History Bytes: The Hail Storm of 1894

June 25, 2019

Broken windows on the north side of the Colony House after the hail storm of July 14, 1894. NHS, P3031.

It hailed on parts of Aquidneck Island this past weekend! Hail Storms in New England are not unheard of; however, they are not common in the Narragansett Bay area, especially not in the summer. Hail begins as tiny ice particles that collide with water droplets and freeze as strong winds toss the particles back up into the colder regions of cumulonimbus clouds, the kind that produce thunderstorms. During this process the ice particles become larger. The more severe the wind activity in the cloud, the more times the hail particles are thrown up and down in the cloud, each trip causing the hailstone to grow. The more severe a thunderstorm, the larger the hailstones tend to be. And while the hail that fell on Sunday, June 23, 2019 was sizable, it did not measure up against the Hail Storm of July 14, 1894.

The headline for the July 16, 1894 edition of the Newport Daily News read “Furious Storm of Eight Minute’s Duration–Thousands of Windows Smashed–The Loss Will Reach Fully $50,000.” The paper reported that the storm covered a two-mile wide swath as it came across Aquidneck Island, extending between Green End Avenue on the north and Narragansett Avenue on the south, as it moved eastward across the island. Properties falling just outside the storm’s path received little more than a slight rainfall. The hailstones that fell measured from two to three inches in diameter, roughly the size of an egg to the size of a baseball. The storm hit hardest in the area of Washington Square, with damage occurring (largely in the form of broken glass) to Touro Synagogue, the Opera House, and scores of shops. Eighty panes of glass were broken on the north side of the Colony House, and the windows in the cupola were smashed entirely.

History Byte excerpted from Hattendorf & Potvin. “Weather Changes: Notable Storms in 18th & 19th Century Newport & New England.” Newport History: Journal of the Newport Historical Society. Vol 70, No 244 (2000).