1804 Snow hurricane
|Category 2 hurricane (SSHWS)|
|Formed||4 October 1804|
|Dissipated||11 October 1804|
|(extratropical after 10 October)|
|Highest winds||1-minute sustained:
110 mph (175 km/h)
|Lowest pressure||977 mbar (hPa); 28.85 inHg|
|Damage||$100,000 (1804 USD)|
|Areas affected||Caribbean Sea, South Carolina, Virginia, Mid-Atlantic States, New England, and southeastern Canada|
|Part of the 1804 Atlantic hurricane season|
The 1804 Snow hurricane (also known as the Storm of October 1804 and the Snow Hurricane of 1804) was the first recorded tropical cyclone in recorded history to produce snow. It was an unusual late-season hurricane in the 1804 Atlantic hurricane season, and produced vast amounts of snow, rain, and intense winds in the northeastern United States. As a result of the scarcity of historical documents during the time period, little is known about the hurricane prior to its approach towards the East Coast of the United States other than its vague origins in the Caribbean Sea on 4 October and its transit near Georgetown, South Carolina. On the morning of 9 October, the movement of a trough by the Virginia Capes was noted, and was followed by a change in wind speed and direction: initially southwesterly, they turned west-northwesterly by the afternoon, intensifying all the same. Continuing along the East Coast, the storm quickly passed by major cities along the course of the Delaware River, while the northern sector of the trough, moving more rapidly towards the east than its southern counterpart, recurved the storm's track northeastward, steering it over New England. As a result, the moisture of the storm clashed with an influx of cold air from Canada, pulled southward by an atmospheric circulation, which in turn led to the deepening of the storm's pressure gradient and caused the storm to intensify inland. A modern study suggested two atypical characteristics were evident in the storm during its passage over New England: it intensified even while onshore, and attained its peak intensity, 100 mph (175 km/h), while situated over a landmass, a deviation from the expected trend. As the hurricane drifted towards the Canadian maritimes, it experienced an extratropical transition and gradually weakened. Even so, precipitation continued for another two days before the snowstorm finally dissipated on 11 October.
Due to the unusual nature of the snow hurricane, damage was severe as a result of both the heavy snowfall accumulations and high winds produced, with severe damage stretching from the Mid-Atlantic states to Canada. In the more southern areas of the snow hurricane's damage swath, numerous ships were overturned by intense wind speeds but little damage occurred on land, though several houses were destroyed in upstate New York. To the east in Massachusetts, snowfall totals of up to 30 inches (76 cm) were measured, despite the fact that none fell in eastern portions of the state, where rainfall amounts upwards of 7 inches (18 cm) were recorded. While no official records of wind speeds produced by the snowstorm exist, the strong gusts inflicted significant damage throughout the state. In Boston, the steeple of the Old North Church was tossed off its roof, while the ceiling of King's Chapel was tossed 200 feet (61 m) and landed on a house within its propinquity. Private property damage was also considerable, though it was mainly restricted to windows, roofs, fences, and chimneys. Thousands of trees were knocked over, obstructing roads and fiscally damaging the timber industry, particularly in oaks and pines, throughout New England. Significant crop losses were also inflicted as a result of low temperatures and wet snow, which brought down branches in fruit orchards and caused potato crops to freeze, and dozens of barns were demolished by the storm's extreme winds. Damage to livestock was also considerable, with hundreds of cattle killed. Several wharves in the city were destroyed, and the shipping industry was significantly impacted throughout the region as a result. In general, the agriculture, shipping, timber, and livestock trades suffered most acutely following the passage of the snow hurricane, and structural damage was widespread but generally inconsequential.
The storm's most severe effects were concentrated at sea and resulted in the majority of deaths inflicted by the hurricane's wrath in New England. More than 27 watercraft were damaged at Boston Harbor alone, and another six struck the South Boston Bridge. The sinking of the Dove at Ipswich Bar led to the deaths of seven individuals, while the captain of the Hannah was drowned at Cohasset. The Protector, washed ashore at Cape Cod, suffered material losses, and one person of her crew died. Another three bodies were discovered on the beaches of Plymouth, presumably as a result of drowning. Northward in New Hampshire along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, a woman and her infant child was found dead at Rye Beach, and the Amity was also wrecked there, killing one passenger. Snow and rainfall totals varied widely within states, with a clear delineation between areas that received frozen precipitation and rainfall in the Northeast. In eastern New York, up to 2.27 inches (5.8 cm) fell in the form of liquid precipitation, while in western portions of the state, up to 18 inches (46 cm) of recorded snow was measured. Similar discrepancies were evident throughout New England, with 7 inches (18 cm) of rain having fallen in Salem, Massachusetts, in contrast to totals upward of 24 to 30 inches (61 to 76 cm) measured in the Berkshires. By this point, the storm was undergoing an extratropical transition, and it gradually weakened as it meandered towards Canada and produced snowfall without any known major impact. In all, the hurricane caused more than 16 deaths at sea and one inland, and also resulted in at least $100,000 (1804 USD) in damage.[nb 1]
The snow hurricane of 1804 set both historical and meteorological precedent which has been exceeded only infrequently. It was the first known instance of a tropical cyclone producing snowfall while maintaining tropical characteristics, a precedent which was only broken two times – once in 1841 and later in 1963 as a result of Hurricane Ginny, which produced 13 inches (33 cm) of snow in Maine. It was also generally described as the most severe storm in the United States since the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 nearly 200 years earlier. Its record October snowfall totals were not exceeded in the northeast until the 2011 Halloween nor'easter, which produced several feet of snow in many areas, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, though it was extratropical at the time. It also defied conventional understanding related to hurricanes in New England: rather than weakening upon landfall, the snow hurricane intensified further, the only known hurricane to do so other than the 1869 Saxby Gale. It also featured unusual southwesterly winds, in contrast to most other storms, which usually generated winds toward the southeast.
The origins of the 1804 "snow hurricane" prior to its approach near New England are relatively unknown. Though a modern study conducted in 2006 traced its date of formation to 4 October while stationed north of Puerto Rico and reports indicate that the storm also passed by Dominique and Guadaloupe the same day, little else is known about the hurricane until just prior to its imminent arrival on October 9. Weather historian David Ludlum concluded that both the hurricane's strength and its abnormally cold environment were derived from the influx of unseasonably cold air from the north converging upon the storm's abundant moisture, increasing the pressure gradient and leading to its strengthening. It was also speculated that the storm could possibly have originated from the southern Appalachian Mountains before arriving on the Atlantic coast, but given meteorological circumstances and the attributes featured by the storm that were similar to those of tropical storms as well as timing, it was evaluated that the storm was of tropical origin. The earliest indication of a disturbance was noted on 8 October, when rainfall was recorded in upstate New York, likely precipitated by the storm's western periphery, likely in advance of an emerging trough. The following morning, the movement of a trough near the Virginia Capes area was observed, and was accompanied by intensifying winds in addition to a variance in their direction: initially southwesterly force 3, the incoming gale's winds rapidly turned towards the west-northwest, escalating to force 6 by the afternoon. The southwesterly winds were unusual for such a storm, as noted in a 2001 study: although a majority of New England hurricanes produced southeasterly winds, the 1804 snow hurricane featured a deviation from expected behavior for southeasterly winds.
Historical records trace much of the storm's track along the East Coast of the United States: a "dreadful squall" occurred near Cape Henry at noon, and historical documents confirm it quickly reached Chesapeake Bay later that morning with west-to-north winds. Similar conditions were experienced along the course of the Delaware River, and at Absecon Beach, a southeast gale was registered, disputing earlier reports. While winds in New York City, where the storm arrived that afternoon, were originally blowing towards the southeast, the wind soon shifted towards the north-northwest and coincided with a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure, which bottomed out at 977 mbar (28.87 inHg) in the early afternoon. Although the barometer at the weather station remained at that point for much of the afternoon, the air temperature plummeted rapidly from 55 °F (13 °C) to 42 °F (6 °C) during the same period. The northern segment of the trough that passed offshore Virginia, moving swiftly eastward, likely turned the course of the storm northeastward as a result of a strong westerly circulation, leading it over New England. By the evening, the storm had fully traversed New England, where reports supported the notion of a southeast-to-northeast wind followed by heavy rain, a rapid temperature decrease, followed by the passage of the storm's eye, and an extended period of copious snow. The results of the 2001 study also suggested atypical strengthening occurred in the storm around this time as it passed over New England, achieving its peak intensity with 1-minute maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (175 km/h) situated over Massachusetts, equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale, and also had a maximum diameter of 93 miles (150 km) at its largest point. As the hurricane weakened, it underwent an extratropical transition throughout the night, indicated by a passageway of weak winds off of the through's center. As a result, its eye was presumably distorted as it moved northward towards Canada, where it subsequently encountered an area of high pressure. Although precipitation slackened off on the evening of 9 October, moderate rain, snow, and wind continued for another two days before the snowstorm finally departed the region on 11 October.
Impact and records
The hurricane brought strong gusts, blankets of snow, and heavy rain throughout New England and across the Mid-Atlantic prior as it underwent an extratropical transition. Although there are no reliable wind readings from the storm, heavy precipitation was observed, peaking at 7 inches (18 cm) inches of rain in Salem, Massachusetts and 48 inches (120 cm) of snow at Windsor, Vermont. The snow hurricane featured the first known occurrence of frozen precipitation as a result of a tropical cyclone while still maintaining tropical characteristics, and remained the only one known instance until a later hurricane in 1841, and Hurricane Ginny in 1963, which produced 13 inches (33 cm) of snow in some areas of Maine. The record October snow totals produced by the snow hurricane were later surpassed in 2011 by the Halloween nor'easter, with several feet of snow having fallen in some areas. In addition, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was also compared to the snow hurricane, as it produced abnormally early and heavy snowfall along the East Coast, especially in Virginia albeit while extratropical. In addition, the snow hurricane was the only one of several dozen hurricanes involved in a survey that produced unusual southwesterly winds, and it was also one of only two storms, the other being the 1869 Saxby Gale, to have intensified while located inland. In the Middle-Atlantic states, the storm's impacts were mainly limited to the destruction of boats and ferries as a result of high winds, though heavy rain and snow fell in parts of New York state. Farther north in New England, many churches suffered significant damage, and 16 deaths resulted from shipwrecks, with one other death occurring as a result of a collapsed structure. Due to intense wind speeds, hundreds of trees were uprooted, obstructing roads, and many buildings were unroofed. Agriculture, shipping, timber, and livestock industries also suffered considerable damage, with significant destruction to barns, crops, watercraft, poplar, oak, and pine trees, in addition to the deaths of several cows. Even farther north, swaths of forest were leveled, and heavy snow blocked roads, paths, and turnpikes. Fruit orchards and sugar groves endured the worst of the storm, and crops were reduced as a result. The most significant damage to private property was generally restricted to roofs, windows, and chimneys, and at its most severe extent caused the collapse of several buildings. In total, the storm caused approximately $100,000 in damage and more than 17 deaths.[nb 2]
Mid-Atlantic and south
Newspapers reported that the hurricane had passed Dominique and Guadaloupe on 4 October, but few other details are known. The gale was apparently severe at Georgetown, South Carolina, though there were no reports of any damage being inflicted. Losses in the Mid-Atlantic states were much less severe than in New England, but considerable damage was still experienced nevertheless. Offshore Cape Henry, Virginia, a ship weathered the hurricane, but managed to escape without major damage. To the north near Chesapeake Bay, the mail boat was impeded by the effects of the storm at Havre de Grace, Maryland, and was unable to deliver due to the unrelenting west-to-northwesterly winds. A negative storm tide observed at Baltimore resulted in the grounding of numerous boats. Near Philadelphia, an arriving ship was inundated by a sudden gale, and farther to the north, a ferry was overturned in Trenton, New Jersey, while a ship was run ashore near Absecon Beach on the Jersey Shore. The snow hurricane's impact in New York as significant, where rain totals reached 2.27 inches (5.8 cm) in New York City; at New York Harbor, meanwhile, not a single ship docked on 10 October on account of the intense gale. Winds at Hudson were reportedly more intense than any other previous storm in the region, and the Hudson Valley as a whole experienced intense winds throughout the day. In Newburgh, many houses were destroyed over due to the severity of the winds, and ships needed to travel with sails lowered as well. Heavy rain fell near Rochester, New York, which switched over to fast-melting snow; other western regions of the state, however, received a significant amount of snow, as in the Catskill Mountains, where up to 18 inches (46 cm) of snow accumulated.
Southern New England
Devastation was widespread throughout the state of Massachusetts, with high winds and heavy snow of 5 to 14 inches (13 to 36 cm) causing significant damage. In Boston, strong winds were reported during the afternoon of 9 October, described as "unprecedented in the annals" of the city; as a result, the Old North Church in Boston's steeple was blown off, while the roof of the King's Chapel was tossed 200 feet (61 m) off of the chapel and landed on an adjacent house, crushing two carriages into pieces. churches and meetinghouses in Salem, Beverly, and Charlestown were also seriously damaged, as well as the South Church in Danvers. A house also crumpled in Boston, killing one person and injuring three others. Poplar trees were uprooted, structures were bent and crumpled, and many wharves were ruined. Houses were blown down in Dighton and Milton, while shipping was impacted by the storm in Gloucester. Property damage throughout the state – especially to chimneys, roofs, and windows – was generally severe; some fell onto stage coaches in streets. At the town of Lynn, the storm was reportedly the most severe since the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635, with roofs torn off structures, fences and chimneys toppled, and orchards bearing the brunt of formidable damage. The chimney of the local schoolhouse collapsed into the roof and a bench was thrown into the cellar. Thousands of trees were uprooted, and yet many of them were obscured from view as a result of sinking into nearby marshes. At Plum Island, though trees and fences were knocked down, no damage to houses was observed, yet close by at Plymouth, many houses were damaged and several craft in the harbor were upset. At Rehoboth, at least 80 trees were downed, and in nearby Quincy, a few houses' roofs were torn away, more than a dozen barns demolished, and numerous cows were killed by the storm's intense gusts, with similar damage noted at Taunton. Meanwhile at Dedham, more than 130 trees fell onto the fifth Massachusetts Turnpike, and many trees were felled elsewhere as well, making many roads impassible. Approximately 4 inches (10 cm) of rain was reported to have fallen during the day in Salem, while an additional 3 inches (7.6 cm) fell that evening, apparently "a greater quantity than has ever been known in the same space of time". The steeple of the Old North Church was eventually repaired and restored several times, was blown down by once more in 1954 by Hurricane Carol, and was mended yet again.
At least 27 vessels total were damaged by the hurricane in Boston, resulting in at least one drowning death, while another six ships struck the South Boston Bridge. The Charlestown Navy Yard was to be taken down as a result of the damage inflicted upon it and the risk of its collapse. Several ships, propelled off to sea by winds off of Gloucester, were presumed to be lost along with their company. Notable losses were also experienced in Peabody, where more than 30,000 unburnt bricks were wrecked. In Boston, a new residence collapsed under the strain of the heavy winds, where four were crushed. Ships bore considerable damage as a result of the storm – the Dove capsized at Ipswich Bar, killing seven people. The captain of the Hannah drowned at Cohasset and the vessel Mary was also driven aground, but the rest of the ship's crew survived. At Cape Cod, the Protector was swept ashore near the lighthouse, destroying $100,000 (1804 USD) in goods and resulting in one death, while the John Harris capsized offshore Cape Cod, its crew perishing with it. The town of New Bedford's port, despite being heavily occupied, suffered no losses of ships or boats. Three bodies were also washed ashore at Plymouth, apparently from drowning at sea. Dozens of watercraft were washed ashore at Salem, as well as at Cape Ann and Marblehead.
Although precipitation throughout the state differed, damaging winds resulted in substantial damage throughout other portions of the state. The diary of William Bentley featured an account on the hurricane, which destroyed two barns in Salem and killed a horse. The property of Paul Revere and Bentley's own house suffered considerable damage, and many buildings' roofs were damaged or hurled away by intense winds in towns including Nahant. Following the storm, Bentley also observed the unusual abundance and variety of seaweed which was thrown ashore by the storm. Where snow fell it was was generally heavy, with reports in western Massachusetts of snowfall totaling 24 to 30 inches (61 to 76 cm) in the Berkshires, and up to 18 inches (46 cm) near Stockbridge; however, there was no accumulation measured in Boston and Worcester, where temperatures were too high to yield snowfall. In Abington, the hurricane caused especially severe damage to oak and pine timber as well as the shipping industry, and also knocked down several trees. Many vessels, washed ashore by the storm's strong winds, were also significantly damaged as a result of the storm. Many ornamental and fruit trees were also significantly damaged as a result, and roofs, chimneys, and fences were often completely cast away by the powerful winds. Crops were inflicted severe damage as a result of the storm, with potatoes freezing and apples tossed from trees, and stacks of hay were ruined at Newburyport. Livestock also endured noteworthy losses, with "large numbers" of cattle, sheep, and fowl having died near Walpole, Newbury, and Topsfield – over a hundred cattle died at Topsfield alone. Remarkably, the Endicott Pear Tree in Danvers survived and weathered through another three hurricanes in 1815, 1843, and 1934.
While little frozen precipitation fell in Massachusetts, snow was copious in Connecticut. At Litchfield, more than 3 inches (7.6 cm) of snow fell, while over 12 inches (30 cm) was recorded at Goshen; widespread snow was also noted near Woodbridge. The divide between rain and snow lines was clearly delineated, however, as indicated by the measurement of 3.66 inches (9.3 cm) of rain in nearby New Haven, far from the 24 inches (61 cm) of snow measured in other areas. Reports of damage were also widespread throughout Rhode Island, with houses damaged at Newport and Providence and significant impacts at Newport, where many ships were damaged, and several deaths were recorded. Trees of immense size were also uprooted in both towns, and fence boards were tossed far from their original location. In Providence, many ships were grounded, a brick house was impaired, and several other structures were damaged, with collapsed chimneys. The storm was described as the "severest storm and gale of wind within the recollection of any of its inhabitants," although little else was known about the storm's impacts in Rhode Island. However, despite the intense wind speeds, no snow fell in Providence as a result of higher temperatures.
Northern New England and Canada
Although winds in New Hampshire were less severe, being on the storm's northern edge of concentrated winds, snowfall totals were generally higher there than elsewhere. In Portsmouth, little destruction occurred, other than minor damage to trees and fences. In Walpole, thundersnow was briefly observed as precipitation changed from rain to snow which was followed by a period of high winds through the morning of 10 October. Though average snowfall in the Connecticut River Valley was estimated to be near 15 to 18 inches (38 to 46 cm), much of it quickly melted, leaving only 4 to 5 inches (10 to 13 cm) left by storm's end. Still, the weight of the unusually early snow snapped many tree branches, ruining fruit orchards and sugar groves throughout northern New England and lessening the production of cider, already in low supply, even further; damage to a single orchard totaled $300 (1804 USD). Due to snow-obstructed roads, mail was delivered by horse, and the weather was ample enough to allow sleighing upon drifts of snow in the hills of the state. At Gilsum, the snow was so intense that a group of men traveling toward Keene were turned back due to suddenly-blocked roads, smothered with over 10 inches (25 cm) of snow. The timber industry, meanwhile, was negatively impacted by the storm, reportedly being the worst blow to the trade since its formation in New Hampshire. Overall, snowfall totaled 6 inches (15 cm) at Hanover, more than 24 inches (61 cm) at Goffstown, and more than 36 to 48 inches (91 to 120 cm) fell in the Green Mountains. In southern portions of the state, ice accumulations were estimated around 4 inches (10 cm) in addition to the snow already on the ground, and several barns were reported to be destroyed. The storm's damage radius was estimated to be at least 50 feet (15 m) in the state, and encompassed the towns of Peterborough, Rindge, Lyme, and Amherst, which were each covered in 24 to 36 inches (61 to 91 cm) of snow. At Rye Beach, a woman on a stranded ship was found dead on the sand with an infant in her hands, and the Amity was also wrecked along its shores, resulting in one death.
In contrast to the high snow totals found in New Hampshire, snow measurements merely averaged 5 inches (13 cm) in Vermont. Even so, a reliable source detailed snowfall depths of 20 inches (51 cm) within the vicinity of Lunenburg by the time the storm had ended, and reports indicated snowfall accumulations of 36 feet (430 in) accumulated in some areas. The snow was deep enough to cover entire corn stalks and potato crops in some areas, impeding the impending harvest. The blowing of snow into massive drifts in the state's hills obstructed roads. In some areas near Windsor, up to 48 inches (120 cm) of snow may have fallen during the entire course of the snowstorm. The storm remained intense even up north in Maine: following the storm's passage, a 60 acres (240,000 m2) timber lot at Thomaston was nearly entirely uprooted, causing a vast area to be cleared and allowed towns from great distances away to become visible. The effect of the storm was so pronounced that, according to Sidney Perley, "people felt as if they were in a strange place". The storm was particularly intense on the Atlantic coast of Maine, especially in Kennebec, Wiscaset, Berwick, Kittery, and York, where moderate damage occurred and several cattle were killed. However, at Portland, the storm was less severe and damage, if any, was minimal. Snow arrived in Canada on 9 October and continued through 10 October, without any damage reported.
The snow hurricane of 1804, having defied many normal behaviors usually exhibited by New England hurricanes, set several precedents which were broken only twice each since it. The snow hurricane was the only hurricane in a survey of several dozen New England hurricanes to feature primarily southwesterly winds in a study of hurricanes' impacts in the region. In addition, it was one of two hurricanes that strengthened inland, the other being the 1869 Saxby Gale. At the time, the hurricane was generally described as the most severe since the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 due to its severe and widespread damage throughout New England. Only two other occurrences of snow in hurricanes while still tropical are known; the first instance was noted in an 1841 hurricane, and the second instance occurred as a result of Hurricane Ginny in 1963, which produced snowfall totaling 13 inches (33 cm) in Maine. The snow hurricane set October snowfall records throughout New England of which most were not broken until the 2011 Halloween nor'easter which produced a few feet of snow in many areas of the northeastern United States. Heavy October snow was again recorded in 2012 as a result of Hurricane Sandy, except further south in Virginia.
- List of New England hurricanes
- List of New Jersey hurricanes
- List of New York hurricanes
- 1804 Atlantic hurricane season
- Hurricane Ginny
- All damage figures in the article are in 1804 United States dollars (USD) unless otherwise stated.
- Deaths were totaled as follows: one due to a house collapse in Boston, one due to a ship capsizing in Boston, seven due to the sinking of the Dove, one due to the grounding of the Hannah, one as a result of the destruction of the Protector, three due to presumed drowning at Plymouth, one offshore Rye Beach, and one to the wrecking of the Amity. Some individuals died upon the John Harris; however, no specific number is known.
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