Weather we like it or not, it won’t wither away

Echoes of our past
William & JoyWangemann • forThe Review

Nothing on earth affects us more than weather. Because of weather great battles have been lost and history has been changed.

A case in point was the second day of the great battle at Gettysburg during the civil war. On that day temperatures soared into the high 80s and low 90s. Troops, on both sides dressed in heavy woolen uniforms, dropped from heat exhaustion by the hundreds.

During World War II when Hitler invaded Russia it was the Russian winter that crippled the German Army more than Russian bullets and bombs. The Russian winter had been the victor much as it had been in 1812 when Napoleon invaded Russia.

The great humorist and author, Mark Twain, summed it up very simply when he said “everybody talks about the weather but nobody ever does anything about it.” All attempts to control weather though cloud seeding and even black magic have all failed or had little results.

Of all the different weather that affects Wisconsin such as blizzards, floods, hailstorms and tornadoes what would you think has caused more deaths than any other? Its heat! Records indicate that more deaths are caused by heat waves than all other weather related deaths combined!

But of course heat is not the only weather problems we experience in Wisconsin (also known as the land of the frozen tundra) such as the great blizzard of 1888.

Two gigantic storms collided over the mid-west and developed into a screeching monster that deposited snow that was measured, not in inches but in feet. Old photographs taken after the blizzard, which lasted nearly two weeks, show huge snowdrifts on 8th Street in downtown Sheboygan as high as the second floor windows of buildings.

The city was crippled. Tunnels had to be dug through the drifts to the front doors of shops so that the owner and customers could enter.

Because all the windows were covered over with snow lamps had to burn all day long. In the county the snow covered the tops of telephone poles. With all the landmarks covered farmers who had lived in an area all their lives got lost just miles from home. That spring it was reported that snow could be found in the woods until the middle of June.

Remember the stories that Grandma used to tell? About how every winter the snow was up to the top of the barn roof? Sorry, Grandma, but most of the heavy snow winters we have had have been in more recent times. Take, for instance, the winter of 1978-1979 when we had a whopping 98.5 inches of snow!

That’s over 8 feet of snow. Then there was the winter of 1936-1937 when we had just a mere 5 inches of snow all winter.

However, on November 6, 1913 a monster of a storm was formed over the Great Lakes with 2 fronts combining to form what many people later on referred to as a white hurricane.

The autumn of 1913 had been unusually warm for at least a month prior to the great storm. Again, on November 6th the day dawned warm and sunny with temperatures near 70.

Duck hunters on the Mississippi

River were hunting in shirt sleeves and people strolled down the streets of their cities wearing summer clothes. Suddenly around 2 p.m. in the afternoon, the skies darkened and a sharp cold wind swept across Wisconsin and the Great Lakes.

Soon it began to rain, the temperatures plummeted and the rain began to change to snow. Within hours the thermometer read close to 0 degrees. Winds in excess of 90 m.p.h. drove sheets of blinding snow across the Lakes in what was later described as a white hurricane.

The deadly winds whipped up waves of unbelievable heights. The storm raged on for 5 days, and when the hurricane force winds finally subsided the devastation across the Great Lakes was incredible. 19 ships and most of their crews were lost, 19 more were severely damaged by the waves or were driven ashore.

The worst statistic related to this storm was the fact the over 250 persons lost their lives; the exact count of the dead was never accurately determined. On shore the damage to property ran into the millions.

In Sheboygan the city was crippled for weeks. Roads and city streets were blocked by huge snow drifts. Barns had been destroyed, windows everywhere were blown in and roofs were torn off.

Of all the weather phenomenon none is more dramatic or more frightening than the tornado. In the last 130 years 9 tornadoes have struck Sheboygan

County, one of the worst recorded coming on April 21, 1974.

At about 5:24 p.m. a monster black funnel cloud struck Howards Grove and caused over $400,000 in damage and several injuries some of them serious.

The roaring twister flattened several homes and tore roofs off buildings in the area before it disappeared to the east.

On August 20, 1900 a tornado roared out of the northwest and cut a two mile long swath of destruction across Sheboygan’s southwest side, along Georgia and Indiana Ave.

The vicious funnel struck at 12.45 p.m. and lasted but 10 minutes. In its path across the city it ripped the steeple off of Bethlehem Church, flattened several homes, barns and small sheds in the area and then moved southeast towards Longfellow School.

The twister ripped most of the roof off the school and broke nearly every window in the building. Fortunately school was closed and no one was in the building. A small home just south of the school believed to be the home of the principal was also badly damaged.

The storm then ripped into the streetcar car barns at S. 8th and Clara, tossing wooden streetcars about like toys, destroying several and damaging many, and causing severe damage to the car barns.

The vicious funnel then turned northeast toward the area of the fish shanties. Next to be struck was the Crocker chair Co. which lost its roof. The violent wind scattered chairs throughout the neighborhood before vanishing over Lake Michigan.

The myth prevails that our city is protected by the lake from tornadoes striking, and it is just that…a myth. It is true that the cooling effect of the lake does tend to diminish the possibility, but in no way is the lake a defensive barrier against one of nature’s most terrifying storms.

Tornadoes have been recorded in Wisconsin in every month but February, but occur most often in the warm moist air of spring with the month of June spawning the most of these vicious storms.

That’s just a sample of Wisconsin weather over the years. As they say, if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes and it will change.


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