Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Remember When . . . The Snow Wouldn't Stop?

Weather. Always a bother, right? We've had a fair amount of the inclement variety lately, but frankly, it's nothing like last year, when we didn't see bare ground from Thanksgiving until March--and here in our part of Maryland, that's unusual.

So when writing my story of 1783-84 Annapolis (which takes place in the months of November through March), I drew on my 6 years of experience in said city to come up with my weather. So, you know. Cold wind. Nasty cold wind, actually. The occasional just-above-freezing rain, a few days of ice. Snow once a year or so. Overcast aplenty, but some days of nice sunshine too.

Seems perfectly reasonable, and so far as I'd found in the sources I'd read on the months in question--and I had many sources--there was no reason to think my standard incorrect.

Until Sunday, that is. I was trying to find exactly which delegates signed to ratify the Treaty of Paris on January 14, 1784. And I came across an article that finally explained why they had such trouble getting enough of them there to begin with (something everyone mentioned, but no one gave the reasoning for). Wanna take a bet?

Yeah. The worst winter in recorded history. AAAAAGGGGGHHHH! What? What of all those mild days I'd mentioned? What about the fact that my characters travel to Annapolis, yet the delegates couldn't get there because the city was locked in snow? AAAAGGGHHHH! Needless to say, Monday morning was spent in revisions, and now my manuscript is covered in snow and ice (fictionally speaking).

But aside from the hour and a half of additions and deletions, this was a really fabulous fact to FINALLY come across. First, it explained the facts I'd wondered about. Second, it's the kind of distinctive thing that really brings a story to life. Third, it's just cool (no pun intended) because the writer of the article was quoting Jefferson and Franklin's opinions on this "long winter of 1783-84" which the former called "severe beyond all memory."

Yes, I'm geeky enough to find weather patterns cool, but here's why it's really neat. This winter not only ravaged the eastern seaboard of the U.S., but it also hit Europe just as severely. And Franklin, who was in Paris awaiting the return of the aforementioned Treaty that he and his compatriots had penned, hypothesized that this great winter was a result of a series of volcanic eruptions in Iceland. It was the first time anyone had thought to associate volcanic activity with weather patterns, but modern scientists are now very certain that he was right, and that Mt. Laki's continuous eruptions had led to gases being trapped in the upper atmosphere, which in turn resulted in this awful, seemingly-endless winter. (There were also toxic fogs recorded in Northern Europe. Awful . . . but cool that I get to mention it, mwa ha ha ha.)

So while I sit here in my snowy, icy Maryland of today, it's kind of nice to be able to commiserate with my characters of yesteryear, who are experiencing the worst winter in the memory of even the oldest man alive at the time. I can pity them . . . but you can bet I'm also reveling in it. =)


  1. Great post! I love the fact that you are so into details! Keep it up, that is one of the things that make you an awesome writer!

  2. Aw, thanks, Terri. =) What I love about it is never knowing which detail might be one to trigger a fabulous thread in the story.