The Top Weather Stories of 2008

Top Weather Stories of 2008
The year of 2008 in Central Indiana was an exciting one in the weather department. Like most years, there were extremes in all directions, floods and dry spells, heat waves, and cold snaps. Taking a look back at the year that was, here are some summaries of a few of the more memorable events that took place in 2008.
Frequent Floods of 2008
After a very dry year in 2007, this year got off to a very different start, and for the most part it continued in that fashion. As the year will end up in the top 20 wettest years on record, it is not too surprising that there was flooding. However, this year was remarkable because of three separate episodes of significant, even record breaking, river flooding that occurred in Central Indiana.
January Flood – The most significant flood came on the Tippecanoe and upper Wabash Rivers of north central Indiana. Heavy snow of more than six inches fell in northern Indiana on the 1st and 2nd of January. Extreme warmth then followed this event, and record breaking temperatures were recorded on the 6th of January, which rapidly melted the snow pack. However, this was followed up by very heavy showers and thunderstorms on the 7th and 8th of January. The combination of rapid snow melt, and then extremely heavy rain was enough to cause record breaking flooding. The Tippecanoe River of north central Indiana, near the Oakdale Dam at Monticello, was the most significantly impacted river. Rainfall of 3 to 7 inches fell in one day directly overtop of the Tippecanoe River and caused a never before seen flood in the area. The flood caused damage along portions of the Tippecanoe River in Carroll, White, and Tippecanoe Counties. Eventually this high water caused minor to moderate flooding along portions of the Wabash River downstream from where the two rivers converge near Battleground. The January flood was a good depiction of what can happen when summertime heavy rains fall on wintertime, frozen ground.
February Flood- Scarcely had the floodwaters receded from record-breaking January floods when they were beginning to rise again. Again heavy snow fell across parts of northern Indiana, but then quickly melted as temperatures soared into the 50s and 60s. Rain of up to 4 inches across a very large area then followed the snow melt on the 5th and 6th. The combination again of the melting snow and heavy rain was enough to create major flooding. The rivers that were most impacted were the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers again, with near record flooding on the Tippecanoe just a month after the records were set. There was also extensive minor to moderate flooding on the Eel, Muscatatuck, White, and East Fork White Rivers of Central Indiana. The flood on the Tippecanoe River in February was no help for the flood-weary residents of that area, some of whom were just beginning to rebuild when the second flood came sweeping through. Farther south on the Wabash River, An agricultural levee south of Terre Haute was overtopped. A few rural families had roads to their homes blocked by flood waters and sandbagging was necessary in the Montezuma and Clinton areas.
June Flood- This flood remains very fresh in the memories of thousands of residents across Central Indiana whose lives were impacted by the rising waters this June. Massive and historic flooding struck the central and southern portion of Wabash River Valley in eastern Illinois and central Indiana. In Indiana alone over 25,000 people were affected by flood waters and total flood damage will exceed 1 billion dollars. This was the largest agricultural disaster to strike Indiana, affecting 8% of the state’s agricultural land. The Great Flood of June 2008 was one Indiana’s costliest natural disasters. The stage for this great flood was set as the cool weather of May turned very warm and humid at the end of May. Heavy rainfall from severe weather on the evening of May 30 caused lowland flooding along portions of the Wabash River in western Indiana and moistened the ground in many areas of central Indiana. Another severe weather event on the 3rd of June caused more rain to fall across Central Indiana. These rains would just set the stage for what was about to happen.
Yet another severe weather system took aim on eastern Illinois and central Indiana on the evening of the 6th. A nearly stationary boundary across central Indiana allowed for the continued “training”, that is movement over the same area, of thunderstorms nearly all night. This dropped rain of 3 to 11 inches across a large area in Indiana. The results of this night of heavy rain were immediate and extreme. Devastating flash floods and then river floods developed shortly after the rain fell. The City of Columbus and the town of Paragon were cut off from the outside world. The communities of Terre Haute, Brazil, Franklin, Edinburgh, Martinsville, Spencer and the southern portion of Indianapolis were nearly immobilized for a time. Significant and record breaking floods farther downstream on the Wabash and White Rivers occurred as the flood crest moved south. Only through the heroic efforts of sandbaggers did several small towns along the river’s banks survive in south central Indiana. Some levees did not fare as well, and one failure near Smother’s Creek in Daviess County probably lead to the flooding of 20,000 acres of agricultural land in that area. 
Flooding damaged at least 65 Indiana State Roads. Two spectacular wash outs included SR 57 north of Newberry and SR 58 west of Elnora. Huge blow holes were formed and a lake remained where once a road had been. The emergency room in Franklin flooded near the local police station. Water and gas line were washed out in west central Indiana as a result of the unprecedented local flooding. Mudslides and several dam failures occurred in Owen, Morgan, and Johnson counties. Rail lines were washed out in Jackson and Greene Counties. The damage was extensive and in many areas the cleaning up still continues. While the aftermath was extreme, it was only through the actions of dedicated communities that the destruction was not worse.
June 3 Tornadoes
While much of the spring months were somewhat quiet in terms of severe weather across Central Indiana, this took a dramatic change at the close of the month of May. On the 31st of May there were several tornadoes, including one which struck the east side of Indianapolis and caused considerable damage to an apartment complex there.
But this event at the end of May would prove to be just a prelude to a much bigger and more damaging event on the 3rd of June, a night which forever changed the small town of Moscow, Indiana and destroyed a celebrated historical landmark there.
There were five tornadoes confirmed on the evening of June 3rd.
Greene County into Lawrence County: EF-1
Morgan County: EF-0
Brown County into Johnson County: EF-2
Shelby County into Rush County: EF-3
Decatur County: EF-1
The fact that there were no fatalities is a great testament to the timely and accurate reports of the many severe weather spotters across Central Indiana, whose reports were once again vital and crucial to the National Weather Service warnings that day.
The EF-2 tornado damaged several buildings at Camp Atterbury, near Edinburgh. An estimated $10 million in damage was caused to structures at the camp.
The most significant tornado was the EF-3 tornado which struck portions of Shelby and Rush counties in the southeastern part of Central Indiana. The tornado with wind speeds near 150 mph touched down around 909 P.M. EDT near Waldron in Shelby County and continued into the town of Moscow in Rush County. This tornado was EF0 intensity at Waldron and Middletown in Shelby County then intensified to EF3 strength near Moscow.   Dozens of buildings were damaged or destroyed in and near Moscow. This tornado lifted just east of Moscow. The most memorable structure destroyed was the local covered bridge, a local landmark that had withstood the tests of floods and storms for 122 years, since its construction in 1886. The bridge was completely destroyed by the powerful tornado that swept through town. However, in true community spirit, local citizens and businesses have banded together to raise the funds necessary to rebuild the fallen bridge.  

Additional information, including damage photographs, can be found on our June 3rd tornado archive page at
Ike’s Fury
In many years, the remnants of tropical cyclones make their way up from the Gulf Coast into the state of Indiana. Usually, they are responsible for very heavy rain and sometimes severe weather. It is not common that they will still be intact enough to contain strong and gusty winds that will be enough to cause widespread damage. However, this was not the case this year, as the remnants of the powerful Hurricane Ike, which made landfall as a category 2 hurricane on Galveston Island in Texas on the 13th of September. The storm caused extensive damage to the area, and then quickly made a rapid turn to the northeast, blowing across Central Indiana by the 14th of September.
During the afternoon of that Sunday, winds quickly increased to become sustained between 25 and 40 mph, and there were frequent gusts to between 50 and 70 mph across central and south central Indiana. Winds became strongest across the far south and southeastern portions of Indiana, where gusts approached the 80 mph mark. Winds at Indianapolis gusted to 63 mph and caused considerable damage to trees and power lines. Farther to the south, and to the east in Ohio, there was extensive and significant tree damage as well as widespread and catastrophic power outages. More than a million customers were without power, and some were without power for nearly 2 weeks following the passage of the destructive remnants of Ike.
For further information, including a comprehensive listing of wind gusts in Central Indiana, visit:
Icy December
December 2008 contributes to this year’s top weather stories, with several events which are still very fresh in our minds. The month featured persistent arctic air across the northern plains, which occasionally made trips southward into Central Indiana. However, each time this occurred, it seemed to coincide with a northward push of subtropical moisture from the Pacific Ocean. The combination of bitterly cold Arctic air and subtropical moisture is never a good one, and this December it created numerous icy headaches for residents of Central Indiana. There have been 11 days in the month of December with freezing rain or drizzle reported at Indianapolis. This is well above normal for December, as most of the time there are just a few days with freezing rain, and in some years there may be none. Across the Indianapolis metro area, the most significant impacts came with an ice event on the 23rd of December.
Arctic air had sent the temperatures down to near 0 for two days on the 21st and 22nd. This left ground surfaces very cold, and also very susceptible to freezing rain. When the rain did arrive on the early afternoon of the 23rd, it froze to nearly all surfaces. This created an extremely difficult, frustrating, and dangerous commute for residents of Central Indiana that afternoon. There were dozens of accidents and injuries, and stranded motorists and travelers. Temperatures that evening rose above freezing, but the road surfaces remained colder than freezing because of the Arctic air mass which had just been in place a few days before. This caused the roads to stay frozen for several hours after the air temperature had warmed above freezing and created icy conditions for several hours through the night. Much milder air arrived on the morning of the 24th and helped to quickly melt the ice. While ice amounts ranged from only a tenth to two tenths of an inch, this event really proved that it doesn’t take much ice to create massive problems.
The torrential deluge of June 6-7
Just a few days after the devastation of several tornadoes in central Indiana, the weather showed that when it rains, it pours….literally. For more than 12 hours, there were training thunderstorms over a stationary boundary in portions of central Indiana south of the city of Indianapolis. The heaviest rainfall came in a narrow band extending across the counties of Vigo, Clay, Owen, Putnam, Morgan, Johnson, and Brown. Rainfall in these areas reached nearly unbelievable amounts. Anywhere from 3 to 10 inches of rain fell in this span of June 6 -7. The highest value came from an unofficial total of 10.94 inches measured at Edinburgh. For the sake of comparison, the normal rainfall for the entire month of June is 4.13 inches. Rainfall of this magnitude usually will cause flooding, and this June deluge was no exception. Coupled with a rainfall of several inches just a few days before, this June 6-7 rain lead to a significant and record breaking flood across portions of south central Indiana.
For a more complete listing of rainfall totals in this dramatic rainfall event, see our archive at
A Cool 4th of July
The Fourth of July is usually a holiday that conjures up images of lazy, hazy, hot and humid summer afternoon barbeques, picnics, followed by a perfect evening on the grass, watching fireworks. But the Independence Day celebrations across Central Indiana were likely a little less festive than other years in 2008. Thick clouds held in place throughout the day, and a steady rain fell across the area to the tune of 0.69 inches. This rain and occasional fog kept the day well below normal. Late morning temperatures were in the upper 50s, nearly unheard of for the time of year! By later in the afternoon, the rain had ended, but the temperatures did not really rebound. The high temperature reached only 71 degrees for the day. This was the coolest high temperature ever recorded on an Independence Day in the Indianapolis area, with records dating back to the year 1871. The normal high for the day is 85 degrees, and 71 would be a normal high temperature for early May, rather than July. As cool as this was, it was even a bit cooler in other spots, as Bloomington only recorded a high temperature of 68 degrees for the day.

Return to News Archive is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.