The Ohio River: Frozen Over
Photo courtesy of Richard Hines
Everyone likes to talk about flooding. A little rain could mean unsafe roads and inundated basements. But freezing is a different animal altogether. Bodies of water freeze over all the time. Lakes at high altitudes in the Rocky Mountains in states like Montana stay frozen during summer months. However, it's very rare for large bodies of water found at much lower elevations like the Ohio River to freeze. The earliest recorded freezing of the Ohio River was in 1856, and the latest was during the winter of 1977-1978. Between the initial and most recent records of the Ohio River freezing over, there was one instance in particular that would be historic.
While there are no facts about this particularly cold winter, there is a story that does keep popping up. A slave woman named Margaret Garner, who escaped from Boone County, Kentucky, walked on foot on the Ohio River to Cincinnati where she lived with a free man. (A Historical Margaret Garner by Steven Weisenburger).
The winter of 1917-1918 was the worst winter on record. It all began with a ferocious blizzard that struck on December 9, 1917 that reportedly dropped sixteen inches of snow at Louisville in under fifteen hours. The wind was blowing at forty miles per hour, causing the snow to drift as high as six feet in Richmond. The temperature was freezing. For the three-month period of December through February, the temperature averaged around 28.6°F. In January, the snow count was at three feet, the highest recorded for the month in the state. With the amount of snow and the freezing temperatures, the Ohio River froze over its entire length until January 30, 1918. When the ice broke, there was $1 million in damages to steamboats and small vessels (Kentucky Weather by Jerry Hill).
~ Want to find out more about the 1917-1918 Winter and the Flu Pandemic following? Go here!
Photos courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
This was the next coldest winter on record for Kentucky. It was recorded that there were twenty-eight days below 0°F and an airport near Covington, Kentucky read -25°F on January 8, 1977. It is believed the ice on the Ohio was twelve inches thick. In December of 1976 through February of 1977, the average temperature was 28.8°F, which was only 0.2°F warmer than that of the three-month period of December through February in the winter of 1917-1918. The prolonged cold caused the month of February of 1978 to be 13.5°F below normal. During this horrible winter, the cold caused power outages and broken water lines. Schools were closed for nearly a month and this winter resulted in nearly $108 million in agricultural damages. (Kentucky Weather by Jerry Hill).
Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer
1. A Historical Margaret Garner by Steven Weisenburger
2. Kentucky Weather by Jerry Hill
3. Severe Winter of 1917-1918: Factor in 1918 Flu Pandemic by Suburban Emergency Management Project
Special Thanks To:
1. Richard Hines for the title photograph
2. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for the three older photos
3. The Cincinnati Enquirer for the last photograph