A Matter of Perspective

Today is the second day in a row that my daughter’s school has been canceled due to inclement weather and the eighth day this entire school year. Her school district is known for not having snow days when other schools in the area all are off because of snow, but this year is different.  It is certainly a coincidence that my work in progress A Coward’s Solace is situated at Valley Forge, and this winter has been quite severe for this part of the United States. It is also not a coincidence that even though this winter has been cold and snowier than we have had in quite a few years, in respect to other winters of the past, this winter really isn’t so bad.

The past few winters have been extremely mild for us here. Last year, we almost didn’t have a winter and wouldn’t have had if we had not had snow in March. Many of us who were around in the 1970s could tell some interesting stories about how much snow we had back then. Come to think of it, California was having a drought back then as well. Weather does cycle through dry-wet, cold-hot cycles.

Weather Report at Valley Forge 1775-1782

The winter at Valley Forge was a rough one. But, a winter encampment for their second season at Morristown, New Jersey was their worse as far as the actual weather was concerned. The Valley Forge Encampment was difficult, not so much because the weather was severe, but because the soldiers lacked proper clothing, housing, and meals. There were seven winters during the Revolutionary War.

The winters could be rated on the following scale: severe, moderate and mild.

1775-1776 Moderate
1776-1777 Moderate
1777-1778 Moderate
1778-1779 Mild
1779-1780 Severe
1780-1781 Mild
1781-1782 Severe

The Encampment saw two severely cold periods. The end of December with a low of 6 Degrees and the end of March with a low of 8 Degrees. The low in January reached 12 Degrees and February was 16 Degrees. The troops arrived at Valley Forge on the 19th of December and eight days later, the deepest single snow of the season fell, which was followed by the severest cold. They were plagued by periods of cold, which would thaw and then refreeze. You can imagine the muddy and messy drilling in that kind of weather.

Three continued snowstorms occurred that winter, but none of them were blizzards. More moderate to heavy covering. Most of the snow occurred around February 7, 1778.  Dr. Muhlenberg reported on February 8, 1778 “There was heavy snowfall. Deeper now than we have had all winter.” However it was washed away by a heavy rains within the next 2 to 3 days. The heavy snowfall of the 8th, compounded by the heavy rainfall brought flooding conditions making roads impassable.

Between the cold and freezing temperatures, there were even some above average warm temperatures during the encampment when some thaws occurred. These occurred around Christmas and then three times in January lasting several days.

Living in inadequate temporary log huts built during foul weather and lacking proper clothing built during some foul weather,  caused the winter to be unpleasant for the Continental Army. It was not the severity of the weather. For us, the severity of our weather is based on the fact that most of our recent winters were much more mild than this year. Because of the poor living conditions at Valley Forge, the weather seemed worse than when they overwintered in much better living conditions in New Jersey even though the weather was much more severe. Let’s just hope our mild winters return next year and that we continue to have warm clothes, good food, and warm homes.

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