Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The Little Ice Age
No, I’m not talking about the Blizzards of 2010!
I realize that I was supposed to post the second half of my reading/testing essay today, but I was diverted by a statement on the news last night. “A few more inches,” said John Bolaris, the Philly weather guy, with a smarmy grin, “and we will top the all-time record in the Philadelphia area!”
The all-time record? That’s a bit lofty, isn’t it? How long have we been keeping records anyway? Maybe a hundred and fifty years? If you want to take a look at a bad winter, take a gander at Leutze’s famous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware.
This painting has been criticized for some historical inaccuracies – for example, it’s the wrong type of boat and that flag was not in use. The ice floes in the Delaware River have sometimes been cited as one of the mistakes, but historical accounts suggest that it may have looked just like this.
“The Little Ice Age” is a term used to describe a period between approximately 1300 and 1850 in which bizarre climactic shifts wreaked havoc in North America and Europe. It was not a true ice age, but a cycle of strange weather that included intensely cold winters, numerous Atlantic storms, and intense summer heat. The weather in 1812 was so severe it stopped Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia, reducing an army of 600,000 to 130,000. And yes, Washington’s army crossed an ice laden Delaware River to attack Trenton on December 25, 1776. (Philly residents: Have you ever seen the Delaware River choked with ice floes on Christmas Day?)
Washington didn’t make out much better the following year either. In 1777, his army was pounded by hurricanes in the fall, and of course the devastating winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge is well documented. Consider this: They didn’t have snowblowers; they didn’t have plows and salt trucks; heck, most of them didn’t even have shoes. And yet they still got up and went to war against the best trained army in the world to win our freedom.
So quit whining.