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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Niagara Falls, 1848

I recently received an email with pictures of Niagara Falls frozen over. That sure put my whining about the cold into perspective! Here is a picture of it, along with information I found at this site. I pared down the quite lengthy article to only a somewhat lengthy size. Go to the site to read the whole thing, if you're interested.
There appears to have been nothing terribly unusual about the winter of 1847-48 nor the onset of spring in March. Nor was there any evidence that the ice on Lake Erie was unusually thick. But during the night of March 29-30, 1848, the great cataracts over both falls diminished, slowed to a trickle and then stopped completely! When the local residents awoke on the morning of the 30th, something felt wrong...indeed, something sounded wrong. There was...silence. No roaring water filled the ambient background as it had every morning in anyone's memory.

Despite the limited and slow communication network of the day, a reported 5000 people from as far as Hamilton, Ontario and Buffalo, New York converged on the scene, jamming local roads. Thousands attended special church services, convinced that the incident was a prophetic sign of greater disasters yet to come.

But many brave souls took the opportunity to descend into the Great Niagara Gorge and explore the never-before-seen basin at the foot of the Niagara Falls. Some retrieved a variety of relics from beneath the Falls, including weapons from the War of 1812: bayonets, musket barrels, swords, pistols and tomahawks.

The cause of the water stoppage appears to have been a perfect ice dam formed at the source of the Niagara River near Buffalo. A strong but slow-moving storm system passing through Lake Erie basin was the most logical suspect in the water flow stoppage. The combined force of wind, current and waves jammed the ice blocks together in such a manner that a completely impenetrable ice dam was formed. Thus, waters no longer flowed through the Niagara River toward Lake Ontario and the Niagara Falls.

The shift in wind also brought very warm air temperatures which rose to 16 C (61 F) on the 31st. The combination of warm air and pounding winds and waters eventually broached the ice dam, and flow into the Niagara River was again restored, some 30 hours after it had ceased. During the night hours of March 31, a "low growl" began upstream of the Falls and then suddenly a wall of water rushed down the riverbed and leapt over the Falls. Local residents returned to their beds, relieved and again comforted by the assuring roar of waters over the great Niagara Falls.


Nancy said...

That. Is. Awesome.

Stidmama said...

ditto what Nancy said! and... I wonder if we'll see something like this in our lifetimes?

featherbee said...

Probably not. Another part of the article said there are ice booms upriver to break up the ice and prevent this from happening again. Think of the hydroelectric plants that depend on the rushing water!