Illinois’ Sudden Change of 1836

The following is an historical account of a severe change in the weather which occurred in Illinois and much of the midwest on December 20, 1836:

“In 1836 The State of Illinois was less than two decades old. A young Abraham Lincoln of New Salem had just been reelected to the state legislature and had recently obtained his law license. As the Winter Solstice approached in late December, so did a cold front, which local frontiersmen called a “sudden change” (the term cold front would not be coined for many decades). No ordinary cold front, for when it had passed, December 20, 1836 would go down in the memories of many Illinois residents as The Sudden Change Day, Cold Tuesday and The Cold Day in Illinois.

On that afternoon, an intense cold front swept across much of Illinois bringing a prodigious and rapid temperature drop. At 2 pm, the thermometer of Dr Samuel Mead of Augusta had recorded a drop from 40 oF to zero Fahrenheit in less than 8 hours. Many say that drop was nearly instantaneous.

Although actual weather data in the early nineteenth century is rather scarce across much of middle America, oral and written accounts of the event have been passed down in the reminiscences of those living in the state. We are fortunate that some weather observations were made: two individuals residing in Illinois had thermometers and recorded daily readings, and regular thrice-daily observations were taken at a series of US Army posts scattered across the Midwest.”


“Washington Crowder started a trip from Sugar Creek near Chatham to Springfield to obtain a marriage license. Riding horseback, he left in a steady rain. Midway through his journey, he noticed a dark cloud coming from the northwest toward him. Suddenly, a freezing cold wind gust struck him. By the time he was able to reach for his reins, the water soaking his clothes had…”

Read the entire fascinating account here.


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