One of the most severe outbreaks of yellow fever, a viral disease transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, affected the southern United States in the summer of 1878. The economic and human toll was enormous, and the city of Memphis, Tennessee, was one of the most affected. The authors suggest that as a consequence of one of the strongest El Nino episodes on record—that which occurred in 1877–78—exceptional climate anomalies occurred in the United States (as well as in many other parts of the world), which may have been partly responsible for the widespread nature and severity of the 1878 yellow fever outbreak.

This study documents some of the extreme climate anomalies that were recorded in 1877 and 1878 in parts of the eastern United States, with particular emphasis on highlighting the evolution of these anomalies, as they might have contributed to the epidemic. Other years with major outbreaks of yellow fever in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries also occurred during the course of El Niño episodes, a fact that appears not to have been noted before in the literature.

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*NOAA/ERL/CDC, Boulder, Colorado.

+U.S. Geological Survey, Denver Federal Center, Denver, Colorado.