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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Historical Disasters: Then and Now

The following is a guest post from the creators of HistoricNaturalDisasters.com, a fascinating new web project that compares historic photos of natural disasters with Google Earth images of those same areas today. But don’t take our word. Check out what they have to say:

This week marks the 100-year anniversary of one of the worst – and least talked-about – natural disasters in US history. A series of mighty storms tore through the Midwest during this week in 1913, causing millions of dollars in damage and killing hundreds. The storms worked their way East from Nebraska to New York, and South from Iowa to Louisiana, delivering tornadoes, floods, rain, ice, and snow and enough destruction to bring a huge swath of the nation to a grinding halt.

First came the more than 20 separate tornadoes that were reported between March 21st and 23rd, 1913. Tearing through Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Nebraska, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, and Indiana, these storms caused millions of dollars in damage and destroyed thousands of homes and properties.

The worst damage was dealt to the city of Omaha, Nebraska on March 23 1913. A category F4 tornado cut right through the middle of town on Easter Sunday, throwing trees through houses and flinging cars, gravestones, and everything else in its path as far as several miles away. Once the storm had passed through the city, fires started to burn what little was left. In all, 115 people were killed and the city sustained over $8 million in damage ($187 million in today’s dollars).

Terra Haute, Indiana and Lower Peach Tree, Alabama were also hit hard by F4 tornadoes, with 21 and 27 dead respectively. After the two days of storms damages of over $10 million ($235 million in 2013 dollars) were reported, but these figures don’t take into account the losses of the many people who didn’t have insurance.

After the tornadoes had torn through the land, the rains came, filling the rivers and streams of the Midwestern US to the breaking point. Levees, dams, and bridges began to fail across Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania and Indiana under the pressure from the rivers swollen by the rain, and by March 25th some cities and towns found themselves essentially swallowed whole by the flood waters.

In Ohio, cities like Piqua, Tory and Hamilton saw death and destruction from flooding, but Dayton, Ohio was hit the hardest, with over 14 square miles of the city underwater by the time the flood’s advance slowed on March 26th. Some areas of the city disappeared beneath up to 20 feet of water as the rushing waters tore houses and businesses from their foundations and took out miles of railroads. The floods in Dayton proved to be even more damaging than the tornado in Omaha, especially when fires fed by ruptured gas lines and fanned by high winds swept through the city in the floods wake. All told, disaster was responsible for killing 360 people in Dayton and inflicting over $100 million in damage ($2 billion in today’s dollars). The cleanup effort after the flood and fires would take over a year, and Dayton’s economy wouldn’t fully recover from the events for over a decade.

Check out some of the then and now photos at the end of this post. We really hope you enjoyed this snippet of history!

We’d also like to thank some of the great archives and archivists who have done so much to work to help preserve the amazing history of the 1913 flood, including the Dayton Metro Library and historian Trudy Bell. The amount of history compiled at these two websites is truly amazing. Lastly, thanks to Jason from InsuranceTown.com, who lent us some of the resources we used to help prepare content for the web and publish our blog, and inspired our Mapping History Contest.

Don’t forget to check out HistoricNaturalDisasters.com for more images, and for information on our Mapping History Contest – help us figure out the locations pictured in historic photos from 1913 and you could win $100!

24th & Lake, Omaha, in 1913

24th & Lake, Omaha, today

Fourth & Main streets, Dayton, in 1913

Fourth & Maine streets, Dayton, today

Jenkins Drug Store, Dayton, in 1913

Jenkins Drug Store, Dayton, today

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If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.