09 March 2010

Anniversary of Wiggins Storm

Today marks the 127th anniversary of a storm that never happened.

A letter to the Ottawa Citizen published on the 22nd of September 1882 under the heading An Astronomer's Warning announced "The Greatest Storm of the 19th Century Coming."

The letter was penned by public servant E Stone Wiggins who first denounced the "utter uselessness of our meteorological bureaus", then made his "announcement"— A great storm will strike this planet on the 9th of March next ...

The Associated Press carried Wiggins' prediction, and it appeared in newspapers in the United States and Europe. To give additional publicity he published an almanac.

Some took the storm prediction seriously, supposedly fishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts, refuse to go to sea.

Others took advantage of the publicity for a bit of commercial humour. Published in the Ottawa Citizen were:

"Wiggins Storms is drawing nigh,
Five pounds of tea you 'd better buy.
Go to Stroud's without delay,
Or perhaps your money may blow away"

and a fantasy, with a bowler hat illustration, that:

"The Lake of the Woods was so much twisted that the Northwest Angle became the Northeast;
The Ottawa end of the Rideau Canal was cantered to starboard three degrees;
The storm overtook a Manitoba blizzard and turned it into a spring freshet in 15 seconds;
The Equator was broken in two places;
A brick whirled from the main tower of the Parliament Buildings, struck a gentleman citizen of the flats, and would have knocked him endways had he not been protected by one of Mr. RJ. Devlin’s excellent hats.
This is the hat.
The brick is inside."

What happened? There was a bit of a blow on the East Coast on the day Wiggins identified, but no worse than a storm a few days earlier. The New York Times immediately consigned him to "the limbo of exploded humbugs."

1 comment:

Michael McNeil said...

Speaking as a Welsh Anglo Celt, let me assure you that Wiggin's mistake was fairly typical for his day. In the era of the Internet the failure becomes apparent in that the development of line-storms gives way to quite a few phenomena in which he dealt. Most notably extreme volcanic activity:
Krakatoa was dormant until May 20, 1883, when it erupted catastrophically.

There is more that you suppose:

So now you can please explain to us all the present level of ignorance?