DISCUSSION: This article details the “sudden freeze”, a strange meteorological event in 1836 that caused hardships for pioneers in Illinois. The day was December 20, 1836, central Illinois had been experiencing relatively warm temperatures for the previous few days. That day there was light rain, with some reports claiming snow on the ground was turned into slush due to said rain. Then around noon, a dark cloud, or according to one report, clouds suddenly appeared from the northwest bringing with it a roaring sound and high wind speeds of up to 70 mph. These clouds and high winds were because of an intense cold front that moved through the area. It also brought with it a great drop in temperature, from around 40 degrees Fahrenheit to about 0 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes.
This sudden change in temperature apparently caused streams to freeze and thicken in ridges, that’s right, ridges of six to twelve inches in just a few hours. Livestock left out in the open were frozen in their tracks, with several of them freezing to death as no one was there to melt or break away the ice from their extremities. The sudden change took people by surprise, with some far away from their homes or without the resources to build a fire, leading to multiple deaths due to freezing. One report of the event claims that a man who had been riding on his horse in the rain had his wet jacket frozen to him while he was also frozen to his saddle. The front moved through the area with it reaching the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio by midnight, bringing cold weather to those areas as well. The next day, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and parts of Iowa and Illinois experienced sub-zero temperatures.
This sudden change in weather was very disastrous for the people of central Illinois .Especially considering people back then didn’t have modern weather forecasting, radar, air conditioning or heating systems, warning systems, and other modern technology to assist them like have now. Such widespread death of people and livestock could have been prevented had they had these conveniences.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Noah Hardy