By Heidi Sonen & Roscoe Shaw
The Hurricane that Saved America
Sometimes, weather can play a big role in history. Heidi and I have a good friend, Dr. Charles Hosler, who was one of the main forecasters for the D-Day invasion back in 1944. He was just a youngster and the science of weather forecasting was in its infancy, too. But Charley got the forecast right, and the Allies stormed ashore in France and the Germans were finished off within a year.
Farther back in time, way before anybody had a clue how to forecast, a huge storm may have actually saved the United States. I’m not exaggerating. Here is the story.
The United States was only a couple of decades old when the War of 1812 broke out. It was a rematch of the American Revolution and the Brits were getting the better of us. On August 24, 1814, the British overran Washington, D.C., and burned or destroyed essentially all the government buildings, including the White House.
Then Mother Nature came to the rescue. A huge storm pounded Washington the next day. An excerpt from the book Washington Weather by Kevin Ambrose, Dan Henry and Andy Weiss gives an account of what happened.
“The tornado tore through the center of Washington and directly into the British occupation. Buildings were lifted off of their foundations and dashed to bits. Other buildings were blown down or lost their roofs. Feather beds were sucked out of homes and scattered about. Trees were uprooted, fences were blown down, and the heavy chain bridge across the Potomac River was buckled and rendered useless.
“A few British cannons were picked up by the winds and thrown through the air. The collapsing buildings and flying debris killed several British soldiers. Many of the soldiers did not have time to take cover from the winds and they laid face down in the streets. One account describes how a British officer on horseback did not dismount and the winds slammed both horse and rider violently to the ground.”
There has been some disagreement over the years about whether the Washington storm of 1814 was a tornado, a severe thunderstorm, or a hurricane. Most agree it was a tornado, but I’m leaning toward hurricane because of the time of year and the duration and coverage area of the storm.
Regardless of what kind of storm it was, it did the trick. The Brits fled, the tide of the war turned, and the British did not dare invade again until they sent the Beatles exactly 150 years later.
August started hot, but you can see a steady cooling slope on the graph as fall is closing in. Overall, the month was just one degree above normal and rain was below normal again with 2.72” at our house. July and August have been dry in Crozet, but we’ve been ripped off! Most of the rest of the county has had plenty of rain. We’ve just been unlucky. Some local totals:
Lake Monticello 5.34”
Stuarts Draft 5.34”
CHO Airport 3.62”
White Hall 2.19”