Man With Cart And Horse In The River (Near Kentucky Shore)
The late summer and early fall of 1848 were dry times for the Ohio River valley. The level of the Ohio itself was very low, and for river traffic, it was nearly impassable for the larger steamboats. A man drives his cart and horse into the shallows of the Ohio on the Kentucky side. Is it to gather water for his parched garden? The fluctuations of weather affected the lives of everyone at this time. The livelihood of farmers has always been critically dependent on the weather. Indeed, the growing season could be disrupted by too little or too much rain, hailstorms, plus early or late frosts-all of which could lead to the loss of some or all of the crops.
Waterways also remained the most important vehicle for commerce in this era. Steamboat captains as well as merchants who shipped goods by boat needed sufficient drafts in the rivers and canals to move cargos and passengers. Droughts were not the only natural events to disrupt economic life; flooding too made the river treacherous for boat travel. Cincinnati saw both extremes in less than 12 months. On October 9, 1848, the Cincinnati Daily Times reported September of that year as "rather an eccentric one:" very cool and very dry with only a half-inch of rain and with the first frost of the year on September 22. The previous December, however, saw a major flood in Cincinnati. Predictability and planning, both foundations of modern economic life, were seriously disrupted by this fundamental fact of nature.
Before the onset of a scientific method of weather forecasting, newspapers could not predict the weather. Whatever interest writers showed in reporting it was confined to its effect on commercial matters, in particular, the amount of rainfall and the depth of the Ohio River upstream of Cincinnati. The Daily Times reported on September 11, 1848: "Pittsburgh, Sept. 11, 12 M - The river is falling, with 23 inches of water in the channel. The weather continues dry." Many reports were ironic or amusing. The comment, "Dust Ho! Yes, dust ho! August never furnished it in its driest glory more abundantly or disagreeably than September winds now raise it", was recorded in the Daily Times on September 6, 1848. In addition to newspapers, farmers would also use the Farmers' Almanac for hints and speculations on the weather and the best times for planting and reaping. The almanac, published since 1818, however, did not include weather forecasts. Farmers, too, relied on folkloric observations of plants and animals to form a general idea of what an upcoming season would bring.
Mark Twain famously said, "Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it." Yet in Cincinnati someone finally DID do something about it. The telegraph had connected the country with near instantaneous communications, and the comparison of weather conditions led to the possibility of forecasting. Cleveland Abbe, the former head of the Cincinnati Observatory, developed the first U.S. weather bureau in 1869 with the support of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. The advent of scientific weather forecasting was clearly tied to the commercial and agricultural interests of the Ohio Valley. His efforts led to the establishment of the U.S. Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C., where he became the chief meteorologist.
Incidentally, Mark Twain, who said no one does anything about the weather, dubbed Cleveland Abbe "Old Probability".
Other Related Images
FURTHER READING AT THE PUBLIC LIBRARY OF CINCINNATI AND HAMILTON COUNTY