Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chilly reminder of 1894-1895 freeze

Four photos of Florida citrus groves after the 1894-1895 freeze
This montage of scenes from the 1894-1895 freeze is from a
NOAA-Preserve America Initiative fact sheet. Cold
temperatures and ice, not snow, caused the damage.
The same weekend Jonas blew through the Northeast, we dropped below freezing for the first time this winter. My weather app reported 30 degrees at about 8 a.m. Jan. 24, 2016. No snow, but for Floridians, a crisis of cold. We never got out of the 40s that day.

The cold snap was too short to do damage. But when I ventured outdoors - briefly - into a frosty 32 degrees the weather app said felt like 26,  I was reminded of the catastrophic and legendary 1894-1895 freeze. I scurried back into the warmth of central heating. There was no such thing back in the day. Cold outdoors equalled cold indoors, offset by inefficient fireplaces or wood-burning stoves whose warmth rarely reached bedrooms. 

The Big Freeze was what a Florida Citrus Mutual timeline calls an "impact freeze" because its severity caused serious economic damage and also rearranged the state's citrus industry. A Dec. 29-30, 1894 freeze was followed by unusual warmth, and then another hard freeze Feb. 7-9, 1895. 

1895 photo of people standing in frozen orange grove with fruit on the ground
Rollins College photo of 1894-1895 freeze damage. 
Vintage photos of the aftermath are in the archives of cities and organizations scattered across Florida. The Rollins College Archives includes this photo in a blog post titled, "Rollins Reminiscences." All the oranges littering the ground represented lost income. In just one example of what happened statewide, the blog post relates how the freeze wiped out the college's endowment. The post also includes a British tourist's recollections of the orange trees turning black and the fruits turning into "lumps of yellow ice."

In both December and February, temperatures in Jacksonville dropped to 14 and winds blew at up to 35 mph. In Orlando, near where the Rollins photo was taken, temperatures dipped to 18 and 19. Those stats are from the interesting, online U.S. Department of Agriculture 1896 report written soon after the back-to-back disasters. The report also states that 3 million boxes of oranges and lemons were destroyed in the 1894 freeze, and the trees themselves were lost a few months later. The paper goes into great horticultural and meteorological detail, and is definitely worth a look if you're interested in that type of historical information. 

Me, I'll be reading it in the warmth of indoors.





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