A Disturbance in the Force – Saxby’s Equinoxal Gales

“one is justified in expecting (to say the least) quite as great an atmospheric disturbance early in October as we have had since 6th inst. […] The warnings apply to all parts of the world; effects may be felt more in some places that in others. It is painful to have to forebode evil; but better thus than to merit self-reproach under circumstances which might lead to permanent regrets.”

What [Saxby] was saying here was that the gravitational effect of the moon at perigee, combined with the lesser pull of the sun, would provoke abnormally high spring tides. Which is all fine and dandy but eminently predictable by anyone with the relevant astronomical data.

He further implied that should there be a coastal storm at the same time then the effects might be profound, as indeed in this case they turned out to be. The Bay of Fundy, between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, has the highest tidal range in the world, and this was exacerbated not only by the spring tide but also by the hurricane’s storm surge funnelling up from the southwest.

However, he did not forecast just where on Earth any potential storm might strike: “The warnings apply to all parts of the world…”, he said, a statement which is of little practical use. Storms can occur at any time almost anywhere, and there was no indication that Maine and New Brunswick in particular should prepare themselves.

Digging deeper, though, we find that on top of this vague assessment a remarkably prescient and specific forecast was issued by a Canadian meteorologist, Frederick Allison, in a letter to the Halifax(Nova Scotia) Evening Express.

On 30 September he wrote: “I believe that a heavy gale will be encountered here on Tuesday next, the 5th Oct., beginning perhaps on Monday night, possibly deferred as late this Tuesday night; but between those two periods it seems inevitable. At its greatest force the direction of the wind should be South West; having commenced at or near South. Should Monday, the 4th, be a warm day for the season, an additional guarantee of the coming storm will be given. Roughly speaking, the warmer it may be on the 4th, the more violent will be the succeeding storm.”

Reference to warmth gives pause to wonder whether Allison had some inkling of the nature of tropical storms as opposed to strong mid-latitude depressions. Was there some skill in this forecast? Did reports from ships perhaps give him an idea that a storm was brewing in the western Atlantic? It seems unlikely given the likely slowness of communication. Did he just strike lucky?

There is no record of any other of his forecasts, so we will never know how skilled a forecaster he might have been. Perhaps we should bestow the benefit of the doubt, and given the relatively rudimentary state of meteorological science at the time it would have been a very good forecast.

But whether the greater part was played by luck or skill, the storm should clearly be known not as the Saxby Gale but as the Allison Hurricane.

I disagree with that last part. If you observe these things for long enough then these ‘flukes‘ are actually skill and deserve the necessary credit.

3 thoughts on “A Disturbance in the Force – Saxby’s Equinoxal Gales

  1. Politically correct, consensus science displays a remarkably bias against the forces that arise from external astronomical objects.

    This may reflect fear (a negative response) of a rational basis for astrology.

    Regardless of reason, this irrational response blocks climate researchers from acknowledging that changes in Earth’s climate may be caused by changes Earth’s heat source – the Sun.

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