The Easter Sunday Tornado: A look back at the deadliest tornado in Terre Haute’s history

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Most Easter Sundays are filled with attending church, family time, Easter egg hunts and hopefully nice weather. But 100 years ago, Easter Sunday had a tragic ending for some Terre Haute residents.

Sunday March 23, 1913 started out mild and dry; however, not long after the sun went down, the Easter Sunday Tornado touched down near Prairieton to the southwest of Terre Haute, and moved northeast.  

Rated an F4, it was the strongest tornado to ever hit Terre Haute, and it came without warning.

It moved into the southwest part of Terre Haute as a half mile-wide tornado and cut a path about 22 miles long. It lifted on the east side of town, near 25th and Hulman, leaving behind tremendous damage and lives that would be changed forever.  

Most homes were heated with fire back then, and after the storm, some homes caught on fire. The death toll reached 21, with at least another 250 injured.  

But little did the residents of Terre Haute know that this was just the start of what would be several days of extreme weather for the city.

The front that brought the tornado stalled, and the moisture continued to stream in and cold air was pouring in from the north and this caused rain to change to snow.  

Two days after the tornado, there was enough snow to cover the ground. So, residents dealing with storm cleanup were also dealing with cold and snowy conditions.

The rain kept falling, and areas started to flood. Less than 4 days after the tornado, the Wabash River on the west side of Terre Haute reached its highest level ever recorded.  

On March 23, in the morning before the tornado, the river was at 7′, about normal for that time of the year. By March 25, when the snow was falling, the river had jumped to 19.5′, and, by the next day, was at 28′. About 8 p.m. that evening, a levee broke at Maple Ave, and just 90 minutes later a levee broke at Dresser.

By 10 am the next morning ( March 27th ), the river reached its peak and the highest level ever recorded before or since then at 31.1 feet. Just 30 minutes after that, 3/4 of West Terre Haute was under water.  

So, in just 4 short days, Terre Haute had its deadliest tornado, it snowed and the Wabash River reached its highest level ever.

March tornadoes are not uncommon in this area; however, the most common months for them are April, May and June.

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