Little Bits of History

Grote Mandrenke

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 16, 2011

Illustration of the damaging storm

January 16, 1362: A storm tide in the North Sea floods the German city, Rungholt, on Strand Island. A large Atlantic gale spread across England, the Netherlands, northern Germany and Schleswig, a Duchy between Germany and Denmark. The storm was ferocious and included a huge storm tide responsible for killing 25,000. The event is called the “second St. Marcellus flood” because January 16 is the feast of St. Marcellus and in 1219, a previous storm killed about 36,000. The storm surge swept far inland, breaking up islands, turning part of the mainland into new islands, and wiping out entire towns and districts, including Rungholt.

A storm tide or storm surge is associated with storms and weather systems involving low pressure, such as cyclone. The high winds put pressure on the ocean’s surface and causes the water to pile much higher than regular sea level. The rise in the water is caused by the storm and is in addition to the rising water levels associated with incoming tides. With advanced techniques, we can measure the storm surges. The highest was recorded in 1899 and was 43 feet high. It was located at Bathurst Bay, Australia. There is some question as to methodology and much of the height may have been wave run-up. Hurricane Katrina produced a maximum storm surge of more than 25 feet.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, with less prediction available, these horrible storms were devastating to life and property. Weather was chaotic in northern Europe at the beginning of what is called the Little Ice Age. This small ice age brought colder winters to parts of Europe and North America. Rivers, even the Thames, froze solid enough to support ice skating. Whole villages in Switzerland were wiped out by encroaching glaciers. And along the North Sea, attention was given to Zuider Zee.

Zuider Zee was a shallow bay in the North Sea located northwest of the Netherlands. It was about 60 miles inland and 30 miles at its widest point. It’s overall depth was about 13-16 feet. It had a coastline of about 200 miles and covered about 2,000 square miles. Because of the landscape’s propensity to increase storm surge devastation, a series of dikes and levees were constructed. Early dikes were not completely stable and broke down, causing even greater loss of life when they failed. The area has been stable since about the 15th century.

“The earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood.” – John Shimkus

“The only thing that stops God from sending another flood is that the first one was useless.” – Nicolas de Chamfort

“We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What’s the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood?” – Buddha

Also on this day:
Prohibition – In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified.
Hello Dolly! – In 1964, Jerry Herman’s Broadway musical hit opened.