So was Christmas weekend warm enough for you?
If predictions from a week ago held true, the Middle Atlantic area celebrated the holiday with temps in the 60s or even 70s, possibly high enough to break records.
That’s unusual, but not unprecedented. Our ancestors and predecessors here in Northeastern Pennsylvania experienced comparable weather anomalies over the last few centuries.
Why should genealogists care about the subject? Simply this: weather – especially unusual weather – has impacted our society and our families in many ways over the generations.
Perhaps the most bizarre weather event of recent centuries was the famous “year without a summer” of 1816. Our area was almost entirely agricultural at that time, and the farmers had to contend with crops freezing in the fields, an economic disaster.
Sometimes the weather is more or less appropriate to the season but is dangerously extreme. The winter of 1917-1918 saw bitter cold made worse by a coal shortage. Catholic churches held holy day Masses early so that men would have more hours to work in the mines, and area schools closed early to conserve fuel. Christmas Day saw a low temperature of minus 11 in Wilkes-Barre.
While summer warmth is universally welcomed, extreme heat can threaten health. In 1936, 1966 and 1988, temperatures of 100 plus were recorded in the Northeast, bringing warnings from authorities and cases of heat-related illness.
Tropical storms are rare in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but in August of 1955 the area was struck by two named storms – Connie and Diane – within a single week. Saturated ground and flash flooding caused widespread damage, and in the Stroudsburg area, scores of people were killed, many when a summer camp was flooded.
Tornadoes are even rarer. But in August of 1890 and 1914 big Midwestern-style twisters caused immense property damage and killed many people in the Wilkes-Barre area. Melting snow or tropical storms brought flooding a tragic number of times, most recently in 2011. The floods are the area’s all-time worst weather-related disasters for their economic and social disruption.
A warm Christmas? Maybe it’s not Currier and Ives picturesque. But it’s more than tolerable. As genealogists are well aware, our local ancestors saw their lives turned upside down – and some of them even lost their lives – through extreme and surprising weather conditions.
Resources: Family Tree Magazine has announced publication of its new paperback “Polish, Slovak & Czech Genealogy Guide.” Find details in the current issue of “Family Tree Magazine” or on the website www.familytreemagazine.com. It is also available as an eBook. On the website you’ll find the magazine’s free eBook on genetic genealogy, a growing approach to determining ancestral relationships and ethnicity.
News Notes: The Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society Research Library is closed for the holiday period. The group will announce its January reopening.
The Luzerne County Historical Society’s Bishop Memorial Library is closed for the holiday period and will reopen Jan. 5. The library will close again for February, reopening in March.
Hats off to the society’s museum for its recently concluded exhibit on Wyoming Valley in World War II. Curator Mary Ruth Burke and her volunteers put together an immensely informative exhibit. The museum will remain closed until March.
New Email Address: Please note my new email address below. If you sent something to my previous address over the past two weeks, please re-send it to the new one. If you lack computer access, please mail it to me c/o the Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 18711.
Tom Mooney is a Times Leader genealogy columnist. Reach him at [email protected]