The Thompson-Ames Historical Society
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11-8-05 “If You Don’t Like The Weather...”
Given the fall of 2005 – the devastating tsunami in the East, hurricanes in the southern U.S., earthquakes in Pakistan, record-breaking rains in the northeast U. S., the prediction of heavy snows in the coming winter, weather has been much on our mind. We are told about global warming and it causes us to wonder just what is happening with world climate patterns. Are we looking at catastrophic happenings ahead? Undoubtedly, but is this something new and unheard of? Has not the weather been making itself felt in sudden and violent ways since before memory?
Consider New Hampshire where the weather is determined by our change of season. If you voluntarily live in New Hampshire, it may very well be because you love this seasonal change- our brief spring when all the lovely greens and subtle reds of the foliage seem to appear almost overnight transforming March’s bleak landscape into another miracle of nature, the abundance of summer giving way to the spectacular beauty of autumn, and then the long, cold winter which softens November’s landscape with the first of many snows.
Consider Gilford! We can all remember the ice storm of 1998 when town officials declared a state of emergency as many parts of town were without electricity for more than five days, roads were closed and emergency shelters were opened across the area. We could easily see the path of devastation that swept across Cherry Valley Road (11A). As bad as it was locally, this storm left a wide swath of destruction throughout the Northeast and into Canada. Doesn’t it make you wonder what would have been the aftermath of such a storm 150 or even 100 years ago when the technology and equipment used in the prediction and cleanup wasn’t available. How long would it have taken to recover?
Today, a month like this past October was upsetting because it cut short the boating season, diminished the foliage season, brought water into some cellars and caused a few road outages. In years past, when we were chiefly an agriculturally based community weather such as his would have had a dramatic impact on the lives of Gilford residents
What did the weather mean to Hannah Mudgett who in long skirts and petticoats, trudged on snowshoes with her husband Benjamin from the seacoast to Gilmanton (apparently complaining all the way) in December of 1761? Mrs. Mudgett , credited with being the first white woman to set foot in Gilmanton, declared (probably more than once) that she could not go another step through the deep snow. Kudos to Mrs. Mudgett for doing it at all!
According to The Gunstock Parish: a History of Gilford, New Hampshire by Adair Mulligan, those days of early settlement posed a number of problems based on the weather – problems especially significant to a “society oriented entirely around agriculture”. Chief among things to consider was the “strong variability” of the weather including the unpredictability of the first frost. “On the average, the first fall frost occurred twenty-five days earlier than it does today, but it might come in November one year and early September or late August the next”. In an already short growing season, this could make an immense difference.
Bad storms often had an impact on a farmer’s life in the late 1700s and 1800s. Lightning set fire to barns and houses, killing livestock and often people. “Freshets washed out bridges, cutting off access to the mills or washing out dams. Quick thaws and heavy rains could turn roads and paths into quagmires.” Floods ruined crops and frost played havoc with foundations and travel. Deep snows isolated families from one another. “On January 18, 1810 the thermometer registered 43 degrees. Within 16 hours the temperature dropped to 25 below zero” and a winter hurricane ripped through the area, “snapped off huge trees and flung pieces of houses and hay from demolished barns amid the whirling snow. Thousands of fowl were blown away, never to be seen again…and young cattle were frozen as they huddled together in their barnyards”.
The year 1816 was a traumatic year known as “the year without a summer”. “There was a frost in every month and the wind blew fiercely from the north all summer long. People and animals froze to death in a terrible snowstorm on June 17 that blanketed the lakes Region”. The winter supply of wood was burned up during the summer. By July the ice on the ponds was half an inch thick and by August was over an inch thick. Snow fell heavily on August 30. Crops failed and there was little grain that year. There was not a green thing to be see anywhere according to an eyewitness account.
Weather was of the utmost importance to farmers but there was little to warn them of these cataclysmic weather changes. It is difficult for us to appreciate the impact of the day-to-day weather changes on such a community. Although farmers kept journals recording the weather and over periods of time could see patterns which helped them to anticipate certain events, the extreme fluctuations of some years “confounded these efforts”. On the 10th of August 1836 “one of the most severe and extensive frosts that ever occurred in New Hampshire during a summer month devastated most of the crops without warning.” After a year of eating oatmeal and root vegetables, the story repeated itself the next year. Consider the challenge these extreme and relatively consistent weather variations must have presented to our ancestors whose very existence depended upon the weather. Each occurrence took its toll on lives, livestock, crops, buildings and landscape, not to mention the mental stress. “Many believed the end of all things was at hand”.
Lest you think that these extreme variations of weather don’t happen anymore, look at these more recent statistics – February 1, 1920 Pittsburg, NH recorded a reading of 45 degrees below zero, followed three days later by a snow and sleet storm that paralyzed the region. On February 16, 1943 , record cold prevailed in the northeast - the temperature dropped to 43 degrees below zero at Concord, NH and on February 26, 1969 the “100 hour snowstorm” deposited 77 inches at Pinkham Notch, NH and 33.8 inches at Portsmouth. Intellicast.com
When weather has a statement to make, it makes it. So far, we haven’t been able to change that. What has changed is our ability to predict it, to prepare for it and to more quickly recover from it. Considering the magnitude of our recent spate of weather related disasters, some might argue the point, but thinking of the farmers of the 1700 and 1800s and their options, I think we must agree that we are a little better off today, aren’t we?
All quotations are from The Gunstock Parish: a History of Gilford, New Hampshire by Adair Mulligan.