Lately, February in Maryland has been living up to its reputation and turning into an endurance contest. This column goes best with Antonio Vivaldi’s “L’inverno,” the winter movement of “The Four Seasons” violin concerto written in 1723. Who knew Vivaldi invented heavy metal in the 1700s?
It could be worse. In Carroll County’s history, there have been a number of snow and winter events that have tested us as a community. On Feb. 15-18, 2003, 28.2 inches fell on Westminster in what has become to be known as “the President’s Day Snowstorm.” This was one of the worst snowstorms in Westminster’s history. A total of 34.6 inches of snow fell in February 2003.
On June 21, 1972 Hurricane Agnes came through town and caused widespread flooding, only to be followed by Hurricane Eloise on Sept. 26, 1975 which was accompanied by even more flooding, in some instances wrecking what had been just repaired from Hurricane Agnes.
Then on May 29, 1979 a tornado struck Westminster and caused widespread damage over an 8-block area. It followed the same path as the other two tornadoes which had previous caused a great deal of damage in town — on Feb. 19, 1893 and June 19, 1952. The 1979 tornado saw the mayor put the town under “martial law” for a brief period.
The 1893 tornado tore down the steeple of the “St. Paul's German Reformed Church,” as it was then known, at the corner of West Green and Bond Streets. At 4:45 p.m. on June 19, 1952, a tornado spawned by Hurricane Able tore down the steeple of St. John Catholic Church on Main Street, where the Carroll County Public Library was later built in 1980. The damage caused to the Catholic Church led to its final demolition in 1977.
The Oct. 3, 1896 edition of the Democratic Advocate carried the following headline about the blizzard of Sept. 29, 1896: “Great Storm in Carroll. School Houses, Churches, Dwellings, Barns, and Outbuildings Wrecked and Damaged … Horses And Cattle Killed.”
An old and faded photograph of Main Street and the railroad tracks in Westminster, from Feb. 14, 1899, in our family papers corresponds with the stories of the blizzard of 1899. In the picture, a horse and rider struggle against huge snowdrifts in what can only be understood as impassable amounts of snow in the middle of Westminster.
Many families still remember the Knickerbocker blizzard of Jan. 27-29, 1922, when 26.5 inches of snow fell and the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater in Washington, D.C. collapsed and 98 were killed.
Almost 120 years ago, Carroll County experienced a rain and sleet storm that the American Sentinel newspaper hailed as “The Great Sleet Storm,” according to a published account written for the Historical Society of Carroll County in February 1994 by local historian and Historical Society executive director, now Judge Joe Getty.
Getty wrote, “The storm was so impressive that the Democratic Advocate newspaper featured five photographic views of the storm at a time when the use of photographs was still relatively rare in local newspapers.” The photographs were taken by Mitchell's Gallery of Westminster.
In 1902, Carroll countians were just starting to become dependent on the telephone, telegraph, and electric power. So you can imagine the paralysis which resulted as the Democratic Advocate proclaimed: “The wreck of the system in this city of the Western Maryland Telephone Company was nearly complete. Two-thirds of the poles were down, cross-arms broken off and wires snapped and tangled all over the city, particularly from the railroad east.”
The American Sentinel wrote, “The storm began in the early morning with hail and snow, turning to rain, which froze as it fell, about day-dawn. By noon every object touched by the falling rain was encrusted with an icy covering …
“Telephone wires broke in every direction; telephone poles snapped off like pipe-stems; great branches of trees fell crashing to the earth and the alleys in this city were blockaded by the debris. Even the wide Main Street was covered with piles of broken tree limbs and obstructed to some extent by the wires of the several electric systems in the place.
“The Western Maryland Telephone company of Carroll County suffered most severely in the destruction of property. Many of the poles, which carried between 200 and 300 wires, gave way under the tremendous strain and went down with cross-arms broken and lines torn, twisted, and piled in great masses on the earth.”
Portions of this discussion of past weather events have been published in the past. Winter storms are a favorite topic. Maybe it’s “writing therapy.” In full disclosure I really do not like winter. Think spring.