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The climate of this section of western Michigan is undoubtedly as mild and equable as that of any region of this country in the same latitude east of the main chain of the Rocky Mountains. The early settlers were in the habit of calling it delightful, and thought it the finest and healthiest in the world. In this latter respect, after the developement of ague and malarial fevers, incident to the settlement and improvement of this then western country, perhaps some of them changed their minds; yet on the whole the judgment expressed at the beginning of this article must be very nearly correct. The fact has frequently been noted in the past forty years, that during the prevalence of northerly and northwesterly winter storms, with cold winds, thermometers on this side of Lake Michigan have indicated a temperature ten or twelve degrees higher than was experienced on the west side. This was undoubtedly due to the modifying influence of the deep waters, over which the winds came. Very seldom, if ever, until the winter of 1872-73 did the peach trees of this section of the State suffer much in consequence of midwinter freezes. In that severe winter, and in two or three since, there appears to have been a change from earlier years in the direction of the "polar wave" currents; the prevailing winds of the cold cycles coming from the north and northeast over land, instead of over large bodies of water. But despite these changes, the average comparative mildness of the climate is such that peaches are successfully grown in western Michigan at a higher latitude than in any other portion of the country. It is also believed that in point of healthfulness, whether as affected by heat and cold, or by the humidity of the atmosphere, this region of Grand Rapids and about will compare favorably with any other.
There are of course exceptions to all general rules, and some items of extremes of heat and cold, aside from statements of average temperatures, may be of interest. The testimony of pioneers here in reference to the first few years, is not sufficiently exact in detail to be conclusive. Generally their talk is of moderate and pleasant seasons. No special instances of intense cold in winter or of extraordinary heat in summer at a very early day are mentioned. The winter of 1842-43, commonly called the "hard winter," was not so remarkable for its extreme cold as for the deep snow and its long continuance. Nor were the few periods of excessive heat in summer, if such there were, much noticed by the pioneer residents. July 10, 1849, was a hot day, the highest temperature being 99degrees, and the average in the shade 95 degrees. In January, 1855, the highest temperature was 56 degrees; the lowest 8 degrees below zero. The mean temperature for the month was 26.66 degrees. In January, 1856, highest 36 degrees; lowest 9 degrees below zero; mean for the month 15.5 degrees. In February, 1856, the highest 28 degrees; the lowest 24 degrees below zero, and 16 degrees was the mean for the month. January 18, 1857, the thermometer indicated 28 degrees below zero. On the morning of June 4, 1859, there was ice one-eighth of an inch thick on the water in vessels standing in the open air, and on the morning of June 11, following, the ground was "white as a sheet" with frost. December, 1859, and February, 1860, were marked by some severe freezes. The first day of January, 1864, was one long remembered for the severity of the cold. January 9, 1866, was remarked upon as the coldest of that season, 14 degrees below zero in the morning. A record kept by Dr. E. S. Holmes for the Smithsonian Institute showed the maximum temperature in July, 1867, to be 82.42 degrees; for July, 1867, 83.35 degrees; for July, 1868, 94 degrees. The mean temperature for July, 1866, was 75.76 degrees; for July, 1867. was 72.52 degrees; for July, 1868, 82 degrees. This last was remarked upon as the hottest July known for a great many years. A drouth prevailed at the same time. No rain fell for fifty days. It was followed early in August by weather so cool that overcoats were convenient. The winter of 1872-73 was marked by five successive cycles of extreme cold; one at Christmas time, one about January 4, another January 28-29, another about February 24, and the last during the first week of March. January 29 the mercury marked 24 degrees to 27 degrees below zero at points in and near the city. Again in 1875, from the 4th to the 9th of February was a period of intense cold, going at the latter date to 36 degrees below zero.
Some data relating to the cold of the two winters of 1872-73 and 1874-75, afford an interesting study. December 22, 1872, the temperature in this city was 15 degrees below zero; December 23, 20 below; December 24, on Canal street, 24 to 33 below; 38 below on the West side; in Grand Rapids township 33 below; in Gaines Township 16 to 20 below. The 28th and 29th of January were cold days and nights. Some of the markings were: In this city and about, 20 to 24 below; at Grand Haven, 18 below; at Montague, 20 below; at Ludington, 14 below, at Manistee 23 to 28 below. The month of February was milder, and pleasant mostly, but the first week of March gave 8 to 10 below again. That was called by some at the State Horticultural meeting, "the coldest winter in a hundred years." Thirty times or more during the season the mercury registered below zero.
The winter of 1873-74 was mild; then came the still more severe one of 1874-75, when, as one fruit man said, it not only "scooped peaches" but killed many apple trees. December and January were cold, but the first half of February was almost a continuous cold blizzard--the 6th, 7th, and 8th were especially cold--and the mercury coquetted in the region of 15 to 20 below zero much of the time for about fourteen days. Here are some of the weather quotations: In the east part of the city, February 9, 24-35 below zero; Walker and Alpine, 40-50 below; Englishville, 32 below; Grand Rapids Town, 39 below; Cascade, 35 below. Hersey reported for several days n 1875: February 6, 28 below; February 7, 33 below; February 8, 23 below; February 9, 38 below. A Coopersville report was as follows: February 8, 20 below; February 9, 44 below; February 13, 22 below; February 14, 16 below; February 15, 30 below. (These reports are of observations taken about daybreak).
The winter of 1876-77, some of the old settlers said, was the mildest and pleasantest for fifty years. July 16 and 17, 1878, were marked by a hot wave, thermometers indicating as high as 104 degrees in the shade, and in some places 120 and upward in the sun. There were a number of cases of sunstroke in this part of the State, but very few of them were fatal. Some later dates of severe cold have been: February 4, 1881, 23 below zero; December 18, 1882, 10 below zero; January 4 and 24, and December 26, 1884, from 12 to 18 below zero; March 17, 1885, 5 below; and March 21, 1885, 30 below zero, as reported by persons in the vicinity of the fair ground. The mean temperature at Grand Rapids for a period of thirteen years, beginning with 1871, as deduced by L. H. Streng from his daily record, was 47.63 degrees. His record also shows the interesting fact that in those thirteen years the coldest month was February, 1875--mean temperature 10.17 degrees--and the hottest month was July, 1875, with a mean temperature of 78.31 degrees; the extremes of cold and heat for the entire period coming within the same year.
This vicinity has not been exempt from occasional heavy rain storms. It has been visited by a few floods or freshets. That of the river freshet of February, 1838, is usually remarked upon by all old settlers as not only the earliest but the greatest. The ice broke suddenly and began to move at mid-day down the rapids, but gorged on the islands and solid ice at the foot, creating a jam, by which the waters were set back over all the lowlands of the town. On Huron street the river was from ten to twelve feet deep. The families of John Almy and Abel Page were in the houses of the fur trade station there, and were reached and taken out of the upper story windows in a boat paddled across through a rift in the floating ice from the side of Prospect Hill little north of Lyon street. H. P. Bridge & Co. had a shanty boarding house between Canal street and the river, a little below Bridge street, which was swept away by the flood. A man in a sleigh with one or two women, drove a team to the old red warehouse, between Waterloo street and the river, near where the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad passes. They had scarcely entered the store when the water rose so that they were compelled to wade to the sleigh and drive off in a hurry.
Measurements by L.H. Streng for fourteen years, show the average annual rainfall here to be 37.59 inches. The greatest monthly rainfall usually occurs in June, the average for that month in the fourteen years being 4.66 inches. From the record of his own observations in the seven years, 1870-1876, inclusive, Mr. Streng prepared the table of aqueous precipitation given below:
MONTHS 1870 1871 1872 1873 1874 1875 1876 January 3.36 5.34 2.26 3.53 4.78 1.68 2.64 February 1.66 1.44 0.68 1.59 0.93 3.66 1.76 March 2.71 3.50 2.00 2.94 3.60 2.35 2.64 April 1.88 3.39 2.23 2.65 1.18 1.63 1.97 May 0.87 1.39 3.49 4.14 2.02 2.91 4.71 June 6.15 3.77 3.18 2.02 6.44 1.38 7.82 July 5.55 1.68 1.93 6.23 1.74 2.72 3.74 August 2.04 2.35 3.99 0.80 0.52 3.74 0.76 September 3.10 0.76 10.03 3.44 2.70 4.64 4.39 October 4.84 2.71 0.90 3.77 1.72 5.16 0.57 November 0.72 2.10 2.03 1.96 2.38 1.28 2.32 December 3.89 2.50 1.80 2.08 1.02 2.72 1.81 Totals 36.77 30.93 34.52 35.06 29.03 33.87 35.13
The average annual precipitation in the period from 1854 to 1866 as 39.65 inches. The average for the years included in the table above was 33.64 inches. The average for the
whole series in both these periods was 36.55 inches. These computations are from observations made by A. O. Currier, L. H. Streng, E. A. Strong, and E. S. Holmes. River freshets in 1883 and 1885 are described in another place.
The second notable flood occurred in March, 1852. There had been a period of high water in the latter part of March, 1849, submerging some of the lower parts of the city, but this one came several feet higher. As in 1838, the ice in the river gorged, and blocked the stream across by the islands. At this time Canal street was flooded its entire length from Coldbrook down. At the junction of Canal and Pearl streets the water was twelve or fifteen feet deep. At the highest stage there was a clear way for boating from Division street at Island street to the bluffs beyond the west line of the city. There was a freshet February 15-19, 1857, which subsided quickly, did not break up the ice, and did comparatively little damage. The most notable summer flood which has occurred, was that of the last week in July, 1883, caused by a long and heavy rainstorm. This broke the boom above the rapids, and carried away many million feet of logs that were stored there, overturned the Detroit, Grand Haven and Milwaukee iron bridge, swept out the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad bridge, and damaged two or three others. That was the heaviest and most protracted summer rainstorm visiting this region with in the memory of white man.
This part of Michigan has been remarkably exempt from destructive hurricanes and wind storms. A cold and driving snow storm, accompanied by heavy thunder, occurred April 24, 1853. May 15, of the same year, a strong gale of wind unroofed some buildings in town, and blew a grocery and dwelling near the west end of Bridge street bridge into the river. A rainstorm at that time unprecedented (or, rather, two of them), accompanied with vivid lightning and thunder, occurred on the evenings of September 17 and 18, 1853. The rainfall at this time measured 4.1 inches, and considerable damage was done to dwellings and fences in the country about by the wind. A heavy rain during the first week in March, 1868, melted off the snow, and in the following week raised the water and broke up the ice in the river, causing a flood of sufficient height to submerge the bank of the canal. September 9, 1872, rain fell to a depth of 2.3 inches between 2:30 and 4 o'clock in the afternoon. September 9, 1875 (just three years later), rain fell to the depth of 3 inches within 24 hours. July 10, 1880, occurred a violent storm of rain, wind and hail, which did considerable damage to windows in the city, and to growing crops in the country about. It was short but severe. October 16, occurred a terrific autumnal storm--mingled rain, hail and snow, with a high wind---lasting through the night. It was during this storm that the steamer Alpena was lost on Lake Michigan.