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Dayhoff: Snow is a four-letter word (and other natural disasters)

In my family's old papers and photographs there is a picture dated Feb. 14, 1899 of a horse without a rider among very large piles of snow at Main Street and the railroad tracks in Westminster. In the middle of February in 1899, Westminster and much of the country found itself in the throes of the "Great Arctic Outbreak of 1899," arguably one of the worst winter storms in U.S. history.

According to old family notes, February started out badly in 1899, "with a foot of snow on Feb. 5 (then snow) struck again with 21.3 inches that fell through Valentine's Day. …" In Westminster, the storm was called the "Snow King," and was still the stuff of folklore when I first heard the stories in the 1950s (about walking to school in the snow).

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This year, the end of February is within sight and somehow we've made it this far without a significant snow event. I worry that before the end of this winter, the gods of weather will make us pay dearly for the mild temperatures and the lack of snow we've experienced so far. Always remember the "Palm Sunday Blizzard" of March 29-30,1942 — 22.0 inches of snow fell in 24 hours.

Snow is a four-letter word. However, in addition to winter storms, we do have a long history of natural disasters in Carroll County, including floods, tornadoes, locusts, bureaucrats, and fires. These present the greatest danger to public safety, health, and welfare in our area.

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According to notes gathered from The Baltimore Sun, on this date in 2010 we were suffering through the "The back-to-back 'Snowmageddon' storms of February 2010 (which) are remembered as the worst in history …"

In February 2003, Westminster had a total of 34.6 inches of snow. From February 15-18, 2003, 28.2 inches of snow fell in Westminster during the "Presidents Day Snowstorm."

In addition to the 1899 storm, one of the other legendary snowstorms discussed in hushed-tones in my childhood, was the "Knickerbocker Snowstorm" of January 27-28, 1922. As much as 33 inches of snow fell on Washington, D.C. According to old notes, "The weight of the record-breaking snow collapsed the roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre on scores of moviegoers, killing 98 and injuring 133 …"

As far as some of the other local disasters; in "The Great Westminster Fire," an entire section of Westminster, from John Street to Carroll Street to Main Street, burned to the ground on April 9-10, 1883.

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On Feb. 19, 1893, a tornado destroyed the steeple at St. Paul's United Church of Christ at the corner of Green and Bond Streets.

It all started with a weekend post, shared on my Facebook page, by someone who knows I am obsessed with Chincoteague Ponies. The post showed a 2-year-old Chi

On June 19, 1952, at 4:45 in the afternoon, a severe windstorm destroyed the steeple on St. John Roman Catholic Church on Main Street. More recently, on May 23, 1979, a tornado came through the same section of Westminster.

However, the 1899 winter storm remains the stuff of legend.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website, on Feb. 10, 1899, the temperature in Washington was minus-8 degrees Fahrenheit. Government records show that 100 people lost their lives nationwide.

Let's face it, although January is statistically the coldest month of the year in Carroll County; February is the most miserable. Every year, the Maryland General Assembly meets this time of the year. There's a joke in there somewhere. The legislators ponder ideas like taxing the weather or anything that moves, outlawing gravity, and the laws of economics and nature. Wouldn't be great if that noble body would listen to the voice of the people and just do away with the month of February?

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.



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