Friday, January 6, 2012

You Think It's Cold Now?

Headline in the Harrisonburg Daily News January 15, 1912
The predicted cold weather from the upper mid-west arrived on winds of 45-50 miles per hour. The cold spread southward and eastward and sent temperatures to the zero mark. Lewis J. Heatwole, the weather observer at the Dale Enterprise station, reported that on Thursday evening, January 4, temperatures dropped from 32º F to - 2ºF. Temperatures may have been a little warmer in Harrisonburg, but were cold enough to frost plate-glass windows nearly an inch and to require merchants on Court Square to keep their electric lights burning during the day. Plumbers experienced increasing demand for their services.

A week later reports on the effects of the continued widespread cold were numerous. A news item from Louisville, KY reported three deaths by freezing. Wire reports received in Baltimore from shippers said the Chesapeake Bay was closed to traffic by a blinding snow storm and by 12 inches of solid ice. Closer to home one Staunton man froze to death under the Valley Road bridge. Near the Bridgewater span over the North River, a young lad was able to escape a similar fate. When demonstrating the “pigeon-wing” form to friends he skated over thin ice and fell in and was rescued. Skating was also popular with the young folks in Lacey Springs. Also, there, farmers were cutting 6-7 inch “best quality” ice blocks. A report of disrupted train schedules in Bridgewater (and presumably elsewhere) caused delays in mail services.

Temperatures continued to drop. On Saturday, January 13, Heatwole in Dale Enterprise reported a cold temperature record of minus 25ºF: the lowest temperature since installation of the government weather station in 1878. Trains were now arriving 2-6 hours behind schedule. The economic costs were increasing. The need for plumbers was great as “hardly a house was unaffected by damaged water pipes.” At two residences kitchen tanks and ranges blew-up. The Majestic range at the Emmanuel Episcopal rectory on South Main exploded breaking windows, denting walls and ceiling, and sending hot water over everything. Miraculously no one was hurt. Likewise, at the Walter Pence’s house on E. Market near Broad a Majestic range was reduced to rubble and created a mess in the kitchen. Again no one was hurt.

After ten days of bitter cold, one can easily image the collective sigh of relief in Rockingham County as residents saw and felt on January 13 the -25ºF at midnight rise to +12ºF twelve hours later.

Harrisonburg Daily News. January 6, 13, and 15, 1912.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting piece. Though we do have extreme snaps throughout the year, the valley is fortunate enough not to experience the same extremes found in the high north and deep south. Good job reference for finding a bit of history that reflects "one of those moments" where things got interesting...