Jump to content
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...
US Major Winter Storm

Big snow maker to cross country into this weekend, join the conversation!

Sign in to follow this  
  • entries
    4
  • comments
    2
  • views
    349

About this blog

I like history and I like weather. I really like weather that makes history. Hopefully making an effort to share will lead me to discover and learn more in these areas.

Entries in this blog

Chantilly 1862

On September 1, 1862 the Batlle of Ox Hill at Chantilly was fought during severe thunderstorms. It was one of the only battles of the Civil War known to be fought under stormy weather conditions. While our military troops currently view adverse weather and low visiblity environments to be advantageous, this was not the case for troops in the Civil War era. Military tactics at this time favored engagements between large numbers of troops, and so stealth was not usually a primary concern. Combat during the Civil War was always brutal beyond belief, but the weather conditions at this engagement led to even more confusion and difficult fighting conditions than usual.   Prior to the Battle of Chantilly, Union troops had been defeated at the second Battle of Manassas. Exhausted and battle weary, they were retreating toward Washington to regroup. The Confederate troops attempted to flank their movement and cut off their retreat. A small skirmish alerted the Union commanders to the Confederate movements and they responded by attacking the Confederate troops. This caught the Southern troops by surprise at Ox Hill. The Union army attempted to exploit the advantage of surprise by pressing the attack as the Confederate troops dug in at Ox Hill. Meanwhile, a very strong cold front was passing through the area, which led to the severe storms which were a decisive factor in the outcome of this battle. While technically a Confederate victory, the Southern troops did not accomplish their goals in this battle or its aftermath.   The weather on this day was notable due to an extremely strong early season cold front – the exact kind of cold front many are wishful for this year but we currently can find no sign of on the horizon. It was clearly strong and Canadian in origin, and being only September 1, was pushing into hot and humid summer conditions. This is a recipe for severe thunderstorms, and that matches perfectly with the accounts from the Battle of Ox Hill. Prior to the passage of the cold front, winds were observed out of the south. After the passage of the front, the winds had shifted to the northwest and became quite gusty. The storms produced very heavy rain, strong winds from the downbursts, and frequent cloud to ground lightning. Some of these storms passed directly over the battlefield.   These Civil War troops were battle hardened veterans. They were accustomed to the intense fighting conditions of Civil War battlefields, including close proximity to rifle and cannon fire as well as hand to hand combat. Dealing with those conditions while also enduring severe thunderstorms was a challenge to even the most experienced of these men. A firsthand account from one Private Greely in the Union army is indicative of this: ”The roll of musketry and the roar of cannon left all of us unmoved, but the crash of thunder and the vividness of the lightning, whose blinding flashes seemed to be in our very midst, caused the uneasiness and disturbance among some of the bravest men.”   Early on in the battle, General Isaac Stevens of the Union army was killed as the storms were just getting underway. Having seen his son felled by enemy fire, he led the Union charge while holding the battle flag. This made him an obvious target for the enemy and he was subsequently shot and killed. He was not the only Union general to die by enemy fire on this day. Union General Philip Kearny led the Northern reinforcements that arrived on the battlefield later that afternoon. Arriving during the height of a thunderstorm, he became disoriented by the limited visibility and rode directly into the Confederate lines. Once he realized his error, he turned and tried to ride away but was shot down before he could retreat to his own lines.   The torrential rainfall caused issues with the rifle ammunition. Unable to keep their powder dry, both sides affixed bayonets and resorted to hand to hand combat. This 19th century battlefield had turned medieval, with a huge group of soldiers fighting with blades and clubs in a brutal fight for survival. Estimated casualty figures from this battle are over 2000.  While the Battle of Ox Hill is not one of the more famous Civil War engagements, there was a lot at stake here; the outcome was dictated in large part by the weather conditions. After hours of fighting in terrible conditions, the battle slowly came to an end as the sun went down. The men on both sides were very tired and very cold. They had been fighting tooth and nail for hours in the lightning, thunder, and windblown rain. The cold front had  now passed and temperatures dropped to fall like conditions.   The results of this battle appeared to favor the South at first glance. The Union had lost two of its most respected and popular generals. The Union troops were the ones who retreated from the battlefield with the setting of the sun on this day, leaving the Confederates in possession of Ox Hill. Upon closer examination, the outcome was not what General Lee had in mind. The Union troops were not stopped from retreating and the defeat was not as crushing as what was originally envisioned. General Lee’s orignal plan was to incapacitate this group, and then turn his attention toward an attack towards Washington. Going in to the battle, the Confederates had superior numbers and a tactical advantage. But when the North was able to begin the battle preemptively, they were able to gain an advantage due to the element of surprise. Added to this, the confusion and chaos caused by the thunderstorms prevented the Confederate army from carrying out its battle plan effectively. In the end, the Northern troops were able to escape and the Southern troops were unable to launch an attack on Washington. The thunderstorms on September 1, 1862  played a huge role in the war, even though this particular battle is not usually listed among the more significant battles of the Civil War.

1816

1816

Great Colonial Hurricane 1635

On August 25, 1635 the colonies in New England were struck by what was one of the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in New England. It is quite possible that it is the strongest hurricane to hit that far north, period. It is generally considered to be the first hurricane to actually be recorded in North America. Surprisingly, there are numerous detailed accounts of this event that survived and give us a glimpse at the early colonists’ first encounter with an historic east coast hurricane.   The leaders of the Jamestown colony in Virginia wrote about the storm a day or two prior to its arrival at Plymouth. There aren’t any accounts of damage in that area, so it is believed that the hurricane passed far enough to the east to spare Jamestown. They were probably just off the western fringe and saw maybe some outer bands; this was noted as just a big storm in their journals. Had it been more of a hit, it undoubtedly would have been noted differently.     This is 14 years after the settlers first landed in the Plymouth area. We have all read about or seen the movies about the early days of the colony. During these 14 years, more people were arriving and the colonists were branching out and trying to establish new towns and settlements. This means that we have accounts of this hurricane and its effects throughout coastal New England from a few different perspectives. We know it was moving extremely fast. It brought very strong winds and torrential rain. The storm surge was unbelievable on the southern facing coastlines, likely 15-20 feet. The waves along the coast were huge, and compounded with the storm surge caused a very dangerous situation for mariners.   The storm sunk and damaged many vessels. Homes were destroyed by the winds. Crops and livestock were lost. Trade goods and supplies were swept away or sunk with the ships. There were fatalities among the colonists as well as the native population. There was an account of several members of a coastal tribe drowning in the storm surge while fleeing their homes; others were reported to have climbed trees to escape the waters. Two large colonial families was caught trying to ride out the storm on a small boat. The entire group of men, women, and children were lost with the exception of two survivors. It was a very intense hurricane and it just unleashed on these people who weren’t familiar with or prepared for such a storm.   The NHC did a reconstruction of this hurricane and came up with the best estimate of all the details. This hurricane happened before the invention of the barometer and there were no measurements of any kind available from 1635. Everything we know is from the perspective of early 17th century settlers; their accounts of pretty much anything are surprisingly objective and clearly stated. These people were not generally given to hyperbole or exaggeration. This storm is believed to have originated as a Cape Verde storm. It was probably a category 4 or 5 prior to gaining latitude. It arrived in New England as a category 3, with estimated sustained 130 mph winds. It was moving very quickly, with an estimated speed of approximately 35 mph. The only hurricane to even compare it to is the 1938 New England hurricane, and it is believed that the colonial hurricane was slightly more intense.   The European settlers would have been completely unprepared and ill equipped to predict or recognize what was happening. There were probably a very few sailors or adventurers who might have been familiar with hurricanes in the colonies at that time. However, the majority were farmers or tradesmen from rural England. A hurricane is not something they would have encountered previously and this would have taken them completely by surprise with its arrival and effects. The violence of a strong hurricane is one of the scariest things to go through now, with modern structures and technology. I can only imagine what it would be like trying to get through it while sitting in a small building made of earth and wood. The local native tribes were undoubtedly familiar with coastal storms, so they probably knew a storm of some kind was on the way at some point.  But a category 3 hurricane just isn’t common that far north, so even the locals were surely caught off guard by the strength of this storm.   Like most historical weather, this can be seen as an indicator of what we can expect in the future. This storm occurred during the earliest days of colonialization; there simply weren’t that many people or very much infrastructure at that time. While undoubtedly devastating and terrifying for those who had to endure it, a hurricane of similar intensity would obviously be exponentially more destructive were it to happen now. The 1938 hurricane was pretty similar and that storm was very deadly and costly. A slight shift in track and a storm like this could wreak havoc on several extremely vulnerable and highly populated cities. There will always be a storm that will rewrite the record books sooner or later. Thankfully, we won’t ever have to endure storms like the earliest European settlers did - basically exposed to the elements. Still, a hurricane this strong or stronger would be absolutely devastating for such a densely populated part of the country.

1816

1816

Camille 1969

On August 18, 1969 the second most intense hurricane that has been recorded striking the U.S. came ashore on the Mississippi coast. The only hurricane known to have made landfall with a lower atmospheric pressure than Camille was strong enough to literally sandblast people into non existence.  The Labor Day hurricane that resides in 1st place on the list of most intense hurricanes is a source of endless fascination as well as nightmares for me. Camille may not have caused as many fatalities as the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, but anyone who was in the direct path of this compact storm almost definitely experienced as much terror as anyone ever has while the storm battered them.  It also managed to kill 153 people within an hour and a half drive of my current location by dropping over 27 inches of rain in 12 hours. This is steep, mountainous terrain that drains into a limited number of creeks and rivers; that much rain that fast is unfathomable. Entire hillsides were liquified and many of those killed were by blunt force trauma. And all that happened after Camille weakened from a category 5 at landfall to a tropical depression crossing Virginia.   The storm began as many hurricanes do, a cluster of storms coming off of the west coast of Africa. This one didn’t ratchet up through the categories as it crossed the Atlantic. It remained a tropical wave all the way into the Carribean. It brushed the coast of Cuba as a small hurricane of average intensity, likely a category 2. It then moved into the Gulf of Mexico and quickly became a strong category 5. It encountered the jet fuel waters of the gulf and a favorable environment for strenghtening. Forecasters expected it to turn more northeastward and impact Florida but the storm held course toward Louisiana and Mississippi. Other than some weakening due to ERC, it remained this way until it ran into coastal Mississippi like a buzzsaw, flattening everything in its path. Wind estimates at landfall are 175 mph sustained at 900 millibars, though we will never know for sure as all measuring devices in position to record wind speed during Camille were destroyed. Gusts over 200 mph were likely with this storm.   Unfortunately, there were many people in the path of this deadly storm that refused to evacuate. Although I will never understand their thought process, these people must have legitimately felt that their best option was to stay put in the face of the killer storm. People that live in coastal areas affected by hurricanes see many storms that veer off at the last second or don’t reach the expected intensity. After enough of these incidents, perhaps it is understandable that complacency would set in. An error in judgement in this regard can, and has, proven fatal for far too many. The storm surge from Camille was one of the primary dangers, and until Katrina was more or less a unique occurence. It is hard to imagine being on the 3rd floor of a structure and have the ocean lapping at your feet. What kind of emotions would one even have when confronted with something like that? Storm surge from Camille at Pass Christian, Mississippi was approximately 25 feet.   If you want to read a first person account of how terrifying a storm of this intensity is, please look up Ben Duckworth. He was one of the survivors from the Richelieu Apartments. That building took a direct hit from the most intense winds and 25 foot storm surge. It was the source of an urban legend of sorts about a Hurricane Camille ”hurricane party” which never actually occurred. It was really a location where a small group of people attempted to ride out this storm in what they believed to be a safe location. Unfortunately, many of that group did not survive. Ben Duckworth’s account has him climbing onto the roof of the three story building during the storm then being swept off and onto a tree, where he rode out the rest of the storm clinging for survival on his own. It is remarkably similar to several stories told by survivors from the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.   If you are not familiar with the impacts this storm brought to Nelson County, VA please take a minute to read about that deadly flood. The topography of that area of the Blue Ridge aligned just perfectly with several factors to create a nightmare turned reality that people still talk about nearly 50 years later. The remnants of Hurricane Camille were being swept along from west to east and managed to cross Virginia at precisely the right time to interact with a stalled cold front and a jet streak in such a way as to completely inundate one small area with biblical amounts of rain. The circulation of the tropical depression brought an endless supply of low level moisture into an area of incredible lift located right next to ridge tops, creating an upslope event. The storms trained endlessly over the same spot all night long on August 19, 1969. Once again, the terror of having weather seemingly attack you out of the dark depths of the night must have been immense. The high death toll includes many people who were buried in the mudslides and whose remains were never found.   As always, with weather events such as these we can rest assured that the question isn’t will this happen again, but when. Hurricane Katrina was similar to Camille in many ways. Sooner or later one that is stronger than both of them will come along. Floods such as the Nelson County floods are an inherent risk in that area of the Appalachians. It’s expected, just as hurricanes are along the gulf coast. Thankfully, our ability to predict and track these things has improved a great deal since 1969. The Saffir-Simpson scale was implemented following Hurrican Camille to give the public a better idea about the intensity of approaching storms. The residents of Nelson county went to bed on August 19, 1969 expecting showers overnight with clearing to follow, not an historic flood. While we can still be surprised by the weather, hopefully it will not be to that extent, and we will have smaller death and injury tolls through better information and preparation.

1816

1816

Lynmouth 1952

On August 15, 1952 an extremely heavy rain event caused a deadly flood in the village of Lynmouth on the southern coast of England. The first two weeks of August had already been extremely wet in this area, meaning that when the storm arrived the ground was already completely saturated.  A low pressure system in the Atlantic was caught up by the upper air pattern and carried towards England, where it interacted with a cold front to produce many inches of rain in a short period of time. The previous weeks of rainfall combined with the topography of the area created a deadly situation for the town of Lynmouth that cost the lives of 34 people and caused a great deal of property damage.   Lynmouth is situated on the Bristol Channel where the East and West Lyn rivers come together and drain into the channel. It also happens to be surrounded by high ground on pretty much all sides. So this is not the best setup when you have a huge rain event following on the heels of a very wet period. The low pressure system combined with the cold front and passed just south of Plymouth which placed the Lynmouth area in the heaviest rain sector of the storm. It produced approximately 9 inches of rain in a 24 hour period on ground that could not hold any more rain. On the high ground surrounding the town of Lynmouth, this caused flash flooding of the streams and creeks that fed into the E. and W. Lyn rivers. These streams carried an impressive amount of boulders, trees and debris with them downstream. All of this debris quickly blocked the culverts which caused the rising river to run straight through the town. To make matters worse, debris caused a dam to form upstream and when it let go it caused a tsunami-type wall of water to come through the town. Bridges were washed out, numerous buildings were destroyed, cars were swept away, and 34 people were killed in Lynmouth and the surrounding area.   This wasn’t the first or last time this area would flood. The topography makes that area prone to flooding. After the 1952 flood, the layout of the town was altered. There were parts of the town where buildings previously stood that were turned into a memorial and left uninhabited. The river was rerouted to run around the town rather than through it. This occurred in 1952 which was prior to the satellite era. Weather forecasting changed once satellites were able to be used for weather purposes. The meteorological set up that led to this flooding was very interesting, and it wasn’t until years later that a full understanding of what occurred could be achieved. Here is a very interesting and detailed explanation of the science: https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1256/004316502760195894 Click on about then download the pdf.

1816

1816

Sign in to follow this  
×