November 13, 2011

Cloud seeding in action

From the Sun's print editions:

Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell provides this guest post: 

"Artificial snow from cloud seeding falls for the first time in nature" was the headline that ran Nov. 13, 1946. Vincent J Schaefer, a self-taught chemist and meteorologist working for General Electric who produced this effect in the lab, tested it in the natural world by flying over Greylock mountain in western Massachusetts.

He dispensed about six pounds of dry ice pellets at an altitude of 14,000 feet. Though no snow hit the ground, it did fall about 3,000 feet before evaporating.

Schaefer was hailed in a 1993 New York Times obituary as the first person to "actually do something about the weather and not just talk about it."

Cloud seeding is used around the world to limit drought and reduce hail. And artificial snow making is a common practice at ski resorts.

Whether man should try to control the weather is debatable and if this does more harm than good.

Posted by Kim Walker at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition, History

September 18, 2011

Isabel struck eight years ago today


Isabel 2003Today marks the eighth anniversary of Isabel’s 2003 landfall near Morehead City, N.C. It was a Cat. 2 hurricane at landfall, and weakened as it drove inland toward Western Maryland.

The 2.13 inches of rain on the 18th set a new daily record for BWI. But it was wind on the storm’s east side that drove a destructive, 8.5-foot storm surge into the Upper Chesapeake, breaking records set during the Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane in 1933, and flooding Baltimore and Arundel shorelines.

(SUN PHOTO: Riviera Beach. David Hobby, 2003)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:04 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History, Hurricanes

August 31, 2011

Katia nearly a hurricane; Gulf storm brewing

Tropical Storm Katia is now producing top sustained winds of 70 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center, and it is expected to reach hurricane force tonight - just the second storm this season to become a hurricane.

Meanwhile, another storm is brewing at the west end of the Island of Cuba. That one is expected to strengthen in the Gulf, but forecast models are all over the place in their predictions of where it might strike land.

Katia was located this afternoon 1,285 miles east of the Leeward Islands. It was moving to the west-northwest at 20 mph. Forecasters expect it will stay on that course for the next 48 hours and slow a bit. One of the forecast models has Katia reaching Cat. 3 status by late Sunday or Monday.

The storm is moving along the south side of a large high-pressure system over the Atlantic. When it reaches the southwest side of that clockwise circulation, it is forecast to begin a turn to the northwest and eventually north. Just how close it gets to the East Coast by that time is the big question for Katia. Here are some of the model projections.

Mid-Atlantic residents should also be watching the disturbance cranking up at the west end of Cuba. That storm remains pretty disorganized, but forecasters have raised their estimate of its chances. They now give it a 30 percent chance of becoming a tropical storm in the next 48 hours.

The big question for this one is where it will turn for land. The models are all over the place (see map above). Some take it toward Texas. Others turn it north and east toward the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states. If it comes this way we'll likely get another big dose of rain.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: History

June 17, 2011

A tornado in February?


Jared Klein, at the NWS in Sterling, sent me an article from the Democratic Advocate reporting a storm that struck Westminster, Feb. 19, 1893. Roaring wind toppled a chimney; destroyed a stable and barn; unroofed a dorm at Western Maryland College and blew down the steeple at St. Paul’s Reformed. The winds appeared cyclonic, and damage fell along a path less than a half-mile wide.

Klein calls it “the closest account to a ‘snow tornado’ that I have personally come across ... It seems suspect that a tornado occurred on a day where the high temperature nearby [in Baltimore] was only in the low 40s, but I do not have any other meteorological information/evidence to accept or reject the tornado report," he said.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History, Tornadoes

June 2, 2011

Reader recalls deadly Flint tornado in 1953

I received this note recently from Nadine Lord, in Elkridge:

"On the evening of June 8, 1953, my family and I were shopping in downtown Flint, Michigan. On our way home, I kept looking out the car window at a cloud formation I'd never seen before: a pillar of white clouds with lightning running through it. We got home just before the rain.

"After the storm we kept seeing and hearing police cars and ambulances behind our apartment on a normally quiet road. We thought there had been a bad road accident, never dreaming that an F-5 tornado had touched down on streets of houses built on cement slabs. The warning to those residents had been 5 minutes only.

"The number of deaths and injuries was heartbreaking, as you well know. The saddest of all was the next day, when I watched hearses and ambulances go quietly by hour after hour.

"I was born in Ohio on Lake Erie and grew up with storms, but I learned to fear tornadoes that awful June night. ... Most sincerely, Nadine Lord."

Ms. Lord (that's not her in the video) has a good memory. The tornado she remembers from that day was part of a three-day outbreak that moved across the Midwest and Northeast, from Colorado to Massachusetts, killing hundreds. 

The Flint tornado was one of only three F-5 tornadoes ever to strike Michigan. It touched down around 8:30 p.m. just north of Flint. When it was over, whole neighborhoods of Flint and Beecher - hundreds of homes - were gone, 116 people were dead, and more than 650 were injured. It was the 10th deadliest U.S. tornado on record. Here's more on the outbreak.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:06 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

May 19, 2011

Bad news traveled slowly in 1986

For all anyone in Baltimore knew on this morning 25 years ago, the Pride of Baltimore, the rakish replica clipper ship that had raised the city's spirits and sailed off to tell our story to the world, was somewhere out on the Atlantic, making its way back to the Chesapeake after a successful, year-long European tour.

The last contact with Pride offices was a telephone call on May 9 from the U.S. Virgin Islands. The ship was about to set out on the final leg of its journey, they reported, homeward bound. The crew Pride of Baltimorewas young but well-seasoned, and its captain, Armin E. Elsaesser 3rd, had made the crossing many times. There seemed to be no particular reason to worry.

The first word of the calamity that had befallen the ship came from Joe McGeady, of Severna Park. A veteran of two years aboard the Pride, he was an experienced ocean sailor at 26.

At 4:30 a.m., he called his mother, Emily, by radio-telephone from the Toro, a Norwegian tanker sailing from New York to Venezuela. The Pride had sunk in a storm, he told her. He and seven other survivors had drifted in a rubber life raft for more than four days. Four crew members were missing, including Capt. Elsaesser. Survivors reported seeing two bodies before they drifted away.

Now, word began to spread more quickly as other survivors called their families, and Pride officials in Baltimore. Sometime in mid-morning, I picked up the phone in the old Evening Sun newsroom, three floors above where I sit today on North Calvert Street. It was Chris Hartman, secretary of the Pride's board of directors, who filled me with as much information as he had. I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

As soon as he hung up, I alerted editors to the astonishing news. They began assigning storiesPride of Baltimore II and tearing up plans for the paper's afternoon editions. There was no online edition then, only paper and the next run of the presses.

I was assigned to write the main story. By the time the final edition closed a few hours later, 10 reporters and uncounted editors and librarians had pitched in to report, write, edit and file four stories for the main section, with photos and maps. We re-made much of the paper and had it out on the streets on deadline.

"PRIDE OF BALTIMORE SINKS," the banner headline screamed. "8 rescued; 4 missing; 2 dead reportedly sighted"

It was one of the saddest, most exhilarating days I have had in 40 years in the newspaper business. It was the Evening Sun at its breaking-news best.

The tragedy would continue to unfold in the days and months that followed, and we stayed with it. We immediately flew several reporters and photographers to Puerto Rico. The Pride survivors were being airlifted by Coast Guard helicopters from the Toro to the Coast Guard base at Borinquen, and the Evening Sun was there to report it. There would also be an emotional news conference at Martin State Airport when they returned to Baltimore.

And there would be a Coast Guard hearing at the Customs House in Baltimore, where the details of the sinking and its aftermath were explored in days of painful testimony by the crew and others. The Pride had been caught in a microburst - a violent downdraft of cold air from a nearby thunderstorm that capsized the ship and sent the Atlantic pouring in through an open companionway. 

Reporters for the old News American covered the hearings alongside the Sun and the Evening Sun. They stayed on the story until someone passed word to them that their owners were closing the paper, forever. Then they stood up and left.

The following winter, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its report on the sinking. It concluded that the microburst had heeled the ship over beyond its ability to right itself, allowing water to pour in.

It said Capt. Elsaesser had reponded properly to the gust, but faulted him and the Pride organization for not storing life vests on the open deck, and failing to maintain more regular communications with the vessel. The NTSB also faulted a Spanish maintenance firm for improperly inserting plugs in the Pride's life rafts during servicing. One of the rafts deflated after Schaefer on the Pridethe sinking, and the survivors had to inflate the other by mouth as they treaded water, struggling to stay afloat.

The Coast Guard report on the sinking found no evidence of misconduct or negilgence by anyone connected with the ship, but suggested several changes if the city ever chose to replace the ship. .

In the aftermath of the sinking, the city debated, and agreed, with state and private support, to build a replacement ship. The Pride of Baltimore II was designed with slightly less faithfulness to the swift but dangerous 1812 Baltimore clippers. It would have a higher freeboard, more modern communications and better safety equipment. Today's Pride crews would never again go 10 days without calling home.

The day word of the Pride's sinking reached Baltimore, then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer - who had long been a champion of the Pride and its mission for the city - spoke tearfully about the ship and her crew. It was the most eloquent comment I've ever read about the tragedy, which affected him deeply.Pride of Baltimore Inc.

"I don't know if any of you went down to the Inner Harbor today and saw the Pride," he said. "I did. I saw it turn, with all its bright lights on, and sail out to sea."

Last Friday, a month after Schaefer was laid to rest, staff members of the Pride of Baltimore Inc., the non-profit that took ownership of the Pride II last year, gathered at the Pride Memorial on the Inner Harbor with current crew members and family of some of those lost on that May day a quarter century ago.

It was a brief and private observance at the families' request, said Linda Christenson, executive director of the organization. Someone hung a wreath on the mast and read a message Capt. Elsaesser had sent to Baltimore just before the ship set sail for home:

"What lies ahead is unknown – a source of mystery and apprehension – perhaps the allure of the sailing life – always moving, always changing, always wondering what the next passage will be like and what we will discover at the other end.  This time our destination is home – the Chesapeake Bay and Baltimore.  It is always a relief for the captain, and I suspect the ship, to have our lines ashore and fast where Pride is safest, the Finger Piers at the Inner Harbor.”

(PHOTOS: Top: Pride of Baltimore in 1986, handout. Second: Pride II, Jed Kirschbaum, 2010. Third: Sun Photo, Lloyd Pearson, 1980. Bottom: Pride of Baltimore Inc.)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: History

April 29, 2011

Storm reports, storm-chaser video

April 27 storm damageHere is a detailed rundown of the storm reports for the past two days, as compiled by the National Weather Service. It includes storm damage, reports of funnel clouds and hail in the region, and flooding. Click here.

We've also received a link to a YouTube storm-chaser video showing what appears to be EF-0 tornado damage as it occurred on Wednesday near Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County. The folks at the NWS forecast office in Sterling, Va. say the video helped them determine the storm's path.

Here's the link, but we need to add a CAUTION: The storm-chasers' language is a bit rough. 

(PHOTO: MMdrummer3153, screen shot from the YouTube video) 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

April 10, 2011

In 1894, late snowstorm piled on miseries


April snow BaltimoreApril 10-12, 1894 were miserable days for Marylanders. It was cold; the high in Baltimore on the 10th was 40, still a record-low high for the date. A coastal storm with 60 mph winds battered ships. Two coastal schooners went aground in New Jersey, drowning 20 seamen. Two days of sleet and snow piled up 5 inches of slush in the city. The Sun reported: “The barn and wagon shed of Samuel Crocker, Chestnut Ridge … collapsed. Several hogs were killed by the falling timber.”  

(SUN PHOTO: Kenneth K. Lam, April 7, 2003)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

February 11, 2011

"Valentine's Day Storm" brought city to its knees

It was a time when Baltimore battled heavy snow with armies of men with shovels, and streetcar sweepers, horses and carts. There were no motorized plows, no salt trucks. Just mountains of snow and, except for the streetcars, only muscle to push it back.

It began snowing on Feb. 12, 1899, and before it was over on St. Valentine's Day, there was more than 21 inches of snow blanketing the city. It remains the fourth-biggest three-day snowstorm on record for the city, and the seventh-deepest overall. 

The harbor was frozen. Roads to the countryside were clogged with snow. Supplies of food and milk were cut off. Baltimoreans went to work, and The Sun told the story. Here's some of our coverage from the Feb. 15 editions:

Headline: A City Shoveling Snow; Herculean Efforts Made To Clear The Sidewalks and Open Streets.

Valentines Day Storm"All Baltimore awoke yesterday morning with a sigh of relief that the blizzard had ended, but many were appalled by the mountains of snow on sidewalks and streets, by huge drifts in back yards, the heavy covering on the roofs and the blockade of streets.

"The sun was shining, the fierce wind had gone down, the snow no longer slashed one in the face like a knife, and the temperature has appreciably risen. Everybody said it was a fine day overhead, if one could only travel that way. But there was the snow in immense heaps, and bright and early the labor of clearing away paths was begun all over the city. There were few unemployed men in town yesterday, and hundreds procured shovels and made a good thing of  the snow, or, rather, out of the householders.

"Down town, where people had tramped to and fro the day before and had beaten down the snow into a semblance of a path, it was no easy job to clean the sidewalks. Every business house and store had men outside in the morening working with crowbars, hatchets, axes and shovels, chopping and hacking away at the frozen mass of snow and ice, while other men brushed the accumulated drifts from the upper windows and roofs. All the snow was thrown from the sidewalks into the middle of the street, with the result that huge piles, taller than the tallest man, were formed ...

"... Many establishments turned hot water into the gutters to melt the snow and made a disagreeable amount of slush on streets and at crossings.


(NOTE: The table at right shows the snowiest Februaries on record for Washington, Baltimore and Dulles International Airport. February 1899 was the third-snowiest in Baltimore, after 2003 and 2010.)

"In the residential districts up town, no such conditions existed. The only snow-cleaning force up there was that employed by householders to shovel off the sidewalks and the drifts and heaps in the streets and all crossings were discouraging to persons who wished to go out. The bristling car sweeper was the chief agency in piling up the snow, and on Madison avenue and Charles street, especially, the heaps were enormous. Travelers got out of the cars into drifts and mixed up with others alighting at the same time, who could find no foothold.

"On Mosher street, on each side of Calhoun street, the snow in many cases was piled up to the parlor windows of the houses, and the street was in such a condition that but a few wagon drivers

Top Ten 1-, 2- and 3-Day Snowfall Totals (inches) at Baltimore, MD

(Snowfall record dates back to 1892)

[For 2 (3) day records, it must have snowed all 2 (3) days]

were brave enough to use it. All along West Lombard street the snow is extremely heavy, and in East and Northeast Baltimore the drifts appeared to be worse than in any other section. Considerable money was made by men who went about from house to house cleaning the pavements and yards, and charges of from 15 cents to $2 were made, according to the amount of snow to be shoveled."

"... The steam railroads were partly cleared and a few trains were sent out, although regular schedules may not be resumed for a day or two. The mails are yet at a standstill. No New York papers were received in Baltimore yesterday.

"The only case of fatality from the blizzard reported is that of Harry E. Vincent, 2235 East Chase street, who fell exhausted in the snow near his home early yesterday morning and died of exposure.

"The ice blockade in the harbor has been practically broken, at least for the larger vessels.

"Prices of provisions and country produce have advanced materially because of the inability to secure supplies from the surrounding country.

"Details of the storm in the State of Maryland report almost complete stoppage of travel by rail, steamboats and by the public roads. In many parts of the State the snow on a level is over three feet deep, while the drifts in the western counties, especially in Frederick county, are often as much as 20 feet deep and up to the second story of the homes. Ice is 14 inches thick in the Susquehanna river at Havre de Grace.

"At Ocean City the surf was frozen on the beach and the coast guard of the life saving station were subjected to great personal privation. The islands of the lower Chesapeake are icebound.

"Two brick buildings, a frame shed, five pleasure vehicles and two meat wagons, together with a large quantity of feed, all in the rear of the home of John P. Dienstbier, a beef butcher, No. 1 Marriott street, southwestern Annex, were about destroyed early yesterday morning by a fire, the origin of which Mr. Dienstbier has been unable to discover.

"Capt. J.F. Rupp, of No. 14 engine company, took only the hose wagon to the fire. The wagon was drawn by five horses, and had gotten out Frederick Avenue as far as Garrison lane, when further progress was impeded owing to the fact that both car tracks were blockaded with cars. On both sides of the avenue the snow was piled to a height of ten and twelve feet, making it impossible for the horses to pull through it.

"Seeing the dilemma, Captain Rupp hitched a horse to a sleigh owned by Mr. Dienstbier and drove to No. 1 chemical engine house, where he obtained six hundred feet of hose. This hose was attached to a plug near the scene of the fire and with it the members of the No. 14 engine company and the members of No. 1 chemical company fought the flames and saved the property of Mr. Herman Krause, another butcher, whose place adjoins that of Mr. Dienstbier's on the west.

"... Mr. Dienstbier estimates his loss at $1,000, which is not covered by insurance.."

"Throughout the city a milk famine was experienced by the residents, and signs bearing the words 'milk wanted' were to be seen hanging in front of many homes. The signs were suspended from second-story windows, as the snow along a number of streets reached about the first floor of the buildings. Two sleighs drawn by four horses each and containing cans of milk reaped a rich harvest in the north-western section for their owners. They were unable to go very far, as the supply of milk gave out.

"Condensed milk was held at a premium by a number of store-keepers who desired to make their limited supply go as far as possible. Several drug stores exhausted their supply early in the day. In many parts of the district dairy wagons have not been seen since Sunday morning.

"Hotels and restaurants ran on short allowances, and many saloons were entirely without milk." 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

February 9, 2011

Ski Liberty snow cat waded in to "groom" BWI

Here's a story we missed during last year's twin blizzards:  When BWI-Marshall Airport found itself without the equipment they needed for snow removal around sensitive runway "glide slope" antennas, they lifted their eyes unto the hills, whence came their help.

The glide slope equipment is a critical piece of the airport's Instrument Landing System, guiding pilots to the ground when visibility is poor, telling them when they are too high or too low. But it is sensitive to uneven terrain around the antennas, and the 44 inches of snow that had fallen in less than a week was affecting the accuracy of the data being sent to approaching aircraft. 

Here's how BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean recounted the tale, which began just after the end of BWI-Marshall Airportthe second storm, on Feb. 9-10:

"The depth of the snow was causing variations in the readings [the system] was producing. It wasn't an issue [so long as] the weather was clear. But the carriers were concerned about this technology. They wanted to ensure it would be available to use should the weather be bad after the storms."

"The airport snow removal equipment is designed to plow and blow snow from runways and taxiways and other paved surfaces. It would not be able to operate on grassy surfaces."

The airport's plows and blowers would have torn up the grass and could have become bogged down in mud, Dean said:

"Our airport manager came up with the idea. He contacted the professionals at Ski Liberty. They were very enthusiastic and very gracious, and did not hesitate in bringing that equipment down from PennsylvaniaBWI Ski Liberty. And the operation worked beautifully."

Liberty Mountain Resort's PistenBully 600 snow cat was loaded onto a flatbed truck and hauled the 83 miles from Waynesboro, Pa., arriving on the evening of Feb. 11. It was re-assembled overnight, and the Ski Liberty crew went to work the next morning. The operator reduced the snow cover and groomed the snow  over an area the size of "a couple of football fields" across two areas of snow-covered airport property on Runway 10-28.

The work was done in one day, Dean said, and the glide slope system was back on line. The snow cat crew's compensation? "We bought them dinner," Dean said.

"It was a unique, outside-the-box operation (in idea and execution) that was a real benefit to BWI and our airline partners," Dean said. "The work was acknowledged and praised by the FAA and other airports throughout the country."

(PHOTOS: BWI-Marshall Airport, used with permission)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:30 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: History

January 27, 2011

Deadly Knickerbocker Storm struck 89 years ago

As punishing as Wednesday's Rush Hour Storm was for thousands of Maryland commuters, road and utility crews, nothing Marylanders have suffered in winter can compare with the 1922 Knickerbocker Storm that began 89 years ago today. It will always be remembered as the deadliest in the region's winter history.

Over three days, the storm piled up 24.7 inches in Baltimore, a mark that remained the local record until 2003. It began on a Friday evening, at rush hour. Commuters sought shelter in hotels and clubs, or remained trapped in their stranded streetcars.

Sun front pageThe late Walter Sondheim, Jr., was among the stranded that weekend. He told The Sun in a 1996 interview that he was 14 back then, trying to get home on Bolton Street.

"I was on a streetcar. It got stuck on Linden Avenue, a couple of blocks south of McMechen," he recalled. "I probably walked three to four blocks. I guess I slogged through the snow. I came home to a frantic mother."

Former Maryland Comptroller, the late Louis Goldstein was 9 that weekend, and he took the storm as an invitation to head for Patterson Park. "They had these big box sleighs at Patterson Park and Baltimore Street," he recalled in 1996. "People used to go over there, ride one of those sleighs down [a long hill] and walk all the way back [up], and that was some kind of walk. I could do it now."Baltimore Sun

The streetcar company called for sweepers and shovelers to clear their tracks. As many as 4,000 found work at $3.50 a day.

Kathryn Bradley recalled the storm in a Sun interview in 2003. She was 97, living at the Oak Crest Retirement Community. "We didn't think anything of it at the time," she insisted. "It was before the age of automobiles, and I do remember riding a buggy. Nobody cleaned the streets. The streets were just left the way they were. There wasn't that much traffic. I just envied anybody with a horse and sleigh. At least they could get around, when nobody could get around in a car. Cars weren't made for snow in those days."

As bad as it became in Baltimore, it was worse in Washington, which recorded 30 inches of heavy, wet snow. The burden proved too much for the roof of the capital's Knickerbocker Theater. It gave way during a Saturday evening movie show, and after the body counts were finally reconciled and made official, authorities said 98 people had been crushed to death. Another 135 were injured and more were trapped. The tragedy gave the storm its name.

Bill Bowles was 94 in 2003 when he spoke to The Sun at Oak Crest about the storm, which he experienced in Alexandria, Va. "The snow was so deep my brother and I dug tunnels through it and crawled around through and made a house under the snow," he said.

He remembered hearing of the theater disaster across the Potomac, and being amazed at the toll. "Why people were  watching a movie during a storm like that, I've never been able to figure out," he said.

Thanks to Sun Librarian Paul McCardell

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:02 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: History

November 24, 2010

Where Thanksgiving began

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station in 2007 snapped this photo of Cape Cod, where the Pilgrims first stepped ashore in November 1620 and, on the west side of Cape Cod Bay, Plymouth harbor, where they established their colony.

Cape Cod and PlymouthTheir first landfall, if I recall correctly, was where Provincetown stands today, at the tip of Cape Cod. It would be a few more weeks before they happened on the harbor at Plymouth. They set up their little town near where Wampanoag Indians had once had a village. The native population had already been diminished by diseases brought by earlier explorers and fishermen.

The first Thanksgiving was held the following autumn, 1621, after a harrowing winter that killed off many of the settlers, and after reaping a successful harvest. Here's more on the image and the geology of the area.

At the far left-hand edge of this image, there's a gray smudge surrounding a small river. The river is the Acushnet, and the smudge on the west bank is New Bedford, Mass., still a major fishing port, where your weather blogger got his start in daily journalism. On the east bank are the towns of Fairhaven and Acushnet.

Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving in the company of family and good friends. Cheers! 


Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:37 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: History

May 14, 2010

Worst Preakness weather? Could be 1938

Matthais Daiger stayed close to the electric heater in his office under the clubhouse at Pimlico. Sure, it was Preakness Day, 1938. But the weather was dismal and cold, and it poured rain all morning. He told the Sun reporter who found him there it was the worst Preakness weather in the then-48-year history of the race.

1938 Preakness"Daigler  recalled that even the Preakness day in 1924 when Nellie Morse [the last filly to win the Preakness until Rachel Alexandra's victory in 2009] waded through a sea of mud to win, was not as bad as this," the Sun's George Dorsch reported.

"... 30,000 rain-soaked, bedraggled fans from all sections of the country, ranging from statesmen to day laborers ... saw William du Pont, Jr.'s Dauber ... win the forty-eighth renewal of the turf classic at Pimlico."

But it wasn't easy. Curtains of rain and mist obscured the backstretch. "Nellie Morse's day did have some sun after the race, but there's no letting up here," Daigler told Dorsch. "I don't know of any worse weather at any time before I became connected with the track." And he had been there for 40 years.

Hawkers and vendors were soaked. Tipsters were soaked. Race fans were soaked.

It wasn't all gloom, of course. The bigshots in the clubhouse were in a festive mood, Dorsch reported. There were ambassadors, the British Colonial Secretary of Bermuda, 150 senators and congressmen up from Washington for the big day. Railroad presidents and financiers munched on the luncheon spread.

Hollywood was represented, too. Among the celebrities was movie director Ernst Lubitsch ("Ninotchka," "To Be or Not To Be").  So was Myron Selznick, brother of David O. Selznick, the1938 Preakness race fans head of MGM Studios.

Dorsch went on for 10 long paragraphs listing the glitterati, and the high-born, horsey-set Marylanders.

"A matron," he wrote, "drenched from shoes to hat, recalled dismally how she, as a young girl, used to be brought to the Preakness in her father's coach; how it was parked in the infield, and how a luncheon, including vintage champagne, was spread on the lawn before the races."

They still do that, right?

"As she spoke, only the necessary employees were in the inclosure where sponsors of the race had expected thousands to gather."

So the races began. But few ventured out to the rails to watch. "Below the grandstand, hot-dog vendors and beer dispensers did a land-office business," Dorsch said. "Hundreds tried to stave off the cold with hot coffee. Everywhere the word was passed: 'As soon as the Preakness is run, it's home and a hot bath.'"

When Preakness post time approached, large numbers of fans, for the first time that day, left their shelter and crossed to the infield rail. "The rain came down heavier," the Sun observed. "A fine mist partially hid the backstretch ... Blacker became the skies. Hundreds of umbrellas on the terrace prevented a clear view of persons who stood behind. The rain increased. A mighty roar. The horses came tearing down the track. Another Preakness was being run."Dauber wins 1938 Preakness

And then it was over.

"Cold, shivering and drenched, many thousands of the disappointing crowd [45,000 had been expected] left hurriedly at the end of the race, declining to wait for the presentation of the historic Woodlawn Vase." The winner was Dauber (photo, right), appropriately caked in mud. But even he wanted to be somewhere else. Dorsch reported the horse "declined to allow the customary floral tribute to be placed around his neck, and was led away."

(Sun files, World Wide Photos, 1938 Preakness)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

January 13, 2010

Haiti suffered in 1842 quake, too

Situated as it is on the edge of an active joint in the Earth's crustal plates, Haiti is no stranger to earthquakes. Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell has pulled some clips from the Sun's archives of stories we published in the wake of the great quake of May 7, 1842.

Some of the accounts read just like the dispatches we're seeing from Haiti today. Others are firmly, and quaintly rooted in the 19th century. Here are some highlights:

Headline: Great Earthquake in the Island of Santo Domingo; Great Destruction of Life and Property.

Haiti quake"May 30, 1842: The New York papers of Saturday morning contain all the particulars received of the great earthquake at Cape Haitien, which occurred on the 7th inst. and destroyed an immense deal of property and thousands of lives. It is a singular fact that at Bayou Teche, Louisiana, an earthquake was experienced on the same day, and the waters of the river and lake rose suddenly about six feet...

"There were two very decided shocks, the first was not as long as the second; the latter was the most violent and lasted about three minutes. All abandoned their houses, and the streets were filled with the afrighted population ... There is scarcely a single brick or stone house which has not suffered damage. They are all more or less damaged. Some, it is said, are scarcely habitable. The facade of the Senate House ... were detached from the edifice and broken into pieces by the fall...

"During these latter days it appears to us as if the earth on which we were walking was constantly quaking.

[The photo above is from the American Red Cross, Matthew Marek, via AFP Getty Images, shot Wednesday. The 1842 accounts resume below.]

"Sainte Mare - A letter from this town, which has been communicated to us, informs us that there too the earthquake of Saturday  last was felt with the greatest violence; many houses have been so much shaken that they threaten every instant to fall down. On some plantations in the neighborhood of the town very great damage has been done...

"Gonaives - We write these hurried lines in the street. The whole population has passed the night in the middle of the streets. Of the merchandize, which the merchants have been obliged to pile up in the public square, a great part has been stolen.  ... The church, the prison, the national palace, the treasury, the arsenal, and the house which was getting ready for the colonel commanding this district, are now nothingCap Haitien 1994 more than a heap of ruins...

"It is now 8 o'clock in the morning. Not half an hour has passed since we had another violent shock. The number of persons killed and wounded is not yet known. All the prisoners who were not buried under the ruins of the prison, have escaped...

"Cape Haitien - Most deplorable news his spreading throughout the city ...Cape Town has entirely disappeared and with it two-thirds of the population. The families which have escaped this disaster have taken refuge at La Fossette, where they are without shelter, clothes or provisions.

"One letter says that at Cape Haitien but one person was saved, all the others being drowned or crushed to death. The Cape itself was one mass of ruins. The town of Cape Haitien contained 15,000 inhabitants."

That's a shot of Cap Haitien above right, in 1994, as residents cheered their support for deposed President Aristide while a U.S. Marine helicopter flew over. (AP PHOTO/Hans Deryk) 

Here's a story that reflects the scientific understanding of earthquakes in 1842, at least among newspaper folks. It's quite remarkable.

Headline: Range and Severity of the Late Earthquake

"June 1, 1842: The earthquake which has recently desolated a large portion of St. Domingo, was one of the most severe that has occurred in any part of the world for many years; and perhaps more extensive in the sphere of its operations than any since the earthquake which destroyed Lisbon, in 1755.

"It appears that on the same day, and very nearly the same hour, the effects of this recent earthquake were felt at various places ranging from Port-au-Prince to the base of the Rocky Mountains. The greatest explosion from the force of internal pent up fires was felt at Cape Haytien, St. Domingo, on the 7th instant; here they had three successive and violent shocks; and previous to the first of them a shock of the earthquake was felt at Porto Rico, on the morning of the 7th of May, which as far as we have yet learned, was the most easterly point that the effects of it were felt.

"The internal fires, it seems, then took a northwesterly direction, struggling to escape from their prison house, and ultimately tore the ground asunder and broke out at Cape Haytien. It stretched clear across the breadth of St. Domingo and was felt at Port-au-Prince on the same day and at nearly the same hour.

"It also traveled and was felt at Mayaguez [Puerto Rico] at the same time; then at St. Martinsville [Louisiana]and one or two other places in Louisiana; thence to Van Buren, Arkansas, and clear up to the foot of the Rocky Mountains, where it was also felt on the same day.

"It thus travelled at least 1,500 miles, and perhaps was felt even further. It is a sublime and awful thought; here we have proofs of the existence of a body of internal fires 1,500 miles long and probably as many deep."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:39 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: History

December 31, 2009

Arctic explorer stuck in Maryland snow

This is just too perfect, and wonderfully written, to require any elaboration by me. From the archives of The Baltimore Sun, Dec. 31, 1909, just as it appeared exactly one century ago (with thanks to Sun Librarian Paul McCardell):

Commander Robert E. PearyHeadline: PEARY STUCK IN SNOW

Sub-heads: Explorer Finds Rural Maryland Like the North Pole; HAD TO DIG OUT THE TAXICAB; Host's Ears Frozen And Is Rushed Away From Dinner To Have His Ears Rubbed In Snow

Washington, Dec. 30 - Commander Robert E. Peary, one of our leading discoverers of the North Pole, had the liveliest kind of an Arctic experience last night in Maryland within six miles of Washington.

With Mrs. Peary and her sister he was sledding in a taxicab briskly along Bradley lane to keep an 8 o'clock dinner engagement at the home of Ralph P. Barnard, son of Justice Job Barnard, at Drummond, Md., just across the District line. The taxicab suddenly paused, dashed forward, halted again, jumped off the road, and finally came to rest in six feet of snow. The engine snorted a couple of times, backfired once and stopped.

After the first surprise was over the explorer picked up the speaking tube dangling at his right hand and hailed the bridge.

"Stuck," said the chauffeur, "and stuck good. I guess you'd better take command of this expedition. I hain't no Eskimo."

(PHOTO/Robert Peary/National Geographic Society/No date)

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Categories: History

November 19, 2009

An account of deadly 1926 La Plata tornado

Steve Zubrick, science and operations officer at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., has sent me a link to an historic National Weather Service report on the Nov. 9, 1926 tornado that SUN PHOTO/Karl Merton Ferron/La Plata 2002swept across parts of Charles and Prince George's counties, leaving 16 dead (or 17, depending on your source) - including 13 school children.

The F-4 twister demolished homes and barns, carved a cross-country trail of splintered trees and carried debris as far as 50 miles before dropping it. A school teacher describes how she and her students were lifted into the air and swept away, along with parts of their demolished schoolhouse.

Sun reporter Fred Rasmussen interviewed one of the school's students, who survived because she was not in class that day; but her sister was among the dead. (No, Fred's not quite that old; the woman was in her 80s when they spoke.) Read his story, below.

Fred tracked the woman down after a similar tornado struck La Plata in April 2002. Only the third F-4 in the record books for Maryland, the 2002 tornado ravaged the town and cut a path all the way across Southern Maryland. It then spawned a waterspout on the bay, and touched down again on the Eastern Shore. Six people died. The photo above was taken four days later.  

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Categories: History

October 30, 2009

Worst October snow ever struck in 1925

Parts of Colorado are digging out from two to three feet of snow today, the worst October storm in years for the Denver area. And that's why we don't live there.

The deepest Baltimore snowstorm ever recorded in October struck on this date in 1925, killing at least one person and blinding the railbirds at Laurel Park through all seven races.

The storm dropped 1 to 3 inches of snow across the region, with an official 2.5 inches in Baltimore. That remains the deepest October snowfall on record for the city.

The storm was born in the Gulf of Mexico and intensified as it spun up the east coast. The coastal low left snow on the ground from Virginia to southern New England. 

"Below-zero weather was reported at several places in the Middle West, where all October records for seventy years were shattered," The Sun said. "West Virginia and Eastern Ohio experienced almost blizzard weather and a considerable fall of snow. Heavy damage to late crops was reported in most sections of the Middle West and lakes Region."

In Baltimore, the snow began falling around 1 p.m. and continued into the evening, even as surface temperatures remained above freezing. The previous day's high temperature of 46 degrees remains the coolest high temperature on record for an Oct. 29 in Baltimore.

George Holritter, a 70-year-old Baltimore scissors grinder, was walking in snow on Calverton Road, near Frederick Avenue, when he was struck by a coal truck and killed instantly. The driver "told the police that snow on his windshield prevented him from seeing the man in time to avoid the accident," The Sun reported.

Elsewhere in the city, Mrs. Annie Weinlich, 76, of the 700 block of West Cross St., slipped and fell in the slush and snow on South Hanover Street and broke her leg. She was taken to South Baltimore General Hospital.Snow at Laurel Park Jan. 2003

Down at Laurel Park, The Sun's racing reporter described a "blinding snowstorm which made it impossible to distinguish colors."

"Despite the fact that all the horses looked alike, whether they were finishing, starting, rounding around the first or lower bend, or going down the backstretch, their admirers cheered for their favorites anyway. Many didn't even know the winners until the official numbers were posted," The Sun said.

(Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club, Jan. 5, 2003)

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Categories: History

May 8, 2009

Deluge struck 49 years ago

The weather forecast in The Sun called for "mostly cloudy with showers and cooler today ...clearing and cooler tonight." But what actually occurred was much, much wetter.

When it was all over, the rain that fell on Baltimore on May 8, 1960 came to 3.28 inches, still the record high precipitation for any day in May in Baltimore. An inch and a half fell in just two hours, between 8 and 10 p.m. Four inches fell out west in Cumberland

The rain caused severe flooding across the area. Sewers and strorm drains were not up to the task. Streets flooded and the water backed into basements. Five feet of rainwater flooded a trucking company on North Point Road, trapping several workers. They were rescued by boat.

Harbor Field/Pratt LibraryCars stalled in high water at several locations, including Ponca Street, Painters Mill Lane, Pot Spring Road. Runoff caused serious erosion on the slopes of Federal Hill Park in Baltimore.

The Potomac rose to flood stage at several locations. Loch Raven Reservoir rose 1.43 feet and began spilling over the dam. Ditto at Prettyboy.

Slippery conditions at the old Harbor Field Airport in Dundalk sent a DC-3 skidding off the runway into Colgate Creek during a landing. Six aboard were soaked, but unhurt. (The airport, once also a busy terminal for flying boats (photo), closed at the end of that year. It later became part of the Dundalk Marine Terminal.)

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Categories: History

March 4, 2009

Photo gallery recalls "Ash Wednesday Storm"

Sun Photo/Clarence B. Garrett 

Nor'easters can do far more damage than merely burying Maryland in snow. On a Tuesday and Wednesday, March 6-7, 1962, one of the most intense coastal storms ever to strike Maryland - summer or winter - pounded the region with snow, wind and punishing surf. Ocean City suffered extensive damage and severe flooding as the ocean washed across the island.

Quickly dubbed "The Ash Wednesday Storm," the tempest was ranked as more violent than the 1933 hurricane that carved out the Inlet. Hotels and homes were demolished or floated away. Fires broke out. Private boat owners were asked to help evacuate 1,500 stranded residents.

That pile of rubble above is identified as the remains of the luxury Coronado apartment house at 47th Street. It collapsed in the third high tide, and most washed away in the fourth.

Chincoteague, to the south, was under six feet of water. Fenwick Island in Delaware, and Dewey Beach, too, were ravaged. Ocean City averaged 3 feet of water in the streets as two days of successive high tides under a new moon inundated the place. The boardwalk was torn from its pilings.

A Sun reporter told of OC resident Louise Garland, who was seated happily in front of her TV, munching cheese and crackers, when "a huge uprooted piling the size of a battering ram smashed open the front door and rode into the house on the crest of a wave that engulfed woman, TV set, stove and all the furniture." She would spend the night holding back the elements, wrapped in her drapes for warmth, until a boat took her out in the morning.

Sun librarian Paul McCardell has assembled a sobering photo gallery of the storm from The Sun's archives. It is a reminder to those who can recall those days - and perhaps a revelation to the many younger Marylanders who cannot - that the ocean can still rise up and squash what we build there. And it doesn't require a hurricane. 

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Categories: History

February 10, 2009

Brutal winter blast struck 110 years ago

Baltimore Sun photo 

One of the worst weeks of winter weather ever to strike Baltimore was in full fury on this date in 1899. Brutal cold and persistent, heavy snow paralyzed the city and turned the harbor and the bay into an icy prison. We weren't alone. Much of the country from Denver east, and deep into Florida and the Gulf Coast, was caught in the same deep freeze. 

Some of the weather records set during that week still stand. They include five consecutive days of record-low maximum daily temperatures; three straight days of record low temperatures, and the deepest snowfall ever recorded on a Feb. 13 in Baltimore. Here they are; all are records still on the books:

Feb. 9, 1899: high temperature: 8 degrees

Feb. 10, 1899:  high temperature: 3 degrees. Low temperature:  minus-7 degrees

Feb. 11, 1899:  High temperature:  11 degrees. Low temperature:  minus-6 degrees

Feb. 12, 1899:  high temperature:  11 degrees. Low temperature:  5 degrees

Feb. 13, 1899:  high temperature:  10 degrees. Snow: 15.5 inches

The pages of The Sun during that week were increasingly filled with stories about the terrible weather. They even began to crowd out the dispatches from Manila, where the U.S. was fighting to put down a Filipino insurgency and establish U.S. rule over the Philippines, which it had captured from Spain during the Spanish-American War. On Feb. 9, the paper listed six U.S. soldiers dead and 47 wounded in the latest fighting.

The same editions reported 8 p.m. temperatures from around the country the night before. They reflect the deep cold that was settling in. It was 0 degrees in Pittsburgh, 16 degrees at Philadelphia, 14 in Baltimore, 12 in Washington, 22 in Norfolk, 20 in Atlanta, 34 in Jacksonville and 58 in Key West.

The Friday morning paper (Feb. 10) reported the thermometer at The Sun Iron Building had fallen below zero after midnight, and sank to minus-2 by 3 a.m.

Since Groundhog Day, on Feb. 2, the paper noted, "it has rained, hailed, sleeted and snowed ...and yesterday capped the climax by being, without the shadow of a doubt, the coldest day of this winter, and also of several preceding winters in this locality. Thus has the groundhog sustained his reputation."

Temperatures had fallen all day on the 8th as high pressure moved in from the Canadian northwest. The cold was even deeper outside of the city proper. Catonsville reported 8-below; the Green Spring Valley reported 10 and 12 below zero. It was 11-below in Roland Park and 20 below at Hampton Mansion in Towson.

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Categories: History

September 9, 2008

Northwest Passage open for business


For the first time in at least a half-century, you can circumnavigate the north polar ice cap without being blocked by sea ice. It's the fabled Northwest Passage, long sought, but seldom navigated.

The ice this summer has not (yet) retreated quite enough to set a new record minumum. But it has melted back enough around the edges to leave open water (less than 10 percent ice-covered) all the way around the Arctic Ocean Basin (if you don't mind sailing around Greenland). Here's more.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:59 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: History

February 15, 2008

The REALLY big one began five years ago today

The Presdients Day Weekend Storm of 2003 - John Makely 

A few flakes fell on Baltimore on this date five years ago. It wasn't much - just 2.4 inches by the time it ended. But it turned out to be just a prologue to the worst snowstorm since they began keeping snow records for Baltimore in 1883.

The first snow fell on a Saturday - the weekend before President's Day. It was a nuisance, but the city handled it well. It was the forecast that worried us more. Meteorologists said a new storm was gathering steam, and threatened to dump another 7 inches or so the next day. They were a tad off in the guesstimate.

By the time that Sunday, the 16th, ended, there was another 21.8 inches of snow on top of the first storm's leavings. The airport was buried. The roof on the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore had collapsed. Cars were buried everywhere. Highways and streets were narrow, rutted paths if they were open at all. It would take most residents days to dig out, and often even more time waiting for plows to show up. And when they did, they resealed everyone's laboriously dug openings to the outside world.

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Categories: History

November 30, 2007

Weather Bureau study found climate warming

Joseph B. Kincer, chief of the division of climate and crop weather at the Weather Bueau in Washington, had this to say to a Sun reporter:

"Our study, based on authentic statistical data, definitely proves that the climate generally has been growing noticeably milder," he said. "The temperature and other records are supplemented by our knowledge of the accelerated melting of the polar ice caps. Those middle-aged and elderly folk who claim the winters today are decidedly less severe than when they were young are not deceived."

"As a matter of fact, this long-time trend is national and, indeed, international," Kincer told The Sun. 

"In making our study," he continued, "other weather features directly related to general temperature conditions were examined, such as the occurence of frost in the autumn and spring; the number of winter days with certain low temperatures; the length of winters as indicated by first and last frost, and the like."

"Each one of these factors, closely studied, confirms the general contention that we have been in a period of  abnormal warmth; a period which has come on gradually for many years."

"It has often been suggested," Kincer went on, "that tendencies to abnormally high temperature records in recent years may be more apparent than real, in that the data cited usually are taken from large cities where the thermometers may have been affected unduly by artificial influences that do not obtain in the open country (where presumably the older folks spent their childhoods)."

"We have examined this phase of the matter and find that the suggestion is not well taken," he said. "It so happens that continuous, dependable cooperative records, made in the open country or in small communities, are available for comparison with nearby city records. If anything, at least in some places, an even more pronounced upward trend exists in the cooperative data than in those for the nearby first-order city weather station."

So who is this guy Kincer? And why does he talk so funny?

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Categories: History

November 29, 2007

Nov. 30 snow caught city plowless

Hints of snow in the forecast for this weekend seem like echoes of another autumn 40 years ago when an unexpected snow brought Baltimore to a stop.

It was Nov. 30, 1967. The weather service forecast called for "cloudy, with some snow this morning, becoming mixed with sleet, then changing to rain." It was expectated that warmer air would move in after the snowy start, turn everything to rain and clear the streets. Sounds like Sunday's forecast.

Anyway, public works officials heard the part about the changeover to rain, and not so much the part about the snow. So, when the cold air persisted and the warm air stayed away, things began to slide downhill, so to speak.

The snow began in the early morning, according to the account the next day in The Sun. As much as 10 inches accumulated. After scratching their heads for a few hours, the DPW sent out 100 trucks to spread salt. But because they hadn't yet equipped the fleet with plows, they were unable to cope with the mounting accumulations. It would be 6 p.m. before they had the plows on.

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Categories: History

November 2, 2007

First Earthling in space died 50 years ago


Tomorrow (Nov. 3) marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 2, the second artificial Earth satellite hurled into space and the first to carry a living creature. The unlucky passenger was Laika (Russian for "barker"), a mutt grabbed from a Moscow street, trussed up, fitted with electrodes and packed into a space capsule.

The pup did prove that one could survive the stresses of launch. But it wasn't pretty.

For decades, the Soviets lied about what really happened after liftoff. Laika was portrayed as a hero and a martyr. In fact, the dog struggled mightily to escape as the rocket rattled into orbit, and died only hours later from overheating due to an onboard malfunction. PETA would have had a fit. You can read more about it here. And this Wikipedia link includes a discussion of all the musical outgrowths of Laika's doomed mission. Weird.


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Categories: History

October 5, 2007

"Aerolite" shower terrorizes Baltimore

One hundred years ago tonight, Marylanders - and Baltimoreans in particular - were rattled and amazed by what seemed like a fiery bombardment of a sort not seen seen since the British attack on Ft. McHenry in 1814.

Headlines in The Sun the next morning pulled no punches: "FIERY BALL HITS CITY; Brilliant Shower Of Aerolites Turns Night Into Day; ONE FALLS IN BELAIR MARKET; Heavens Appear White With Heat And Electric Lights Are Dimmed By Dazzling Vapor."

The event occured just before 10 p.m., so from the start, our reporters were racing to gather the facts in the face of a looming deadline. They seemed hard-pressed to resolve the conflicting reports they were hearing that evening.

THE SUN: "Each of the individual observers from whom reports were received only saw one of the aerolites, but from the multiplicity of the accounts, of their direction and the descriptions of their light, it is evident there were many of them," the story asserted.

"At about the same time the one landed in Belair Market, another was seen near Govanstown ... Other meteoric manifestations were observed at Reisterstown, Lawyers Hill, Howard County, East Baltimore street and South Baltimore, all of which seemed to be near the earth and going in various directions."

WEATHER BLOGGER: It seems likely now that all the observers in 1907 saw the same object - what is now more often called a "bolide," or a "fireball." These are unusually large, bright and persistent meteors. Here's a video of one that fell over Mexico last year. 

Observers commonly describe them as coming in "just over the trees," beyond nearby buildings or hilltops. It's almost always a gross underestimate of their distance, which is more typically tens or hundreds of miles away. And that means plenty of people will be reporting the fall, each describing it as a nearby event. (Anyone recall the "Glen Burnie meteor"?) And I don't lend much weight to the fact that various observers differed in their descriptions of the "aerolites'" direction of flight. Lots of people are directionally challenged.

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Categories: History

August 27, 2007

A snowy day in 2005 ... or was it?

A private school teacher has been acquitted of the most serious charges against him in a set of sexual assault cases brought prosecutors on behalf of three of his former students. One of the young girls accused him of raping her as he drove her home from school in his car on "one snowy day" in February 2005. Here's The Sun's story of the acquittal.

The alleged crime took place on Feb. 23, according to prosecutors. But the teacher's attorney, seeking to undermine the girl's credibility,  argued during his closing that on Feb. 23, 2005 "it simply was not snowing" in Baltimore. And he was right. There was no snow that day. It never got cold enough to snow.

But the next day? Temperatures on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005 dropped into the 20s and it snowed quite a bit, with more than 5 inches accumulating at BWI. In fact, it snowed nearly all day, the snowiest day of that entire winter. Was the girl's story bogus? Or was she simply confused about the date?

Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz, who covered the trial, says, "School was closed on the 24th and 25th, so everyone (police, defense attorneys, etc) determined the only possible date this could have happened was the 23rd. 


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Categories: History

July 10, 2007

107.4 degrees, still the record

Seventy-one years ago today, the official thermometer in downtown Baltimore climbed where it had never been before. At 3 p.m. on July 10 of that year, the report brought down from the roof of the U.S. Customs House stated it was 107.4 degrees up there for a brief period. And, at least officially, it's never been hotter in Baltimore since.

It could have been even worse. Cumberland reported a torrid 109 degrees, the hottest spot in the state that day in '36. It was the eighth day of a heat wave that was sweeping the nation. Already 421 people had died nationwide, and millions of acres of crops dried up beyond recovery. Twenty-nine Baltimoreans had been overcome by the heat and hospitalized.

Adding violence to misery, a two-hour thunderstorm struck town just before 8 p.m. that evening, toppling trees and knocking out power and phone service over a wide area, especially in North Baltimore. One city home was struck by lightning and set afire. The good news was that the storm also dropped temperatures by 12 degrees, from 94 to 82. But it quickly began rising again.

The city record high bested the previous record high of 105.4 degrees, set on Aug. 6, 1918.

Before the heat wave was over, more than 700 Americans would be dead, one of them in Baltimore. Residents packed their bags for cooler spots. Here's how The Sun described the exodus on July 12, 1936:

"Spurred by the desire to escape the city heat and humidity, thousands of Baltimoreans left town yesterday for the week-end. The steamers of the Old Bay Line and the Chesapeake Steamship Company, plying between Baltimore and Virginia ports, left the city yesterday afternoon with capacity passenger lists. Ferries between Baltimore and the Eastern Shore, and Annapolis and the Eastern Shore, also carried large crowds of travelers. Railroads and bus lines reported more than seasonal travel and the Wilson Line and Tolchester Company reported excursion business had taken a decided leap."

"Mayor (Howard) Jackson. leaving his office for a vacation with his family, left word that municipal offices could suspend business should heat conditions warrant, and provided the interruption would not interfere with the proper conduct of city business.

"Many offices on downtown skyscrapers closed. Some shops also dismissed their forces, in midafternoon. Golf courses and other sports areas were practically deserted as people sought every available cool spot. Traffic police, in the business area, unable to leave their posts, stood throughout the day under the scorching beams of an unrelenting sun."

"Lawns and gardens of suburban homes began to show the effects of the burning sun. Grass was shriveling and in many instances bushes show signs of drying up. Jones Falls, Gwynns Falls, Herring Run and other streams running through the city's limits were below their normal flow line.

"The breeze, coming from the southwest, northwest and west during the greater part of the day, was hot. Even the bay breeze that arrived shortly after the peak temperature of the day was reached brought little relief. It also was hot.

"On South Broadway, in the business district of Eastern Avenue and in Hamilton efforts were made to fry eggs on pavements, without results."

Sun photo by Chiaki KawajiriThe Evening Sun ran a front-page picture on the 10th of young women, fully clothed, stretched out asleep for the night on the grass in Druid Hill Park. The accompanying story said, "Thousands of Baltimoreans had spent the night in the parks, sleeping on the grass and in their automobiles. Others had sought refuge at swimming pools and bathing beaches. But the greater part of the city's populace had simply sweltered in their homes which, in most cases, were too warm to permit much sleep."

People coped as best they could, according to The Evening Sun: "The proprietor of a store in the 600 block Eutaw street removed his coat and collar when he arrived at his place of business this morning. He sat down at his desk in his shirt sleeves. But even that, he decided, was too much. He got up and took off his shirt."

Finally, here's my favorite piece, from the editorial page of The Evening Sun for July 11, 1936. I quoted a bit of it Sunday on the print Weather Page. Here's the entire entry, by an unnamed editorial writer:

"He comes home and says, 'What's this, what's this?' And she tells him it's an electric fan Cousin Carrie let her have while she was out of the city on vacation, and that it makes all the difference in the world in the living room during a terrific hot spell lioke this one.

Used by permission"He asks if it's going to sit there on the living room table. And she says it is. And he says it looks awful there. He asks what makes that awful buzzing noise that sounds like a saw in a sawmill. She says that is nothing except probably the fan needs a little oiling.

"He says he doesn't think much of that. He says the noise gets on his nerves. He says he doesn't see how he's going to stand it. She says it is very funny that he is nervous about a steady noise like that when he never seems to be bothered by having the radio turned on full tilt while he is reading. She says if she has had to put up with the radio all these years, then she thinks he ought to be able to put up with an electric fan for a few hot evenings.

"He says he supposes he can. He says what he objects to is the principle of the thing. He says for years they have gone through hot spells without an electric fan, and he doesn't see why they should suddenly imagine they can't do without one. He says that is what is wrong with the country today, everybody just wants to have an easy time, and the easier the better. He says there is no more of the old pioneer spirit that made us what we are, and trained us to put up with hardships. He says he hates to think of the children growing up soft, and that is what an electric fan will do for them.

"She says it's a nice thing for him to be talking that way. Hasn't he been boasting to them about his air-conditioned office, and how much more efficient he is and more valuable to his employer? And he says, 'Nonesense. That's quite a different matter!"

Thanks to Sun research librarian Paul McCardell for dredging up the old clips.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

June 14, 2007

Still on the drought map

Yesterday's storms have surely helped, but as of Tuesday much of Maryland remained on the federal government's weekly Drought Monitor maps. We are not yet in an actual drought. The region is still classified as merely "abnormally dry." And the long-term prospects do not suggest our situation will deteriorate through the summer.

Here is the latest Drought Monitor map, out this morning. Here is how conditions have changed over recent weeks. And here is the outlook for precip this summer - indicating no strong trend away from normal amounts.

For now, we're looking at very cool weather today, as we remain under the influence of that stubborn storm still spinning off the Atlantic coast. It's throwing lots of cool, moist maritime air off the Atlantic and back onto the Eastern Seaboard. And the persistent easterly winds are driving tides a foot or more above predicted levels along the western shore of the bay.

But that won't last much longer. High pressure is building from the north and west, the barometer is inching upward, and we'll see more sunshine and warmer temperatures as we head into the weekend. By Sunday and Monday we should be back in the 90s.


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Categories: History

April 25, 2007

Dirty air? Light a rocket

The Chinese are worried about dirty, polluted air in Beijing during the 2008 Summer Olympics. But, they have a plan. Rather than actually cleaning up the sources of their worst-in-the-world air pollution, they plan to fire rockets into the sky, release silver iodide crystals, and wait for the resulting rain to cleanse the air. Read more here.

Never mind that the scientific evidence for such "weather modification" has been described by most of the world's scientists as inconclusive at best. The Chinese invented rockets, and by Golly they're going to use them.

It reminds me of my days writing for the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard Times. I was assigned to find the most obscure, oddball state agencies still on the books, but with little or nothing to do, and write about them.

One was the state's 1950s-era "Weather Modification Office." It was the job of the bureaucrats in that office to examine and approve (or disapprove) proposals by entrepreneurs to "seed" clouds for farmers and communities troubled by drought or otherwise eager for rain.

Sometimes it rained, and sometimes it didn't. Of, course, that would have been true even if they hadn't taken to the skies to drop silver iodide into the most promising clouds they could find. They went about their business, crowed about their "successes" and collected their dough. Eventually, people recognized they weren't getting much in the way of results. 

Curiously, although the data demonstrating that it works are still not in, the industry has not gone away. And weather modification remains a tantalizing possibility for entrepreneurs and scientists and public officials in dry regions. Here is a sane discussion of where things stand in Arizona. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

February 16, 2007

The Big Snow, four years gone

You think this week's snow-and-ice storm has been a pain? Think back to where you were exactly four years ago today, and you may find yourself in the middle of a four-day snowstorm that dropped 28 inches at BWI - nearly 22 inches of it on the 16th. The region was paralyzed by the biggest snowfall in the city since official snow record-keeping began in 1883.

2003snow That February was and still is the snowiest on record, with 40.5 inches of snow. The winter of 2002-2003 ended as the second-snowiest, with 58.1 inches. The record-holder remains 1995-1996, when 62.5 inches fell. The average seasonal total for Baltimore for the 30-year period from 1971-2000 is just 18 inches.

Here's a link to The Sun's coverage of that monumental 2003 winter storm in stories and pictures.

Here's the National Weather Service's ranking of the top 10 winter storms for our region.

And here's a narrative description of all the major winter storms here since Thomas Jefferson was a pup.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:51 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

March 14, 2005

Remembering the 1993 "Superstorm"

It didn't set any snowfall records in Baltimore, but the two-day "Superstorm" of 1993, which ended on March 14, was one of the largest and most intense on record for the East Coast. It dropped a foot of snow in the city - the snowiest March in the past 40 years. And it set a new record low for barometric readings in Baltimore - 28.51 inches.

AccuWeather mapped the storm this way.

Here's how the National Weather Service remembers it:

"The Superstorm of March '93 was named for its large area of impact, all the way from Florida and Alabama north through New England. The entire State of Pennsylvania was buried under 1 to 2 feet of snow. Even Alabama saw as much as 13 inches. The storm was blamed for some 200 deaths (many, heart attacks from shoveling the heavy snow). It cost a couple billion dollars to repair damages and remove snow.

"In Florida, it produced a storm surge of 9 to 12 feet that killed 11 people (more deaths than surges from Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew) and it spawned 11 tornadoes. As the storm's center crossed the Mid-Atlantic region and the Chesapeake Bay, weather stations recorded their lowest pressure ever (Baltimore = 28.51 inches).

"This storm was not ... the storm of the century for Maryland, but it wasn't a wimp either. Unlike most nor'easters that move up the coast, this storm took a more inland track across Southeast Virginia and the central Chesapeake Bay. It brought rain and winds to the Maryland Eastern Shore with minor flooding to counties along the east side of the Bay.

"However, in western Maryland, it dumped between 1.5 to 2.5 feet of snow. Piney Dam in northeast Garrett County recorded another 31 inches of snow after recording a record 42 inches just 3 months earlier during the Dec.10-12 Great Nor'easter. Winds produced blizzard conditions with snow drifts up to 12 feet! Hagerstown received 20 inches of snow (its fourth greatest) and winds gusting up to 55 mph caused whiteout conditions and severe drifting.

"Interstates shut down. Road crews had to stop blowing for a period of time because it was too dangerous and the wind would just blow the snow back onto the road. Shelters opened for nearly 4,000 stranded travelers and those that left without heat and electricity. The National Guard was called to help with emergency transports and critical snow removal.

"Oxon Hill recorded 8 inches of snow; 13 inches fell in the District and within the beltway; and 18 inches north and west of the city in Frederick County.

"Baltimore had 12 inches with greater amounts to the north and recorded a wind gust to 69 mph on the 13th. Eleven people died in Virginia, one in the District, and one in Maryland during and immediately following the storm. Snow removal and clean-up costs were estimated at $16 million in Virginia, $22 million in Maryland, and half million dollars in DC."

Posted by Admin at 1:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

February 15, 2005

The Big One began two years ago today

The great President's Day Weekend Storm of 2003 was well underway on this date two years ago. Before it was over, the four-day event produced 28.2 inches of snow at the airport - the greatest accumulation on record in Baltimore. That February ended with 40.5 inches of snow, the snowiest February on record here, and the winter concluded with 58.1 inches, the second-snowiest ever after the 62.5 inches that fell in 1995-96. (By comparison, this winter has generated just 7.6 inches of snow at BWI.)

Here is a list of the region's worst snowstorms.

Here is a map of the official accumulations.

Got a favorite memory of that paralyzing storm? Drop a comment here and share it.

Visit The Sun's photo gallery and scroll down to the February 2003 gallery of images from the massive storm and its aftermath.

Posted by Admin at 12:34 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: History

January 27, 2005

83rd anniversary of the "Knickerbocker Storm"

Today marks the 83rd anniversary of the start of the infamous "Knickerbocker Storm" of 1922. Here's how the National Weather Service remembers it:

"January 27-29, 1922: ....(A) powerful nor'easter brought the deepest snow of this (20th) century and the storm of record to Maryland and the District of Columbia. College Park and Cambridge both set record one day totals with 24 inches of snow in 24 hours.

"Temperatures were quite cold across the area before the storm hit setting up excellent conditions for a heavy snow fall. On the 26th, Washington recorded a low of only 11°F as arctic air settled in ahead of the nor'easter. By the 29th, a maximum snow swath of 30 to 32 inches lay across southern Baltimore, eastern Howard, northern Prince Georges, northern Anne Arundel and portions of DC.

"Weather stations at Baltimore and Washington, DC recorded their all time greatest storm totals with 26.5 inches in Baltimore (Ed: since eclipsed by the 28.2-inch storm in Feb. 15-18, 2003) and 28 inches in Northwest Washington. Southern Maryland saw 20 inches, the Eastern Shore 8 inches, Washington County 12 inches and 25 inches in the Allegany Mountains highlands and 16 inches at Oakland.

"Strong northeast winds (gusting up to 50 mph) created blizzard conditions and heavy drifting blocked roads. Some remained impassable for days. The main highways were opened in two to four days.

"In Baltimore, the cost of cleaning the streets was $50,000 and losses to railroads and businesses was $60,000.

"The weight of the snow caused what the Washington Post called "the greatest disaster in Washington's history". The roof of the Knickerbocker Theater on 18th Street and Columbia in Northwest DC collapsed taking the balcony down with it. An estimated 900 people were in the theater at the time. While many escaped, 98 people were crushed to death and another 158 injured.

"A small boy squeezed between the rubble to help administer pain pills to victims who remained trapped for hours. The storm became known historically as the Knickerbocker Storm."

Posted by Admin at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

January 18, 2005

Your barometer: How high can it go?

With high pressure building in from the northwest, Marylanders with home barometers watched the numbers climb higher by the hour yesterday and early today. With higher pressure comes clearer skies and colder nights. The barometric pressure at BWI appeared to top out at 30.67 inches at around 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Ever wonder how high it can go? Well, forecasters at the National Weather Service's Sterling, Va. forecast office said the record high barometric reading at BWI is 31.07 inches, set on Feb. 13, 1981.

The world record barometric reading at sea level was 32.01 inches, recorded in Siberia on Dec. 31, 1968. The North American record is 31.85 inches, at Northway, Alaska, on Jan. 31, 1989.

Posted by Admin at 11:39 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

January 12, 2005

Inaugural weather can be d'icey

Washington DC may be a southern city, but it's not always the best place to hold an outdoor event in mid-January. With the second inauguration of President George W. Bush coming up next week, forecasters will be keeping a close eye on the developing forecast for Jan. 20. So far next week is looking sunny and cold, with highs in the 30s. But it can turn nasty.

Many of us remember the 1961 inauguration of President John F. Kennedy as an especially wintry one. Washington had received 8 inches of snow the night before, and by the time the festivities began it was 22 degrees, with stiff winds and wind chills below zero. Everyone worried when Kennedy showed up without a hat. Franklin Roosevelt's 1937 inauguration fell on a day that saw 1.77 inches of rain. FDR rode away in an open car with a half-inch of water on the floor.

Failure to dress properly for the inauguration had proven fatal more than once. William Henry Harrison was inaugurated in 1841, and rode back to the White House on horseback without his hat and coat. He caught a cold, then pneumonia, and he was dead in a month.

And that was back when inaugurations were held on March 4 or 5. The date was switched to Jan. 20 by a constitutional amendment passed in 1932.

After the 1853 swearing-in of President Franklin Pierce, the outgoing first lady - Abigail Fillmore - caught cold. That, too, progressed to pneumonia, and she expired a month later.

The worst inaugural weather was probably that which greeted President William H. Taft in 1909. Washington got 10 inches of snow that day. The trains were stalled and the streets were clogged. Everybody went indoors for that one.

For all the inaugural weather lore you could ever want, click here. Thanks to the National Weather Service.

Posted by Admin at 10:39 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

December 22, 2004

Arctic "outbreak" due, but not like 1899

Another surge of arctic air is due here this weekend. But it won't compare with the "Great Arctic Outbreak" of February 1899. That one was so bad that ice flows in the Mississippi River made it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Here's how the National Weather Service remembers it:

"February 1899: The Great Arctic Outbreak of '99 and the Great Eastern Blizzard of '99 occurred this month. It was an incredible sequence of back-to-back snowstorms sandwiched by an extreme cold wave.

"On February 5 to 8, a great blizzard struck the Mid-Atlantic Region. Baltimore received almost a foot of snow and Washington 14 inches over 4 days. As the storm moved out on the 8th, temperatures fell below zero on the 9th. Record cold settled in by the morning of the 10th, Laurel recorded a low of -18 F and Washington -8. On the 11th, Washington, DC recorded a record minimum of -15 F and a record low maximum of only +4F. Fallston (Harford County) recorded -8F on the 9th and -14F on the 10th and 11th. Charlotte Hall in Southern Maryland reached -19F and Princess Anne -10F. A second blizzard struck on February 11.

"Temperatures near the start of the storm ranged from -15 to +11F. The storm dropped an additional 20 inches on Washington, 21 inches at Baltimore, and 9 in Solomons. An amazing 34 inches fell on Cape May, NJ. Snow depths reached 34 inches in DC and Baltimore, 24 inches in Princess Anne and as much as 41 inches at Cape May!

"Northwest winds of 48 mph created blizzard conditions and drove the snow into 10 foot drifts! These blocked transportation lines to the cities causing a major coal shortage that resulted in rationing. Food was also rationed, though not as severely as the coal.

"On February 16, an ice storm hit. Washington recorded its greatest monthly snow total with 35.2 inches and its greatest seasonal snowfall total with 54.4 inches. Frederick recorded 34 inches for the month. Baltimore had a record 33.9 inches for the month with a record 51.1 inches for the season. (This record stood for nearly a century until 1996).

(Ed.: The snowfall in 1995-96 totalled 62.5 inches at BWI. The 1898-99 mark was eclipsed again in 2002-03 when 58.1 inches fell. The 1899 snow record for February toppled in 2003, when 40.5 inches fell.)

"The winter of 1898-1899 was so cold over a large part of the US that ice flowed from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico! This has only been recorded one other time. On February 13, 1784, ice flows blocked the Mississippi River at New Orleans and then passed into the Gulf of Mexico."

Posted by Admin at 2:49 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: History
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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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