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The Great Ice Storm of 1886

EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT, Portsmouth, NH (continued)

Reprinted from The Portsmouth Journal
Saturday, February 6, 1886

The remarkable storm of last week, which destroyed many of our finest shade trees, merits more than a passing mention. On Wednesday a fine, misty rain began to fall from warmer strata of the atmosphere, upon the earth, which was evidently surrounded with a thin layer of cooler air next its surface, not sufficiently thick to congeal the falling rain in its descent. Soon the trees and other exposed places were covered with a coating of smooth ice, which gradually thicked by accretion as the minute drops fell upon the icy surface until twigs the size of whiplashes had become an inch or more in diameter. Every twig being covered with this icy envelope, a great weight was thus imposed upon the branches, and on Thursday morning it was found that many branches had yielded to the pressure and had either broken off or hung down apparently laden with immense crystals of rock candy. All day Thursday and Friday and until Saturday morning the crash of breaking branches was heard. Some of the streets were so obstructed with the pendant branches, that driving was almost impossible. Magnificent branches of perfectly sound wood, a foot or more in diameter were wrenched off by the enormous weight of the pendant masses of ice, which possessed a greatly increased power by operating in every case at the end of a long lever, by means of which the ice, itself being very heavy, being perfectly clear without air bubbles, multiplied its destructive force many times, and became irresistible. In this way many fine shade trees were encumbered with fallen branches and the lives of pedestrians were threatened by numerous broken branches just ready to fall, and overhanging the sidewalks like the sword of Damocles. The elms, poplars and willows suffered most, though all kinds of trees were more or less injured.

We hear of a gentleman in a town a few miles from the ocean, who took an ordinary twig and weighed it in its coating of ice. It weighed forty ounces. Without the ice it weighed one ounce. We should suppose the proportional weight was even heavier than this in many cases. Some twigs not more than one-eighth of an inch in diameter, when coated with ice were at least an inch and a quarter in thickness. A simple proportion will show that its bulk was thus increased at least one hundred fold, and it weight must have increased in still greater proportion. On Saturday a gentle thaw removed a part of the icy covering, and very fortunately, for had it not been for that relief the snow which fell between Saturday and Sunday would have been the unbearable feather to numerous branches. As it was on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the trees which before had shone with pendant crystals, were covered thickly with a white fleecy mantle of snow over the ice-clad branches, and as we go to press the ice remains thick on some branches. This state of affairs seems to have existed in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Portland, Portsmouth, and Newburyport suffering as much as any places. It was extremely fortunate that a calm prevailing during all this time, else all the trees would have been stripped of their branches, and the ruin, even now, great, would have been universal.


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