After a dry May with very little lively weather, June has arrived across the region with some much-needed rain.

It kicked up another notch or three Thursday evening, when fierce storms rolled through north central Ohio, with a vigorous branch that swept through the eastern part of Knox County.

These storms reminded me of a long-ago storm I stumbled across in my ramblings through old newspaper archives: The storm of June 5, 1858.

Ohio had only been a state for 55 years at the time, and most of Knox County’s residents came gradually after that. It was the worst storm any of those people could remember.

View of Fredericktown from the East

Observers near Fredericktown said that late that afternoon, they saw what appeared to be two banks of clouds, moving on a collision course. That description strongly suggests the area was about to get the results of a cold front slamming into the warm front which had preceded it.

That’s the same thing that was happening this week when a powerful cold front sliced through the area, stirring up violent storms.

This movement of storm systems usually places the worst weather in the southeast quadrant of the storm. The counterclockwise spin of the low pressure pulls warm air northward, creating a warm front. The cold air being sucked south by the low follows through a few hours later.

When the warm air is richly humid, and the following cold as is much drier, the collision of air masses is likely to generate rain and lightning. The bigger the contrast, the stronger the storm.

Storms with strong enough updrafts can cause falling rain drops to freeze, then get carried back to the top of the storm, where they get recoated and refrozen. This cycle continues until the ice gets so heavy, the updrafts can’t hold it aloft any longer, and it falls as hail.

The line of storms in Knox County this week held minimal hail, though areas of northern Ohio saw hail big enough to fill up the palm of an average-sized hand.

The storm of 1858 was that sort of storm. When the cold front caught up to the warm front near Fredericktown, a monster storm was generated, and it started dropping hail that was, according to the Mount Vernon Republican, “around the size of a hen’s egg.”

One stone was measured at six-and-a-half inches in diameter. Such huge hail is extremely rare in Ohio.

The storm also brought torrential rain, causing the Kokosing and tributary streams to flood. On one farm, a flock of sheep were trapped by flooding waters surrounding the field.

The farmer and his family had to launch out their boats to rescue the animals before the entire pasture became flooded. It was a precarious operation that put the farmers in great danger, but they successfully transferred the livestock to high ground.

The flooding demolished the railroad bridge in Fredericktown, and destroyed every road bridge between Fredericktown and Mount Vernon.

The Coshocton Democrat reported that the storm shattered 2,000 panes of glass in Fredericktown.

Reports from Mount Liberty described the storm as a “hurricane” that did much wind damage. Further north, into Richland County, a number of houses were stripped of their roofs, and a few were even moved entirely off their foundations.

Despite the wind and hail damage, the county did ultimately see a benefit from the deluge of rain the storm brought: just weeks later, it was evident that the rain had caused a growth spurt in crops, resulting in one of the county’s best harvests of the mid-1800s.

Let’s hope our recent heavy rains will have the same effect, after our very dry spring.

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