, from an observer looking down toward the surface of the earth, winds blow counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern. Tornadoes come in many shapes and sizes, and they are often visible in the form of a condensation funnel originating from the base of a cumulonimbus cloud, with a cloud of rotating debris and dust beneath it. Most tornadoes have wind speeds less than 110 miles per hour (180 km/h), are about 250 feet (80 m) across, and travel a few miles before dissipating. The most extreme tornadoes can attain wind speeds of more than 300 miles per hour (480 km/h), are more than two miles (3 km) in diameter, and stay on the ground for dozens of miles.

Ohio State of the United States of America

Ohio is a Midwestern state in the Great Lakes region of the United States. Of the fifty states, it is the 34th largest by area, the seventh most populous, and the tenth most densely populated. The state's capital and largest city is Columbus.

Dust storm meteorological phenomenon common in arid and semi-arid regions

A dust storm is a meteorological phenomenon common in arid and semi-arid regions. Dust storms arise when a gust front or other strong wind blows loose sand and dirt from a dry surface. Fine particles are transported by saltation and suspension, a process that moves soil from one place and deposits it in another.

Tornado outbreak

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating

Alongside the dramatic temperature swings, the cold front brought a destructive tornado outbreak to parts of the Midwest. At least nine tornadoes touched down across five states as the system moved through, resulting in 13 fatalities. Hundreds of structures were destroyed by the storms and many areas had to conduct search and rescue missions amidst blizzard conditions. According to Thomas P. Grazulis, this outbreak was one of the worst on record in November for the north-central States. [7]

List of reported tornadoes – Saturday, November 11, 1911
Time (CST)
Path length
F2W of Davenport Scott 12:55 p.m.9 miles (14 km)The first known tornado of the outbreak touched down 1 mi (1.6 km) west of Davenport and tracked northeast. Along its path, five farms sustained damage and a barn was destroyed. One person was injured by the tornado. [8]
F2 Virginia area Cass 4:00 p.m.18 miles (29 km)Tornado touched down near Arenzville and tracked northeast into the town of Virginia. There, about 100 structures were damaged or destroyed. The worst damage occurred on the west side of town where 30 homes and businesses, including a church and high school, were destroyed. Overall, 18 people were injured by the tornado and losses reached $150,000. [8]
F3S of Easton Mason 4:45 p.m.11 miles (18 km)2 deaths – A strong tornado touched down south of Easton and destroyed several homes. Two people were killed in separate incidents near the town. Nine other people were injured by the tornado and losses reached $20,000. [8]
F2E of Aurora DuPage 5:30 p.m.4 miles (6.4 km)A tornado touched down east of Aurora and damaged several buildings. One home lost its roof and another was struck by debris from a barn. The tornado was last noted moving into the "big woods" northeast of Aurora. Losses from the storm reached $10,000. [8]
F?Unknown Cass UnknownUnknownA study in 1993 chronicling all tornadoes in Illinois prior to 1916 revealed that a tornado touched down in Cass County and injured 12 people. [9]
F?Unknown Kankakee UnknownUnknownA study in 1993 chronicling all tornadoes in Illinois prior to 1916 revealed that a tornado touched down in Kankakee County. [9]
F?Unknown Cumberland UnknownUnknownA study in 1993 chronicling all tornadoes in Illinois prior to 1916 revealed that a tornado touched down in Cumberland County. [9]
F3 Leroy to S of Michigan City Lake, Porter 7:00 p.m.30 miles (48 km)A strong, long-lived tornado first touched down near Leroy and tracked northeast to Michigan City. The most significant damage took pace near Lake Eliza where a school was destroyed. Debris from the building was tossed up to 2 mi (3.2 km) away. Another school in Jackson Township was also destroyed. Along the tornado's path, buildings were destroyed on 15 farms. One person was picked up and tossed to his neighbor's house by the storm. According to Thomas P. Grazulis, this tornado was likely a tornado family and not a single, continuous event. [8]
F? Terre Haute area Vigo 9:10 p.m.0.5 miles (0.80 km)Apparent tornado struck Terre Haute and injured three people. Touching down in the heart of the town, the tornado soon struck a grocery store, blowing out lights and windows. Several barns along the tornado's path were completely destroyed or flattened. One home in the city was flattened and swept clean off its foundation, leaving just an underground cellar behind. The second floor of the John Rankin School was destroyed. The caboose of a train in the town was thrown off the tracks, injuring the occupants. [10]
F2 Waterloo area DeKalb 10:00 p.m.5 miles (8.0 km)A significant tornado struck the town of Waterloo, damaging or destroying at least 100 structures. An opera house in Waterloo collapsed due to the tornado. Just outside town, several farms were also severely damaged. Losses from the storm reached $75,000. [7]
F? Bedford area Lawrence ~10:00 p.m.UnknownA possible tornado caused extensive damage in Bedford, with losses reaching $500,000. This may have been the same tornado that struck Waterloo. [7]
F4SW of Janesville to N of Milton Rock 8:00 p.m.18 miles (29 km)9 deaths – The most powerful tornado of the outbreak caused extensive damage to Rock County, Wisconsin. Beginning at 2:00 pm, a tornado traveled north-northeast from the Town of Avon, and through the community of Hanover. The tornado skirted the northwest edge of Janesville, and then passed between Milton and Milton Junction, to a point in the Town of Lima, 4 miles northeast of Milton. The tornado finally dissipating in the extreme northeast corner of Rock County. Nearly $1 million in damage was reported. The worst damage occurred near Orfordville and near Milton.. Several farms were also leveled near Milton. The ninth fatality took place in this area. Overall losses from the tornado reached $1,000,000. [11] [12]
F2SE of Battle Creek Calhoun 10:00 p.m.UnknownTornado touched down well to the southeast of Battle Creek. Several barns were leveled and homes were damaged. [7]
F?Kingsland area Eaton ~10:00 p.m.UnknownPossible tornado killed horses and cattle. [7]
F2 Laingsburg to Owosso Shiawassee 11:05 p.m.12 miles (19 km)2 deaths – Extensive damage took place in Laingsburg. Five factories and twenty homes were destroyed. Two people were killed when the upper floor of their home collapsed on them. Twenty-one people were injured throughout the town. Just outside Laingsburg, 15 barns were destroyed by the tornado. Overall losses from the storm reached $500,000. [7]

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  1. "Waterloo Swept By Cyclone; Cutting Swath Through the Business Section of Town". The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Nov 12, 1911. Archived from the original on September 30, 2011. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Albert, Drew (October 2003). "The Great "Blue Norther" of November 11, 1911". Ozarks Weather Observer. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  5. 1 2
  6. "The Great Blue Norther of November 11, 1911". National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office – Norman, Oklahoma. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. March 12, 2014. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Grazulis, p. 125
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Grazulis, p. 124
  9. 1 2 3 Wayne M. Wendland and Herbert Hoffman (1993). "Illinois Tornadoes Prior to 1916" (PDF). Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science. 86 (1): 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 8, 2011. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
  10. Mike McCormick (December 25, 2011). "Historical Perspective: November 1911 tornado causes havoc in city, county". Tribune Star. Retrieved March 18, 2012.