Friday, July 24, 2009

The Great June Frost

The Home News, June 11, 1859

Last Saturday was a remarkably cool day for the 4th of June. Fires, overcoats and shawls were in general requisition. The evening closed in still colder, and with the mercury at 38° at 9 o’clock, a visit from the frost king was looked for. It was an evil night for Washington county, for Sunday morning showed the severest frost that ever visited this latitude, so late in the season, since the first settlement of Ohio. Except along the margins of rivers and creeks, where a good fog shielded the crops and vegetation, the destruction has been very great. Wheat badly injured, corn considerably damaged, potatoes, beans, vines, &c. killed, the loss to the county has been estimated by shrewd observers as high as a hundred thousand dollars. The extent of the injury has not yet been fully developed; and we hope it is not quite as great as estimated. It is bad enough, and as it cannot be helped, let the farmers set about retrieving this hard “pull back” by planting more corn, beans, &c. Acres of corn planted after this time last year matured into splendid crops, and sells now at eighty cents a bushel. Never, despair – labor overcomes all obstacles. So plant, plant, plant.

At our request, Dr. Hildreth has prepared the following brief notes of all the late severe frosts which have occurred in this county since its settlement. It will be found specially interesting at this time.

Untimely Frosts in Washington County Since the First Settlement in 1788

The earliest frost there is any record was the 3d of May, 1805. It had been a very early spring, and the apples were of the size of musket balls, and every other kind of fruit and vegetation in the same proportion. On the 2d of May there fell three or four inches of snow. All the fruit was destroyed, and as the farmers then planted their corn by the middle of April, it was probably three or four inches high.

Judge Henry Jolly speaks of a frost the 3d of June 1774. He was then a boy, and living near the present town of Washington, Pa. It cut down all the corn, and destroyed the leaves of various kinds of forest trees.

The year 1816 was noted for its low temperature, there being more or less frosts every month during the spring and summer. The crops were very short.

But the most remarkable year for severe frosts was that of 1834. The month of April had been uncommonly warm, the mean for the month being 55°41. By the 25th the forest trees were in full leaf. After a cold rain in the night, on the morning of the 27th the mercury fell to 30°, killing all tender plants and the leaves of many trees. From this time to the 12th of May the weather was mild. On the 12th, it sunk to 32°, the 13th to 32°, 14th to 29°, 15th to 28°, 17th to 30° and 18th to 32°. On the 19th it rose to 47° at sunrise. This continued series of frosts destroyed all kinds of fruit and vegetation in the fields of the farmers and the gardens in town. There were no apples in this county, and but a few on Hutchinson’s island, two miles below Marietta. The wheat was nearly as forward as it was this year, but mostly in the blossom. The head turned white like a plant dried in the sun. A general consternation pervaded the community, thinking a famine must follow. Many farmers plowed their fields and planted them with corn; others let them alone and were rewarded for their forbearance by a tolerable yield of grain. The stools left unharmed in the ground threw up fresh shoots, more numerous, but not so tall as the first, and perfected the seed, but a month or two later than usual. The cornfields were replanted, and the warm weather and timely rains of June produced a fair crop of all such things as were committed to the earth.

Severe frosts often come in April, and early in May, destroying the fruit crops, but this is a small affair compared with the staples of life, such as wheat, corn, and potatoes. When these are taken away, or very materially lessened in quantity, they have caused man to feel anxiety, if not alarm.

On the 2d of June, 1843, the mercury fell to 34° in the morning, with a smart frost in the country, and making ice on a bowl of water, near half an inch thick – killing beans, corn, potatoes, &c. – but not materially injuring the wheat. Melons had to be replanted, and many other things. Indian corn is endowed with a vitality, when young, above that of all other grains. Even when the foliage is destroyed, if the root is uninjured, it springs up again with apparently new vigor, and perfects its seed in due season.

On the 30th and 31st of May, in the year 1845, the mercury fell to 34°, on each morning, cutting down all the corn, potatoes, &c., but not materially damaging the wheat.

The temperature at Marietta on the morning of the 5th of June, 1859, was 33° -- the freezing point is 32°; but being sheltered by buildings and town air, it was 4 or 5° above the temperature of the country out of the influence of the fog, which covered all the low grounds near to streams of water, and protected vegetation like a garment.

It is a well established rule that from 9 P.M. to sunrise next morning, in a clear, calm night, the temperature sinks 10° – at 9 o’clock last Saturday night, the thermometer was at 37°, and it should have been, but for the fog, at 29°, instead of 33°.

These are the most destructive frosts of which we have any authentic records – what will be the results of the terrible frost of June 5, 1859, remains to be seen. It is possible that the fields of wheat that were only in blossom, and had not formed the grains, may throw up new stems, as it did in 1834 and produce a crop worth the care and attention of the farmer.


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