The first Saturday of every month, a series of sirens set throughout Tippecanoe County undergoes a system test. On Sunday, the 17th of November, however, the sirens that sounded weren’t testing anything. A total of five tornadoes hit Tippecanoe County, knocking out power across the county during Indiana’s third most active tornado day ever.
Duke Energy worked diligently to restore power after the November 17 storms, but some areas of West Lafayette were without power for three to four days.
Lost in all the confusion caused by the storms was the fact that the tornadoes weren’t, relatively speaking, all that bad. Tornadoes are rated on a scale called the Fujita scale, from F0 to F5. The Indiana tornadoes were, in the words of Mr. Collins, “mostly F1s and F2s”, fairly minor tornadoes. The state’s strongest tornado of the day, an F3, landed in Dayton, 7.5 miles east of Lafayette.
Perhaps a cause of the confusion was the unusual time of the tornadoes. Tornado season is springtime, and so some are surprised with November tornadoes.
“People act like this has never happened before in November, and it has,” Collins said. “There is a second season where they’re really common, and that’s November.”
He said that the transition period between warmer weather and colder weather causes cooling air from Canada to mix with warm air from the Gulf of Mexico, causing the storms.
Lafayette-area tornadoes are few and far between, according to the Tippecanoe County tornado archive. Some are still within living memory. Two F4 tornadoes have hit the area since 1970; one cut just northeast of Battle Ground in 1976, and another barely missed West Lafayette in 1994, deflecting to the north. West Lafayette itself has never really taken a direct hit; a F0 went through the center of town in 1978, but those aren’t powerful enough to do substantial damage. An F1 touched down near the Levee on Independence Day 1998, but it petered out rapidly.
In the past, West Lafayette tornadoes have been more of an inconvenience than anything else, but 70-mph winds make for more than just a passing storm.
“It sucked. That’s all I can say. It was horrible,” said Evan Johnson’16.