On This Date in History: One thing that makes England interesting when looking at history is that so much stays the same over centuries while in America, we tend to tear things down at a whim. The photos from this story illustrate that fact. Now, back in the 1850’s, the United States was experiencing the results of the expanding industrial revolution. However, it was also on a path to what some call a second American Revolution as the crisis involving slavery was headed for disaster. Meanwhile, across the pond in England, the British watched America with a careful eye while its industrial capacity increased. The increase in industry created a need for greater water resources and plans were put in place to meet the ever increasing demands.
The Sheffield Waterworks Company proposed creating three resevoirs to support the exploding steel industry in the region. Of the three, one would be dominant and require the building of what was then a mammoth dam structure. The ambitious plan, known as the Bradfield Scheme, called for the use of the hills near the town of Bradford to help support the resevoir system. The largest dam and resevoir was the first part of the project and work on the Dale Dyke Dam was begun on January 1, 1859. The earthen dam was near completion in early 1864 and construction of the second phase began with work on the Agden Dam commencing prior to the completion of Dale Dyke.
By early March, the water level in the large resevoir was but a few feet from capacity and on this date in 1864 workman William Horsefield walked home after work, traversing the embankment of the dam. He noticed a small crack that ran up the entire structure. The weather was stormy and the wind was blowing spray over the top of the dam. Had it not been for the weather conditions, he would have walked along the crest of the hill and may not have even noticed the crack since it’s width was barely enough to fit a single finger. But, he did see it and was a little alarmed due to the length of the small crevice. He immediately notified Waterworks Chief Engineer John Gunson and Gunson determined that the crack was probably due to settling or from a recent frost and appeared to be just a surface crack. Nevertheless, Gunson took some precautionary steps.
It was already 10pm but he decided it would be a good idea to open the valves to lower the water levels until a more extensive inspection could be made. However, he found that workers had already opened the valves and there was no way that the water levels would lower rapidly enough to allow for a proper inspection the next day. So, he ordered the crews to use gunpowder to blow some holes in the dam near the spillway to increase the water release. What is curious to me is that, if he thought that it was just a surface crack, why would he take the drastic measure of blowing up part of the dam? In any event, the efforts failed because the wind and rain made it impossible to ignite any explosives.
At 11:30 pm, Gunson made his way back to the site of the crack and found that it had not appeared to have worsened but was horrified when he looked up the embankment to see “water running over like a white sheet in darkness” over the top of the dam. He said that the water flowed down “right under my feet” and down through the crack. He made his way down to the bottom of the dam to the valve house to try and determine the rate of flow and, at first, he said that it wasn’t consequential. A colleague suddenly shouted for Gunson to get out of the way and, as Gunson looked up, this time he witnessed an enormous breech appear at the top of the dam and a wall of water descending his way. As he literally ran for his life across the embankment, he felt a violent shaking and shuddering and, like a scene from an action movie, he escaped the total collapse of that section of the dam with just seconds to spare. He watched in horror as some 650 million gallons of water roared down the Loxley Valley on the unsuspecting, slumbering populace .
After just 30 minutes, the flood had subsided but, downstream, death and destruction was left behind. This video calls it the “forgotten flood.” The total number of deaths have been reported between 240 to 270. Over 400 houses, 100 factories and shops, 20 bridges, 40 buildings and nearly 4500 market or cottage gardens were washed away. The Great Flood at Sheffield remains one of the greatest man-made disasters in British history. Shortly after the event, a complete history of the Great Flood at Sheffield was written by local journalists using eyewitness accounts. The 1864 Illustrated London News also had a complete story. There is also a Great Sheffield Flood Photo Gallery complete with stories of heroism and survival. The stories were told right away but the reason for the disaster proved elusive. A definitive cause for the dam collapse was not concluded until 1978.
Weather Bottom Line: I’ve been distracted as my mother-in-law has been telling me a tale of dealing with a grocery store complaint resulted in the automatic phone system put her on a sex line! I can’t tell the details but it is funny. If you see a little old lady swinging a handbag around at a local grocery store, it’s Snow White’s mother. Anyway, I told you for a week that there would probably be some unsettled weather and most of that should be to our south but it could be close. As it stands, we did have a tornado earlier in the week in Oklahoma. There was some signficant activity in the Arklatex yesterday and even over into Alabama yesterday with some 17 wind damage reports, 6 tornado reports and 100 hail reports. The hail report asepct of this activity is what is will be of the main concern for our area over the next 48 hours.
What is going on is that the big system that I’ve been chortling about for many days seems to be coming out in pieces. What that means is that we get an extended event and it tends to cover more area as different pieces wander out in different areas. Eventually, it will all work its way out. Now, we had pretty dry air over the area. Wednesday was beautiful with highs around 70. Snow White and I even had a picnic. She made her own version of spinach caniloni. Wednesday night, we had a disturbance swing through, but it was on the downside of life, came at night and also ran into dry air so we got just some light rain. But, the clouds remained for most of Thursday. Temperatures were confined to the mid 60’s. I got my hair cut and the people at Looks and also Snow White kept asking me when it would storm. I replied that I did not know because I’ve had other things to do beside look at weather maps but, I wasn’t overly concerned given the lack of sunshine.
For some rough weather, we need some sort of lifting mechanism and I think the cloud cover will kinda take the sun out of the equation. What it will take will be the lift created by a vorticity maxima (upper low or shortwave) or some good dynamical forcing…that would be winds converging together to create a rising motion. Most of this type of stuff along with a more buoyant atmosphere will be to our south through Friday. But, if we are able to have some storms with decent heights, the air aloft gets pretty cold pretty fast as you rise in elevation. That would be what we call a steep lapse rate. That would support the idea of hail. Typically, if you can get hail, then there would be the prospects of isolated strong winds. I think that it will be possible should storms develop. But, I would think that the prospects of significant storms may be somewhat limited. It’s worth keeping an eye on and maybe putting the car in the carport or the garage. It will be cooler for the weekend but not too cold. Tell you what…the other day…I spied some models trying to throw snow out here on Monday…but I wasn’t too enthused and didn’t look too more into it. Will be worth snooping about tomorrow. It involves the idea of a low rotating around and coming back from the northeast and the cold air aloft with that low would be sufficient to be brought down with precipitation to cause snow. It’s too complicated for me to deal with now…so don’t worry about it.