If you live in New York or much of the United States, you’ve noticed the weather this week – temperatures (in Fahrenheit) down near single digits at night. Having to sleep in the living room of my small West Village apartment with its leaky windows (I’m having issues with the ceiling in my bedroom – long story) it’s been one of those pile-every-blanket-you-have-on-the-bed kind of weeks.
But temperatures now pale in comparison to what people endured in the 19th century. Ice regularly blocked the rivers, and ice bridges formed (or were built) by enterprising New Yorkers on a regular basis. It seems that a few individuals were even able to skate to work from Brooklyn. The Gothamist has some great images and accounts of the cold weather and its impact on a very different New York. There are stories of people getting stuck on ice floes as the ice bridges broke up and having to rescued by tug boats, and young boys who charged for use of their ladders to get down to river and back up on the other side (perhaps like the umbrella sellers of our own era that appear every time it rains).
But the absolute best story is the enterprising soul that built a tavern on the North River one winter and dispensed food and drink to those walking across. Honestly, if it’s so cold that you can walk across the Hudson River to Hoboken, you do need a place to stop for a bite to eat. With ferries not running and the tunnels to a yet-to-be-built Penn Station still a few decades away, you can visualize people having to drag their luggage across the ice to catch a train from the New Jersey side down to Philadelphia or beyond. I’m trying to imagine how a modern day 1010 Wins radio station with it’s every ten minute traffic and transit news would have described this.
But (local) weather and (global) climate are not the same so we still seem to be in an era of massive global warming. Yesterday, the news pointed to a new study that concluded that glaciers in the Andes have melted at an unprecedented rate since the 1970′s, receding from 30% to 50%. Regardless what you see as the cause, global warming is a reality. So don’t despair, we’ll soon be back up to our seasonal temperatures (if not warmer) and New York will seem downright balmy.