Notes on the State of Virginia (1853)/Query 07
A NOTICE OF ALL WHAT CAN INCREASE THE PROGRESS OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE?
Under the latitude of this query, I will presume it not improper nor unacceptable to furnish some data for estimating the climate of Virginia. Journals of observations on the quantity of rain, and degree of heat, being lengthy, confused, and too minute to produce general and distinct ideas, I have taken five years observations, to wit, from 1772 to 1777, made in Williamsburgh and its neighborhood, have reduced them to an average for every month in the year, and stated those averages in the following table, adding an analytical view of the winds during the same period.
| Least & greatest
|N. N. E. E. S.E. S. SW. W. NW.||Tot'l|
[Supposed to have been made at Monticello.]
|1789||Oct'r 1||Ice||Snow Birds||Spoiled tobacco on the scaffold.|
|1792||Sep. 21||None||None||Tobacco destroyed totally out of green belt.|
|1808||Sep. 27||None||None||Tobacco, except in green belt, untouched.|
|1816||Oct'r 7||thin ice||Snow Birds||Late corn spoiled; all safe in green belt.|
|1823||Sep. 29||None||None||Green belt unaffected; pumpkin vines frozen.|
In the month of August, 1801, I carefully examined the temperature of my well water in the District of Maine, and found it at 52 degrees of Fahrenheit's thermometer.
The depth of the well is 28 feet; the depth of the water at this time was 4 feet; the latitude of the place is 44 22 North; longitude about 69 40 W.
In September 1802 I examined with the same instrument, and with equal care, the temperature of the well water, where I live, on the Capitol hill, and found it at 59° of Fahrenheit. This well is upwards of 40 feet in depth, and had at the time about 7 or 8 feet of water.
My well, in Maine, is an open draw well, without a pump ; the well on the Capitol hill has a pump, and is close covered.
The temperature of the water of Kennebeck river, the latter part of August, was 72½ by Fahrenheit.
The rains of every month, (as of January for instance,) through the whole period of years, were added separately, and an average drawn from them. The coolest and warmest point of the same day in each year of the period were added separately, and an average of the greatest cold and greatest heat of that day was formed. From the averages of every day in the month, a general average for the whole month was formed. The point from which the wind blew was observed two or three times in every day. These observations, in the month of January for instance, through the whole period, amounted to 337. At 73 of these the wind was from the North; at 47 from the Northeast, &c. So that it will be easy to see in what proportion each wind usually prevails in each month; or, taking the whole year, the total of observations through the whole period having been 3,698, it will be observed that 611 of them were from the North, 558 from the Northeast, &c.
Though by this table it appears we have on an average 47 inches of rain annually, which is considerably more than usually falls in Europe, yet from the information I have collected, I suppose we have a much greater proportion of sunshine here than there. Perhaps it will be found there are twice as many cloudy days in the middle parts of Europe as in the United States of America. I mention the middle parts of Europe, because my information does not extend to its Northern or Southern parts.
In an extensive country, it will, of course, be expected that the climate is not the same in all its parts. It is remarkable that, proceeding on the same parallel of latitude westwardly, the climate becomes colder in like manner as when you proceed northwardly. This continues to be the case till you attain the summit of the Alleghaney, which is the highest land between the ocean and the Missisipi. From thence, descending in the same latitude to the Missisipi, the change reverses; and, if we may believe travelers, it becomes warmer there than it is in the same latitude on the sea side. Their testimony is strengthened by the vegetables and animals which subsist and multiply there naturally, and do not on our sea coast. Thus Catalpas grow spontaneously on the Missisipi, as far as the latitude of 37°, and reeds as far as 38°. Perroquets even winter on the Sioto, in the 39th degree of latitude. In the Summer of 1779, when the thermometer was at 90° at Monticello, and 96 at Williamsburgh, it was 110° at Kaskaskia. Perhaps the mountain, which overhangs this village on the North side, may, by its reflection, have contributed somewhat to produce this heat. The difference of temperature of the air at the sea coast, or on Chesapeak Bay, and at the Alleghaney, has not been ascertained; but cotemporary observations, made at Williamsburgh, or in its neighborhood, and at Monticello, which is on the most eastern ridge of mountains, called the Southwest, where they are intersected by the Rivanna, have furnished a ratio by which that difference may in some degree be conjectured. These observations make the difference between Williamsburgh and the nearest mountains, at the position before mentioned, to be on an average 61 degrees of Fahrenheit's thermometer. Some allowance however is to be made for the difference of latitude between these two places, the latter being 38° 8′ 11″, which is 52′ 22″ North of the former. By cotemporary observations of between five and six weeks, the averaged and almost unvaried difference of the height of mercury in the barometer, at those two places, was .784 of an inch, the atmosphere at Monticello being so much the lightest, that is to say, about 1 of its whole weight. It should be observed, however, that the hill of Monticello is of 500 feet perpendicular height above the river which washes its base. This position being nearly central between our Northern and Southern boundaries, and between the bay and Alleghaney, may be considered as furnishing the best average of the temperature of our climate. Williamsburgh is much too near the Southeastern corner to give a fair idea of our general temperature.
But a more remarkable difference is in the winds which prevail in the different parts of the country. The following table exhibits a comparative view of the winds prevailing at Williamsburgh, and at Monticello. It is formed by reducing nine months observations at Monticello to four principal points, to wit, the Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest: these points being perpendicular to, or parallel with our coast, mountains and rivers; and by reducing, in like manner, an equal number of observations, to wit, 421, from the preceding table of winds at Williamsburgh, taking them proportionably from every point:
|N. E.||S. E.||S. W.||N. W.||Total.|
By this it may be seen that the Southwest wind prevails equally at both places; that the Northeast is, next to this, the principal wind towards the sea coast, and the Northwest is the predominant wind at the mountains. The difference between these two winds to sensation, and in fact, is very great. The Northeast is loaded with vapor, insomuch that the salt-makers have found that their crystals would not shoot while that blows; it brings a distressing chill, is heavy and oppressive to the spirits; the Northwest is dry, cooling, elastic and animating. The Eastern and Southeastern breezes come on generally in the afternoon. They have advanced into the country very sensibly within the memory of people now living. They formerly did not penetrate far above Williamsburgh. They are now frequent at Richmond, and every now and then reach the mountains. They deposit most of their moisture, however, before they get that far. As the lands become more cleared, it is probable they will extend still further westward.
Going out into the open air, in the temperate, and in the warm months of the year, we often meet with bodies of warm air, which, passing by us in two or three seconds, do not afford time to the most sensible thermometer to seize their temperature. Judging from my feelings only, I think they approach the ordinary heat of the human body. Some of them perhaps go a little beyond it. They are of about 20 or 30 feet diameter horizontally. Of their height we have no experience; but probably they are globular volumes wafted or rolled along with the wind. But whence taken, where found, or how generated? They are not to be ascribed to volcanoes, because we have none. They do not happen in the Winter when the farmers kindle large fires in clearing up their grounds. They are not confined to the Spring season, when we have fires which traverse whole counties, consuming the leaves which have fallen from the trees. And they are too frequent and general to be ascribed to accidental fires. I am persuaded their cause must be sought for in the atmosphere itself, to aid us in which I know but of these constant circumstances: a dry air, a temperature as warm at least as that of the Spring or Autumn, and a moderate current of wind. They are most frequent about sunset; rare in the middle parts of the day; and I do not recollect having ever met with them in the morning.
The variation in the weight of our atmosphere, as indicated by the barometer, is not equal to two inches of mercury. During twelve months observation at Williamsburgh, the extremes were 29, and 30.86 inches, the difference being 1.86 of an inch; and in nine months, during which the height of the mercury was noted at Monticello, the extremes were 28.48 and 29.69 inches, the variation being 1.21 of an inch. A gentleman, who has observed his barometer many years, assures me it has never varied two inches. Cotemporary observations, made at Monticello and Williamsburgh, proved the variations in the weight of air to be simultaneous and corresponding in these two places.
Our changes from heat to cold, and cold to heat, are very sudden and great. The mercury in Fahrenheit's thermometer has been known to descend from 92° to 47° in thirteen hours; and in a single and most remarkable instance, on the 4th of July, 1793, in Orange county, it fell from 84° to 74° in ten minutes.
It is taken for granted, that the preceding table of averaged heat will not give a false idea on this subject, as it proposes to state only the ordinary heat and cold of each month, and not those which are extraordinary. At Williamsburgh in August, 1766, the mercury in Fahrenheit's thermometer was at 98°, corresponding with 29⅓ of Reaumur. At the same place in January, 1780, it was at 6°, corresponding with 11½ below 0 of Reaumur. I believe these may be considered to be nearly the extremes of heat and cold in that part of the country. The latter may most certainly, as at that time York river, at York town, was frozen over, so that people walked across it; a circumstance which proves it to have been colder than the Winter of 1740, 1741, usually called the cold Winter, when York river did not freeze over at that place. In the same season of 1780, Chesapeak Bay was solid, from its head to the mouth of Patowmac. At Annapolis, where it is 5¼ miles over between the nearest points of land, the ice was from 5 to 7 inches thick quite across, so that loaded carriages went over on it. Those, our extremes of heat and cold, of 6° and 98° were indeed very distressing to us, and were thought to put the extent of the human constitution to considerable trial. Yet a Siberian would have considered them as scarcely a sensible variation. At Jenniseitz, in that country, in latitude 58° 27′, we are told that the cold in 1735 sunk the mercury, by Fahrenheit's scale, to 126° below nothing; and the inhabitants of the same country use stove rooms two or three times a week, in which they stay two hours at a time, the atmosphere of which raises the mercury to 135° above nothing. Late experiments shew that the human body will exist in rooms heated to 140° of Reaumur, equal to 347° of Farenheit, and 135° above boiling water. The hottest point of the 24 hours is about 4 o'clock, P. M., and the dawn of day the coldest.
The access of frost in Autumn, and its recess in the Spring, do not seem to depend merely on the degree of cold; much less on the air's being at the freezing point. White frosts are frequent when the thermometer is at 47°, have killed young plants of Indian corn at 48°, and have been known at 54°. Black frost, and even ice, have been produced at 38½°, which is 6½ degrees above the freezing point. That other circumstances must be combined with the cold to produce frost, is evident from this also, that on the higher parts of mountains, where it is absolutely colder than in the plains on which they stand, frosts do not appear so early by a considerable space of time in Autumn, and go off sooner in the Spring, than in the plains. I have known frosts so severe as to kill the hiccory trees round about Monticello, and yet not injure the tender fruit blossoms then in bloom on the top and higher parts of the mountain; and, in the course of 40 years, during which it has been settled, there have been but two instances of a general loss of fruit on it; while, in the circumjacent country, the fruit has escaped but twice in the last seven years. The plants of tobacco, which grow from the roots of those which have been cut off in the Summer, are frequently green here at Christmas. This privilege against the frost is undoubtedly combined with the want of dew on the mountains. That the dew is very rare on their higher parts I may say with certainty, from 12 years observations, having seldom, during that time, seen them at Monticello during Summer. Severe frosts in the depth of Winter prove that the region of dews extends higher in that season than the tops of the mountains; but certainly, in the Summer season, the vapors, by the time they attain that height, are become so attenuated as not to subside and form a dew when the sun retires.
The weavil has not yet ascended the high mountains.
A more satisfactory estimate of our climate to some may perhaps be formed, by noting the plants which grow here, subject, however, to be killed by our severest colds. These are the fig, pomegranate, artichoke, and European walnut. In mild Winters lettuce and endive require no shelter; but generally they need a slight covering. I do not know that the want of long moss, reed, myrtle, swamp laurel, holly and cypress, in the upper country, proceeds from a greater degree of cold, nor that they were ever killed with any degree of cold in the lower country. The aloe lived in Williamsburgh in the open air through the severe Winter of 1779, 1780.
A change in our climate, however, is taking place very sensibly. Both heats and colds are become much more moderate within the memory even of the middle-aged. Snows are less frequent and less deep. They do not often lie below the mountains more than one, two or three days, and very rarely a week. They are remembered to have been formerly frequent, deep, and of long continuance. The elderly inform me the earth used to be covered with snow about three months in every year. The rivers, which then seldom failed to freeze over in the course of the Winter, scarcely ever do so now. This change has produced an unfortunate fluctuation between heat and cold, in the Spring of the year, which is very fatal to fruits. From the year 1741 to 1769, an interval of twenty-eight years, there was no instance of fruit killed by the frost in the neighborhood of Monticello. An intense cold, produced by constant snows, kept the buds locked up till the sun could obtain, in the Spring of the year, so fixed an ascendancy as to dissolve those snows, and protect the buds, during their development, from every danger of returning cold. The accumulated snows of the Winter remaining to be dissolved all together in the Spring, produced those overflowings of our rivers, so frequent then, and so rare now.
Having had occasion to mention the particular situation of Monticello for other purposes, I will just take notice that its elevation affords an opportunity of seeing a phenomenon which is rare at land, though frequent at sea. The seamen call it looming. Philosophy is as yet in the rear of the seamen, for so far from having accounted for it, she has not given it a name. Its principal effect is to make distant objects appear larger, in opposition to the general law of vision, by which they are diminished. I knew an instance, at York Town, from whence the water prospect eastwardly is without termination, wherein a canoe with three men, at a great distance, was taken for a ship with its three masts. I am little acquainted with the phenomenon as it shews itself at sea; but at Monticello it is familiar. There is a solitary mountain about 40 miles off, in the South, whose natural shape, as presented to view there, is a regular cone; but, by the effect of looming, it sometimes subsides almost totally into the horizon; sometimes it rises more acute and more elevated; sometimes it is hemispherical; and sometimes its sides are perpendicular, its top flat, and as broad as its base. In short, it assumes at times the most whimsical shapes, and all these perhaps successively in the same morning. The Blue Ridge of mountains comes into view, in the Northeast, at about 100 miles distance, and, approaching in a direct line, passes by within 20 miles, and goes off to the Southwest. This phenomenon begins to shew itself on these mountains, at about 50 miles distance, and continues beyond that as far as they are seen. I remark no particular state, either in the weight, moisture, or heat of the atmosphere, necessary to produce this. The only constant circumstances are, its appearance in the morning only, and on objects at least 40 or 50 miles distant. In this latter circumstance, if not in both, it differs from the looming on the water. Refraction will not account for this metamorphosis. That only changes the proportions of length and breadth, base and altitude, preserving the general outlines. Thus it may make a circle appear elliptical, raise or depress a cone, but by none of its laws, as yet developed, will it make a circle appear a square, or a cone a sphere.
- Musschenb., 23, 65.
- At Paris, in 1753, the mercury in Reaumur's thermometer was at 30½ above 0, and in 1776 it was at 16 below 0. The extremities of heat and cold therefore at Paris are greater than at Williamsburgh, which is in the hottest part of Virginia.
- The following observations on heat and cold, as they affect the animal body, may
not be unacceptable to those who have not paid particular attention to the subject.
The living body, (not like the dead one, which assumes the temperature of the surrounding atmosphere,) maintains within itself a steady heat of about 96° of Fahrenheit's thermometer, varying little with the ordinary variations of the atmosphere. This heat is principally supplied by respiration. The vital air, or oxygen of the atmospheric fluid inhaled, is separated by the lungs from the azotic and carbonic parts, and is absorbed by them; the caloric is disengaged, diffused through the mass of the body, and absorbed from the skin by the external air coming into contact with it. If the external air is of a high temperature, it does not take up the superfluous heat of the body fast enough, and we complain of too much heat; if it is very cold, it absorbs the heat too fast, and produces the sensation of cold. To remedy this, we interpose a covering, which, acting as a strainer, lets less air come into contact with the body, and checks the escape of the vital heat. As the atmospheric air becomes colder, more or thicker coverings are used, till no more than the requisite portion of heat is conducted from the body. As it would be inconvenient in the day to be burthened with a mass of clothing entirely equivalent to great degrees of cold, we have resort to fires and warm rooms to correct the state of the atmosphere, as a supplement to our clothing. If we have not the opportunity, and the cold is excessive, the thinner parts, as the ear, the nose, the fingers and toes lose heat till they freeze, and, if the cold be sufficient, the whole body is reduced in heat, till death ensues: as sailors experience who escape from shipwreck, in Winter storms, on desert shores, where no fire can be found.
Of the substances we use for covering, linen seems the openest strainer for admission of air to the body, and the most copious conductor of heat from it; and is therefore considered as a cool clothing. Cotton obstructs still more the passage of both fluids, and wool more than cotton: it is called therefore a worse conductor of heat, and warmer clothing. Next to this are the furs, and the most impermeable of all for heat and air are feathers and down, and especially the down of the Eider duck.—(Anas mollissima.) Hence the insensibility to cold of the beasts with shaggy hair, or fine fur, and of the birds in proportion as they are provided with down and soft feathers: as the swan, goose and duck.
Among the substances which, as being bad conductors of heat, foment and warm the animal body, are the leaves of the Espeletia Frailexon, a plant newly discovered by the great naturalist and traveler Baron Humboldt, on the mountains of South America, at the height of 2,450 toises above the sea. These leaves being furnished abundantly with a soft down, restore immediately to their due warmth the hands, feet, or other members benumbed with cold; and collected as a bed, protect from death the Indian benighted in those regions of extreme cold. The same scientific traveler, by analysis of the air, at different heights on the mountain of Chimborazo which he ascended to the height of 3,036 toises, (546 toises higher than had ever been done by man before, and within 224 toises of its top) found that the oxygen being specifically heavier than the azotic part of the atmosphere, its proportion lessened in that ascent 27 or 28 to 19½ hundredth parts. The same circumstance had been before observed by Saussure, Pini and Rebout, on the high mountains of Europe, and must be among the principal causes of the degree in which the animal body is affected with cold in situations more or less elevated.
In addition to the effect of vital air, as the vehicle of animal heat, we may note that it is also the immediate cause, or primum mobile of life. For, entering by respiration into the air-cells of the lungs, divided from those of the blood but by a thin membrane, it infuses through that a stimulus into the blood, which, acting on the irritable fibres of the heart, excites mechanically the action and reaction of that muscle. By these the blood is propelled, and received again in a course of constant circulation and vital action communicated and maintained through all the system. Intercept vital air from the lungs, the action of the heart ceases for want of stimulus, the current of the blood, unaided, yields to the resistance of its channels, all the vital motions are suspended, and the body becomes an inanimated lump of matter.
- Musschenb. has seen ice produced at 41°.—2. Muss., 1,507.
- Dr. Shaw in his physical observations on Syria, speaking of the easterly winds, called by seamen Levanters, says “We are likewise to observe further with regard to these strong easterly winds, that vessels, or any other objects which are seen at a distance, appear to be vastly magnified, or loom, according to the mariners expression.”—Shaw's travels, 362.