Meteorologist discusses events that changed NH
AMHERST – Kevin Skarupa was 7 when the Blizzard of 1978 hit Nashua, closing school for three days and possibly setting him on a career path.
"How did it happen," the delighted boy wanted to know, "and how, please, can it happen again?"
Skarupa is now a WMUR meteorologist. He recently presented a slideshow about historic New Hampshire storms to the Amherst Historical Society.
There have been a lot of big storms over the years because this state experiences every kind of extreme weather, except tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, he said.
His presentation was based on a project he did for "New Hampshire Chronicle," traveling 620 miles to all corners of the state asking people about big events that affected their towns and cities.
First on the list was Concord, where Turkey Pond was covered with logs from the great New England Hurricane of 1938, which killed 682 people and cause more than $4 billion worth of damages in 2016 dollars. A group of women created their own sawmill at Turkey Pond, and their story is told in a book called "They Sawed Up A Storm."
Second was a wind storm in April 1893 that demolished a huge luxury hotel under construction in Colebrook. The fact that the hotel was originally named Metallak, after the last survivor of a band of Native Americans known as the Androscoggin, made people superstitious. But the karmic damage was apparently done by the time owners changed the name to Nirvana.
Third on the list was the Exeter Hurricane of 1954, a tropical double whammy from hurricanes Carol and Edna that damaged the town’s water system.
The fourth storm was a blizzard that hit Peterborough in 1920. In those days, the railroad was so essential that residents took matters into their own hands and shoveled the main road, what is now Route 202, toward Jaffrey. At the same time, Jaffrey residents shoveled north and met them halfway, near the rail station at a place called Hadley’s Crossing.
Fifth on the list was the Concord flood of April 1895 that threatened to breach the Sewell Falls Dam, which didn’t happen until a flood in 1984.
Sixth was a flood in Dover in 1896 that caused more than $1 million worth of damage.
"The city had been a tradeport, and it had to completely reinvent itself," Skarupa said.
Other notable weather events included a 231 mph wind on Mount Washington in 1934, Hurricane Bob in 1991, Seacoast flooding in 1996, the Alstead floods of 2005, Patriots Day flooding in 2007, the October nor’easter and the ice storm of 2008.
Over the last 11 years especially, there’s been a laundry list of storms and power outages, Skarupa said, causing more than $200 million worth of damage in New Hampshire.
And what kind of weather will we face in the coming months? Following the pattern of November temperatures over the last 50 years, Skarupa said, an above-average temperature in November appears to be related to lower-than-average snowfall. This November, the temperatures were way above normal.
In modern times, the timing of weather events has become extremely important.
"One inch of snow on a Monday morning is infinitely more impactful than on Saturday," he said.
Terrible timing was evident at Hampton Beach on July 4, 1898, when a tornado hit while there were thousands of people on the beach and hundreds more watching a performance in a nearby skating rink. Half a dozen people were killed.
When Manchester flooded in March 1936, about 200 zoo animals died, Skarupa said. Before the flood hit, the zookeeper asked the mayor if he could set the animals free, and the mayor, contemplating lions and bears roaming city streets, said no.
"Almost all died except a bear named Chubby," who floated down the Merrimack River on a piece of ice.
Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.