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Washington Saves the Day

A Salute to Weather-Wise Presidents

On this Monday afternoon, the 3D Doppler Radar scope is awash with white smudges and blue smears, a sure sign that a night of snow showers and mixed rain drops is ahead.

I expect a dusting of snow will whiten rooftops and grass late tonight, but no “accumulation” of note is in the offing. That will have to wait for Wednesday morning when our next burst of snow will try to alter the school schedule and make for slick travel conditions.

So tonight I would like to celebrate Presidents Day with a salute to chief executives who were weather savvy!

Let’s start with George Washington. Forget about the cherry tree fable, as the general of the Colonist army, Washington used his weather awareness to rescue his troops in what is considered by many the turning point of the Revolutionary War.

We are all familiar with the artist rendering of Washington leading his troops in a daring crossing of the Delaware River from present day Morrisville Pa to Trenton NJ on Christmas Day 1776. The blinding snows and howling winds made the nearly 1 mile trek all the more harrowing.

While this brave maneuver caught the Hessians off guard and forced them into retreat, the harsh weather that followed would box the Continental Army into a precarious position.

Early in 1777, Washington and his troops were in dire straights trapped in New Jersey. Weather historian David Ludlum recounts how the Delaware River, now behind Washington, is chocked with ice. At the same time, General Corwallis is leading 8,000 reinforcements from North Jersey to Trenton for what might well turn out to be a bloody end to the Colonial fight for Independence.

His supply lines cut off by the frozen river, Washington and his troops are sitting ducks as they await the inevitable; namely, an attack from a well rested, well fed and soon to be reinforced British army.

On January 1st, 1777, a thaw set into the Delaware Valley as temperatures soared into the 50s followed by a hard rain that melted the snowpack and turned roads into MUD. The mud of course rendered any movement by the troops difficult.

On the afternoon of the 2nd, skies cleared and a stiff north breeze arrived. A weather savvy Washington noted the temperature falling in the afternoon despite the return of sunshine. Banking on that colder air to produce a night time freeze, Washington called a council of war and helped fashion a daring ESCAPE PLOT.

It was decided that the Continental Army would wait until the road froze that night, then they would make an "end run" around the Hessians. The next morning, the Colonists would spring an attack from the REAR of the enemy camp.

To help sell the surpise attack, the Continental Army built bon-fires which were designed to cow the Hessians into thinking the Colonists were hunkered down for the night.

With Cornwallis and his troops still a day or two away from reaching the Hessian stronghold, the Continental Army spent the night moving quietly around the Hessians who were asleep. The temperature feel to 21 degrees that fateful night, assuring a fast track for this "dipsy doodle".

The next morning at first light, Washington led the surprise attack on the Hessians who were caught looking toward the bon-fires and the river.
The enusing battle of Princeton was hotly fought but lasted only 45 minutes.

The Colonist had won a decisive battle and broken the British supply line. The 8000 Cornwallis led reinforecements apparently never made it to the battle and the war had a resounding turning point.

So on this President's Day I salute George Washington for his weather savvy. I also want to recognize Thomas Jefferson for keeping a weather diary at Monticello and Harry Truman who began all his days of foreign affairs with a personal briefing from a member of the National Weather Service (founded by U.S. Grant back in the 1870s). My kind of presidents!


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