Weather on the Fourth of July

Weather on the Fourth of July

Researched by James R. Heintze. All Rights Reserved.


Individuals have always been concerned about the weather on Independence Day. Would the weather interfere with ceremonies, celebrations, and fireworks was a common question. It was believed in the early years that by determining what the weather was on previous Independence Day holidays, might provide clues regarding forthcoming Fourths. E. Meriam writing for the the New York Times stated on July 4, 1856 (p. 8), that "there are many inquiries what the weather will be tomorrow." In order to answer the question, Meriam studied weather information based on "memoranda" in New York City over "67 consecutive years, from 1789 to 1855." He reported that rain had fallen on thirteen Fourths: 1789, 1792, 1794, 1807, 1808, 1809, 1827, 1828, 1829, 1836, 1846, 1853, and 1855. "This is equal to fall of rain on less than one day in five, yet this frequency affords no means of determining whether to-morrow will be rainy or clear weather," he said. The 1855 rain event apparently was spread over a wide range of the eastern seaboard. It was reported in Washington, D.C., for example, that the fireworks display scheduled in that city was postponed on that day and rescheduled for July 9. Unfortunately the show never occurred because the fireworks were damaged and that someone left them out in the rain! (Washington Evening Star, 9 July 155, 3).

Another calculation of previous weather conditions was reported in an article, "The Weather," printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 6 July 1874, 1. The article included weather conditions on Independence Days for the years 1864-73. The information indicated that most Fourths during the period were fairly clear, but in the years 1870-73 it rained on some of the holidays.

When extremely hot weather prevailed, the Fourth of July often ended with tragic results. On July 4, 1860, in Charleston, South Carolina, the temperature reached 102 degrees. Eight persons died of sunstroke, including two members of the German Fusiliers and two members of the German Artillery, who succumbed while on parade. On that day in Augusta, Georgia, six deaths were reported and in Savannah, Georgia, five persons died as a result of the heat ("Hot Weather at the South," National Intelligencer, 11 July 1860, 3).

Severe weather on the Fourth was not uncommon. In Washington, D.C., what was reported to be a tornado came over the city during the evening of July 4, 1874, and took roofs off of "whole blocks of houses." ("Great Wind at Washington," New York Herald, 6 July 1874, 5.) On July 4, 1898, at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, a tornado roared through town killing many. ("Storm Deals Death," Baltimore Morning Herald, 5 July 1898, 10.)

Sometimes it snowed on Independence day as was the case in Leadville, Colorado, on July 4, 1903, when the town was blanketed with 2 to 3 inches (Ogden Standard Examiner,4 July 1903, 6).

Occasionally unusual atmospheric phenomenon were reported to have occurred on the Fourth of July. In 1831, a newspaper correspondent wrote "The Northern Lights were beautifully vivid at Boston on the evening preceding, and at the close of the 4th inst, a phenomenon we believe never before seen in July." (National Intelligencer, 14 July 1831, 3.) Rain and damp weather often forced postponement of fireworks displays and special events. On July 4, 1857, in New York City, fireworks were delayed "on account of a partial damage to several pieces occasioned by damp weather." ("The Fourth in New York," National Intelligencer, 6 July 1857, 3.) On July 4, 1867, in Poughkeepsie, New York, due to a "severe thunder-storm which came up about 3 o'clock and lasted four hours," a celebration to benefit a fund for the construction of a soldiers' monument had to be canceled. "Thousands of people had assembled from the surrounding country, and were greatly disappointed" ("Disappointment at Poughkeepsie," New York Times, 5 July 1867, 8). The storm may have been widespread for south and west of Boston, "a fierce tornado of wind" had also struck. ("A Great Day in Boston," New York Times, 5 July 1867, 8.)

There were those that believed that smoke from fireworks and other explosives affected the weather. In 1831 in Connecticut a reporter noted that it was remarkable that it seemed to always rain after the Fourth of July activities took place. On that year's Independence Day, Horatio Gates residing near Albany, New York, thought the "effect of the smoke occasioned by the firing of cannon" cause it to rain and that legislation might be enacted to help regulate rain through the firing of artillery. ("Rain, after the Fourth of July," Connecticut Mirror, 9 July 1831, 3.) The National Gazette reported on July 21, 1792, that the Fourth of July in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, that year, the "celebration of the glorious event Independence" was moved to July 5th due to inclement weather and that "from this example it would seem proper in future to advertise, 'Independence to be celebrated on the Fourth of July, or, if bad weather, the next fair day after.'"

On that rare occasion even an earthquake could occur on the Fourth as was the case on July 4, 1806, when it was reported in Schenectady, New York, that "about 1 o'clock, the shock of an earthquake was perceptibly felt by the citizens of this place, it was accompanied with a rumbling noise much like the sound of distant thunder--many houses were sensibly shaken and their inhabitants considerably alarmed--the direction of the shock was nearly from west to east. We understand a shock was felt in the city of Albany about the same time" (The Reporter, 26 July 1806, 3).

This page last updated July 2009.

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