New Hampshire Tidbits: Drought History

Drought headline in Boston Herald Newspaper of January 1900.

A drought, such as the one in New Hampshire in 2020, is not a new thing for us. The Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, Portsmouth NH of `10 October 1829 reported: “Drought–severe drought has lately prevailed in various parts of New England, New York, Pennsylvania &c.”

The Farmer’s Cabinet (Amherst NH) of August 1845 reported on that year’s drought–“The effects of the long-continued dry weather are beginning to be seriously felt in this neighborhood, and throughout the State as far as we can learn. The crop of hay has generally been very light, and there is no hope of a second crop. The pastures are drying up, the springs in many places exhausted, and wells are giving out. The corn is curling, but as yet is not suffering much. Potatoes, as we learn from various quarters, will inevitably come short. The drought in the southern portion of New Hampshire, as a gentleman who has recently traveled there informs us, is more severe even than here. Hill’s Concord Patriot says the potato hills have become as dry as ash-heaps in naturally moist lands.”

In August of 1849, the New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette reported that northern New Hampshire counties had “hardly any rain since May, and the face of the country is as brown as in April. We have suffered less here but still it is exceedingly dry, and vegetation is beginning to suffer severely. We notice many young trees, which were planed this season and last, are dying for the lack of moisture…. It is said that the Connecticut river is lower than it has been for thirty years. At that time, it was lower than it had been for one hundred years previous, and it now is but ten inches higher than it was at the period designated.

You don’t think of winter as being when a drought occurs, but it did in 1900. The 14 January 1900 Boston Herald announced that water was very scarce in New Hampshire. “The scarcity of water throughout this state is becoming a serious matter, not only as affecting the various power plants and mechanical industries, but also the rural communities, which are alike sufferers to an alarming extent in numerous instances.”

View of Lake Winnipesaukee from an old postcard.

“Lake Winnipesaukee is the great natural reservoir of the state, and supplies a large percentage of power for all of the large manufacturing and industrial firms and corporations on the Merrimac River, from Laconia to the sea. The water in the lake is controlled by the Lake Winnipesaukee Cotton & Woolen Manufacturing Company.”

“The total area of the lake is 71.75 square miles. The total watershed area is 366.45 square smiles. The total water area is 2,006,729, 124 square feet. One inch of rainfall including melted snow is equal to 3.95 inches rise over the water area. The total storage capacity, above normal is 3 feet 8 inches. Yesterday the water in the lake was 40 inches below the normal level. As no rain of any consequence has fallen in several months, and with no heavy rainfall or thaw in prospect for at least two months, the water aspect, so far as Lake Winnipesaukee is concerned is indeed serious, as the water level is growing lower each day, which decreased the power capacity to a still greater extent.”

“In the rural districts, the water question is even of more momentous importance. Streams and wells are entirely dry in many instances. Now that brooks and small rivers are frozen, there is small chance of help form a thaw or rain, unless very heavy, which is not probably. Many farmers in Belknap county are driving stock miles away for water, and similar conditions prevail in other localities north of here, while numerous dry wells are found over the same territory. In the opinion of old fishermen, many brook trout must perish during the winter.”

Witches and rooster from an old book.

Throughout history there have been many attempts to produce rain during a drought. Most of the attempts were not practical at all.  In our modern time, cloud seeding is a popular alternative. Seeding is the dropping of chemicals into a cloud to try to make it rain. It is estimated that this technique can enhance rainfall by as much as 30-35 percent in a clear atmosphere, and by up to 10-15 percent in a turbid atmosphere.

In the early 1900s, reportedly desperate farmers fired gunpowder into the clouds thinking they would make it rain before hailstones formed in the clouds that would damage crops.

Old wives’ tales on making rain are numerous. For example, it was believed that a crowing rooster could influence the weather. Throw a rooster up into the air to create thunder and lightning. If a rooster crowed during a rainstorm, the rain would stop.

A humorous method proposed (tongue-in-cheek) in the Weather Bureau of the U.S. Dept of Agriculture in 1937 was to “plan a picnic. Of course, you’re more than likely to get a good, hard, drenching rain if you’ve invited a lot of people, and made dozens of sandwiches.”

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1 Response to New Hampshire Tidbits: Drought History

  1. Amy says:

    Alas, I think our current dry spell was more a product of climate change than the ordinary quirks of nature like those from 1900 and before. 🙁

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