Was that a hoar frost last night?

Archival Moment

Was that a hoar frost last night? Enough to “barber” a person !

June 6, 1890

 1 Bonaventure Avenue, St. John's (The Observatory)  was equipped as a weather Observatory

1 Bonaventure Avenue, St. John’s (The Observatory) was equipped as a weather Observatory

Many Newfoundland weather sayings are the traditional weather sayings of the British Isles and Ireland from which much of ancestral folk heritage arises. Newfoundland weather is unpredictable and changes quickly. Therefore, many weather sayings are locally based, derived from years of weather observations from the land and the sea.

One such expression is “hoar frost in autumn is a sign of south wind and rain.”

There was a time when meteorologists reported without any blush such descriptions as:

“At four o’clock this morning the hoar frost stood thick as snow on the roof.”  

It “hoar frost” is not a phrase that is often used by our weathermen today but it is a meteorological phenomenon that technically means “a white coating of ice crystals formed by sublimation of atmospheric water vapor on a surface. Also called white frost.

In Newfoundland and Labrador it is also known as “barber frost.”  The Evening Telegram reported on May 10, 1881   that “the temperature fell to seven degrees below zero’ and the cold was aggravated by piercing winds and the dense hoar frost, or “barber” as the seamen aptly term it. Seeing it cuts them like a razor. “

On June 6, 1890 the local “The official meteorological report stated that there were ten degrees of frost last night. At four o’clock this morning the hoar frost stood thick as snow on the roof.”

The name hoar comes from an Old English adjective that means “showing signs of old age”; in this context it refers to the frost that makes trees and bushes look like white hair.

A little known fact is that in the shadow of The Rooms at 1 Bonaventure Avenue is the building known locally as “The Observatory”, it was originally owned by John Delaney, (1811-1883). His interest in meteorology led to the development of a local meteorological service under the aegis of the Meteorological Service of Canada. A regular informant of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society in 1873.

1 Bonaventure Avenue was equipped with an Observatory when it was constructed. It was a two-storey structure attached to the rear addition but has since been demolished. It was from this structure, and the attached house that Delaney studied meteorology as a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society.

Was that a hoar frost last night? Will this be a summer of “south wind and rain” ? Your weatherman knows the answer. Give him a call.

Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives an excellent source for studying weather are the Telegraph Office News Ledgers (GN 18) and the Reports of Light house Keepers about the province. Series consists of photocopied reproductions of handwritten news books kept by staff of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs reporting daily on local and international events, viewed as of interest to the local audience. Subjects included are sealing reports, shipwrecks, local disasters and aviation reports. The daily news reports also included a brief synopsis of the local weather.