Cold Outside?

August 13, 2010

It’s been an exceedingly hot here for the past month or so. When we had our record-breaking snowfall in February, everyone was longing for the warmth of summer. Now it’s here with a vengeance, and a brisk breeze would be most welcome. Sometimes the best way to fight the heat is to experience cold weather vicariously, which is easy to do in a real Government classic: American Weather Stories.

Originally appearing mainly in various National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA to the cognoscenti) publications, the essays in this 1976 publication covers all kinds of weather, but I was drawn to “The Year Without a Summer.” The year 1816 witnessed extraordinarily frigid temperatures throughout the Northern Hemisphere. In the American Northeast, there were two snowstorms in June and frost in June, July, and August. Farmers suffered severe crop losses in each of those months. It may have been no coincidence that the first general migration from new England to the Middle West occurred the following year. Meteorologists generally agree that fine particles in the upper atmosphere generated from an unusual number of worldwide volcanic eruptions caused this bizarre weather phenomenon.

Another cold weather tale is “The Blizzard of ‘88”, still a catchphrase even today. In New York City, drifts up to the second story windows of office buildings were common, and people literally were blown off their feet by the blasting winds that fed blizzard conditions starting on March 10, 1888. In “The Weather on Inauguration Day,” you’ll find tales of  really rotten weather, including William Howard Taft’s big day, when the snow and wind was even worse than the notorious day in 1961 when President Kennedy took his oath of office. As Taft remarked to a reporter, “I always knew it would be a cold day when I got to be President.”

Of course, American Weather Stories includes drought, hurricanes, and historic weather patterns, too, but it’s to hot to think about those…

Although long out of print, a commercial publisher has issued a reprint. I had no luck finding the text online, but you can find the original at a library.

Addendum: Thanks to Emily Carr at the Library of Congress, I can now share this online text with you.

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