The 1940 Armistice Day Blizzard Was Like A Snow Ninja
There are days when you start out with shorts and a tank top and by sundown are huddled for warmth in a borrowed hoodie, with two trash bags as pants. Then there are days like one in November 1940, when a blizzard crept up on the Midwest with such speed that a few elderly Chicagoans still refuse to take their parkas off 77 years later, just to be on the safe side.
The Minneapolis Morning Tribune
"Li- lil' help?"
November 11th, the day that the sky exploded above the north of the U.S., started off at a balmy 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius), which for Midwesterners is warm enough weather for luau-themed barbecues. But the unusually warm weather was but a precursor to one of the most terrible meteorological outbursts in the history of the U.S. Tornadoes hit Iowa. The Mississippi Valley took on three inches of rain in no time. But nothing was as severe as the Armistice Day blizzard. Gale winds of 80 mph tore into Michigan. Heavy rain turned into sleet, then heavy snow, almost instantly. Everyone was caught unaware. In the course of a few hours, temperatures plummeted from near 60 to the freezing single digits. Surviving duck hunters remembered the day as one of record kills, as ducks blackened the sky trying to get the fuck away from the storm. We say "surviving," because a lot of hunters drowned or froze to death in that same storm. We assume that not a lot of duck hunts end with heavy casualties on both sides.
Nowhere was safe. Cars were thrown in the paths of oncoming trucks because of the gale winds. Two trains collided when signals on the tracks couldn't be seen. The whole economy of the region turned into a wreck itself. Iowa was one of the leading producers of apples in those days, but when the storm barreled through the state, apple trees were uprooted and frozen by the hundreds. With the worldwide instability of 1940 (looking at you there, Germany), the state had neither the money nor the extra labor to plant new orchards. So the Iowa you know nowadays, with its fast-growing, efficient corn and soybean crops, came about because of one motherfucker of a storm deciding that apples weren't its thing.
Bolts Of Lightning Once Killed 3,000, Then 4,000 People
Isn't it weird that we can survive getting hit by lightning? Seriously, lightning. There has to be enough power there to surely liquefy your innards while searing your outer layer. But make no mistake, it's real easy to make lightning as lethal as any blizzard, sinkhole, or gas-filled lake. You simply have to add a pinch of gunpowder.
When guns and cannons became the new fad in murder technology, they also created the issue of storing the vasts amounts of gunpowder somewhere. Following a great instinct to keep it safe and out of reach, the explosive powder was often kept in the vaults of castles or churches. But castles and churches also had another thing in common: They were usually the tallest buildings for miles, making them deathtraps during thunderstorms -- and making bell-ringing genuinely one of the most dangerous of medieval jobs. Unfortunately, the realization that storing explosives in the same spots that constantly get hit with sky-fire is a bad idea wouldn't catch on. One 19th-century maritime journal kept a record of all serious lightning-caused explosions, and concluded that lightning was laying waste to European villages like it wanted to be crowned emperor of France.
Often, these explosions resulted in a few casualties, some damaged property, and a new wanted ad for a priest. But sometimes the results were calamitous. In 1769, the town of Brescia, Italy found out that storing all of its firepower in one place is a good way to lose your town. The council had vaults which stored 100 tons of gunpowder, so when lightning struck the tower of the church where it was held, it set off an explosion that even made God wince. One-sixth of the city was flattened, and 3,000 people were killed.
A hundred years later, the apparently stupid practice of storing explosives in vaults hadn't yet died. On November 9th, 1856, on the Greek island of Rhodes, lightning hit the steeple of the Cathedral of Saint Jean, coursed its way down to the vaults, and set fire to a gigantic cache of boom-boom. In mere seconds, the cathedral was turned into rubble and the city into a crater. 4,000 people perished, and most of the town was completely blown away.
For how religious people were back then, it's weird that no one figured that if your churches keep exploding because of lightning strikes, it might mean that God doesn't like you keeping your explosives in his house.
Justin kills people unexpectedly with chuckles on his site here. Talk baseball stats with him on Twitter.
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