Noah Webster Spells Out the Weather

ECHO underway, posted Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The portrait of Noah Webster used in this post may be seen at Connecticut History Online.

Great snows make great history, of course.  For Connecticuters of previous centuries knowledge of weather patterns was critical for survival.  Almanacs, such as The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge (Boston, 1836), created by Willington-born Jared Sparks and others, offered “Meteorological notices of Seasons and the Weather”–information crucial to an agrarian society.

The winter of 1835-36 had been cold, according to Sparks, but no match for the winter of 1779-80, in the midst of the American Revolutionary War.  Sparks turned to another Connecticuter, Noah Webster, for an eyewitness account of what was called the “Hard Winter”:

In the winter of 1779-80, the first snow-storm occurred about the 25th of November, and subsequent falls of snow raised it to the height of three or four feet upon a level [ruler].  The wind for several weeks from the northwest, was cold, the snow was so dry and so continually driven by the wind, that no good path could be made; and travelling was almost impeded.  I passed often half a mile on drifts as high as the fences.  Farmers could do little else abroad than feed their cattle, and provide them with water.  For about six weeks the cold was so intense, that no snow melted on the south side of buildings.  The Sound between Long Island and the main was nearly all covered with ice between New York and Staten Island. …  the ice in the East River, has been passable for a footman for a few hours only at a time.–Almost all the birds of the forest perished.  Here and there only a solitary warbler was heard the next summer.