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Wellsville Weather History: Earthquakes, Floods, Cyclones

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From Staff Reports, 9/13/21

The summer of 2021 has left many locals talking about the weather, and not just for small talk. Rain, wind, hail, and flash flooding seem to be a near daily event, adding to the uncertainty surrounding us. Just to give you all a little perspective, Wellsville weather was nearly Biblical in the five years between 1884 and 1889. Global warming didn’t exist, at least not in our vocabulary.

Thanks to Martha Howe’s great book that I just finished, “A History of the Town of Wellsville, New York(1795-1963),” we can look back on the weather patterns of the past. Compared to these accounts, we are living in a period of relatively stable weather conditions.

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On September 28th, 1884 a cyclone hit downtown Wellsville, then a fairly new settlement. Just about dinner hour, the storm hit and caused serious destruction. The cyclone focused its fury on the south side of the village, partially destroying the Bush and Howard Tannery. Reports indicate that the vicious wind storm then traveled up Dyke Street and flattened the barn of E.E. Hubbard. Read more From Norm Ives on the damage this cyclone caused south of Wellsville.

The autumn of 1885 must have been much like 2021 with incessant rain. At that time Wellsville’s dirt roads and streets must have been a mess. Howe quotes one resident at the time saying, “True condition of our streets: mud-muddier-muddiest.”

On the last day of August 1886 an earthquake hit town just after dark. At about ten o’clock in the evening, Wellsville got a good tremble, causing all the clocks to stop.

In the dead of winter in 1887, just before Valentines day, another cyclone struck town, causing much more damage than the 1884 storm. Much of the building and development in the village was impacted. Many chimneys collapsed, tin roofs peeled off, and the verocity of the winds shook brick buildings. Like the previous cyclone, this storm whirled east of the village, largely following Dyke’s creek. A pump station was destroyed, almost killing George Porch and Tim Dillon.

The next year, at the end of May 1888, was another, perhaps larger cyclone. Howe provides a description of that day:

Makes you wonder: Are you insured?

“At four in the afternoon, gale and rain of the cyclone type struck town, tin roofs were torn off, trees uprooted, many limbs broken off, roof of the Baptist Church and the end wall were demolished with damage estimated at $4000. Heavy rain accompanied; considerable damages to merchants and households were caused from leaky roofs.”

After those four years of weather related hell, Wellsville wasn’t ready for Mother Nature’s wrath in 1889. In early June residents woke to a flood, caused by the same weather which caused the Johnstown Pa disaster. The Great Flood of 1889 caused death, and the greatest destruction in Wellsville’s history. The Broad Street, Chamberlin Street, and again the Dyke’s Creek valley suffered massive losses. Report indicated that the river rose eighteen feet in five minutes, killing livestock and wrecking croplands. At Island Park, the river measured 14 feet above the riverbank.

Later in June of 1889, another cyclone hit town, leaving residents to wonder if Wellsville was cursed. Unbelievably, in November of that year, another flood occurred and the south part of Wellsville was again under water.

Early Wellsville then got a break from the natural disasters for over a decade. Modern day Wellsville might seem in the midst of some historic weather. Looking back on 1884-1889: We should consider our recent weather patterns mild in comparison, understand how much worse it has been, and likely will be again.

More reading on the 1889 Flood from the Allegany County Historical Society

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