Thursday, March 28, 2013

Niagara Falls ran dry on March 29, 1848

The falls were blocked by an ice dam upriver. The ice blocked the water flow and, according to this account,
One of the first residents to notice the deafening silence was farmer, Jed Porter of Niagara Falls, New York. During the late evening of March 29th, he left home for a stroll along the river near the American Falls and realized the thundering roar of the Falls was absent. A closer examination revealed the amount of the water flowing over the Falls had been greatly diminished.

Residents awoke on the morning of March 30th to an eerie silence and realized something was amiss. People were drawn to the Falls to find that the water flow of the Niagara River had been reduced to a mere trickle. Thomas Clark Street, the owner and operator of the large Bridgewater Mills along the Canadian shore at Dufferin Islands was awakened by one of his employees at 5 a.m. on March 30th reporting the mill had been shut down because the mill race was empty.

By the morning of March 31st, more than 5,000 people had gathered along the banks of the river. All the mills and factories [dependent] upon water power were stilled.

The river bed was quickly drying. Fish and turtles were left floundering on now dry land. A number of people made their way into the gorge to the riverbed. Here they saw articles that had been laying on the river's bottom and had been hidden for hundreds of years. Souvenirs picked up included bayonets, guns barrels, muskets, tomahawks and other artifacts of the War of 1812.

Other spectators were able to walk out onto the river bed that had only hours earlier been a torrent of rapids and would have resulted in certain death. It became a tourist and media event. People on foot, on horseback or by horse and buggy, crossed the width of the Niagara River. It was a historical event that had never occurred before and has never been duplicated since.

A squad of soldiers of the U.S. Army Cavalry rode their horses up and down the river bed as an exhibition.

Below the Falls, workers from the Maid of the Mist were able to venture out onto the river bed and blast away rocks which had normally been a navigation hazard to the Maid of the Mist boat since its inception in 1846.
Well, the wind shifted on March 31 and the ice dam broke -- and the water came back.

Photo by Saffron Blaze obtained from Wikipedia.

This natural occurrence is recalled annually as Niagara Falls Runs Dry Day. But the truth is that Niagara Falls runs dryer than it used to -- and has for over 100 years, since hydroelectric plants started going up along the river trying to harness the power of the river and turn it into electrical power. We'll let the Wikipedia account pick the story up from there (footnotes removed):
In 1961, when the Niagara Falls hydroelectric project first went on line, it was the largest hydropower facility in the Western world. Today, Niagara is still the largest electricity producer in New York State, with a generating capacity of 2.4 gigawatts (million kilowatts). Up to 375,000 U.S. gallons (1,420 m3) of water a second is diverted from the Niagara River through conduits under the City of Niagara Falls to the Lewiston and Robert Moses power plants. Currently between 50% and 75% of the Niagara River's flow is diverted via four huge tunnels that arise far upstream from the waterfalls. The water then passes through hydroelectric turbines that supply power to nearby areas of Canada and the United States before returning to the river well past the falls. This water spins turbines that power generators, converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. When electricity demand is low, the Lewiston units can operate as pumps to transport water from the lower bay back up to the plant's reservoir, allowing this water to be used again during the daytime when electricity use peaks. During peak electrical demand, the same Lewiston pumps are reversed and actually become generators, similar to those at the Moses plant.

To preserve Niagara Falls' natural beauty, a 1950 treaty signed by the U.S. and Canada limited water usage by the power plants. The treaty allows higher summertime diversion at night when tourists are fewer and during the winter months when there are even fewer tourists. This treaty, designed to ensure an "unbroken curtain of water" is flowing over the falls, states that during daylight time during the tourist season (April 1 to October 31) there must be 100,000 cubic feet per second (2,800 m3/s) of water flowing over the falls, and during the night and off-tourist season there must be 50,000 cubic feet per second (1,400 m3/s) of water flowing over the falls.
In other words, the electric companies turn the falls down at night and in the winter to make more electricity.

The Knights of Columbus were formed on March 29, 1882, leading some of the Usual Suspects to call Friday Knights of Columbus Day. Friday will also be the 70th birthday of Eric Idle (born March 29, 1943).

March 29 is also the birthday of two great pitchers -- Cy Young (born March 29, 1887) and Denny McLain (born March 29, 1944). McLain was baseball's last (and perhaps last ever) pitcher to win more than 30 games in a season (31-6 with the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers); Cy Young had 511 career pitching victories, one of the few baseball records that seems safer with every passing year. Cy Young never went to prison; Denny McLain, on the other hand....

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