A July Thunder-Storm 1880


While the thermometer did not indicate intense heat yesterday morning, t he sun shone with fervid intensity upon all pedestrians, and along the streets there was a general desire manifested to cling to the shady side, and to linger at corners where the light south wind had freest play. At noon the west side of Broadway was shunned, and people who traveled on the east side crowded under the strip of shade made by tall buildings. The thermometer at Hudnut's would not go up to 90 degrees, although there was a general impression that the day was one of the hottest of the season. This impression was caused undoubtedly by the fact that the air was humid and oppressive. A crowd of 50 or more persons continually flocked a bout the free ice-water tank at the Post Office, waiting their chance to get a glass of water, and excited the contempt of the "lemonade-to-order" men on the opposite side of the way. The establishment of this luxury is admitte4d to have had a damaging effect upon the trade in cold drinks about the lower end of Park-row, and the money-making manufacturers of weak soda-water and lemonade would gladly see the rival concern demolished.

Between 2 and 3 o'clock clouds began to gather in the west and south-west, and soon rose with great rapidity. The pioneer clouds were thin and sulphurous in color, and rolled over and over as they sped along over the Bay toward the City. The barometer, which was already very low, fell rapidly and then rose again as the first gusts of the storm struck the City, and flashes of vivid lightning played along the fringes of the clouds. The storm was threatening enough in its aspect to drive all wayfarers to the nearest shelter, and all the convenient doors, hall-ways and awnings were made use of as temporary refuges. At 3:12 all the weather-vanes veered around from south to west with a sudden whirl that made them spin; there was a shower of dust that was filled with bits of paper, and then the rain poured down in large drops. The wind flew for a few minutes at the rate of 30 miles an hour, and then died away again. The storm came up from the west, but was apparently of local origin and of limited extent. Less than a quarter of an inch of rain fell in the quarter of an hour during which the shower prevailed. When the rain ceased the wind veered again to the east and south, and the atmosphere again became oppressive. The air was temporarily cooled by the rain, but the thermometer at the Signal Office only fell to 78 degrees.

The West Side elevated railroad, between One Hundred and One Hundred and Twenty-fifth streets, is a ticklish place for nervous persons even in the calmest weather, but when a gale is blowing or a thunder-storm is in progress it is a place that few people would care to risk themselves on. At about One Hundred and Tenth-street, where there are two sharp curves, the track is higher above the ground than the top of the highest six-story building. It is so high that most passengers, until they become accustomed to it, involuntarily draw back from the windows, when they look out and wish themselves safely over it. The supports are so light and airy that they look as if a railroad train must inevitably crush them. About 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon a crowded train was rolling up the Sixth-avenue road, a delightful breeze blowing through the windows. At Fiftieth-street 50 or '60 more passengers stepped aboard. When the train rounded into Ninth-avenue there were some indications of a storm. The air grew cooler, the sun disappeared, and the wind freshened. The signs of the approaching storm increased every minute. When the train reached Fifty-ninth-street, where the passengers had an un-interrupted view of the sky, they saw a great mass of black clouds in the north and west, lighted up by frequent flashes of lightning. At Elm Park, more than half the passengers in the train got out. The storm at that time seemed about to break, and the clouds were blacker than ever. Great clouds of dust swept over the Harlem flats, obscuring everything. The lightning increased, and each flash was followed by a deafening crash of thunder. The few passengers who were left began to look alarmed. There was one more stop before the highest point was reached, and here all but four or five of the passengers got out, evidently to avoid the passage over the highest point in such a gale for by this time a furious gale was blowing, the window curtains were lasing the sides of the cars, and everybody's eyes were filled with dust. The dark clouds had turned to inky blackness, and they were frequently divided into many sections, like a map, by streaks of vivid lightning. The passengers began to look alarmed. Brakemen hurried into the cars and put down all the windows on the western side, where the gale was blowing in. It was impossible to see the ground, many feet below, for the great clouds of dust and the smoke from the engine were driven straight downward. Just as the train was turning the second curve, and was consequently on the highest part of the track, there was a sharp flash of lightning, followed, Without a second's interval, by a terrific peal of thunder. The two women who were left in the car buried their faces in their handkerchiefs, and the men turned away from the windows, although they could see nothing in consequence of the dust. In the parts of the iron girders that were sheltered from the storm many small birds took refuge, and sat there, drawn up in the corners as if they were as much frightened as the railroad passengers. The heavy blasts of wind did not shake the cars in the least, and there was probably no more danger than at any other time, but the passengers were thoroughly frightened. By the time the train reached the comparatively low track rain was falling in streams.

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: A July Thunder-Storm 1880
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The New York Times July 28, 1880.
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