DAILY NEBRASKA STATE JOURNAL, LINCOLN, SUNDAY 5 JUNE 1887 p27
CLIMATOLOGY OF NEBRASKA.
Tangible Proofs of Nebraska's Superiority as a Farming Country.
A Paper Specially Prepared for This Edition by Prof. Goodwin D. Swiss, Director of the Nebraska Weather Service, Down College, Crete.
We have ceased to laugh at the old geographers who placed the great state in which "corn is king" within the limits of "the great American desert." But the impression has not wholly passed away that Nebraska is really too dry for successful cultivation, while the stories of men lost in the "blizzards" in trying to go from the house to the barn are the only other facts with regard to our climate which have been pointed enough to penetrate the minds of some of our sleepy eastern neighbors.
It shall be the aim of this article to place before our readers some facts based upon the careful statistics collected by the Nebraska weather service. Previous to 1878 the data for an article on the climatology of Nebraska were meager, but with the organization of our weather service just previous to that time, an abundance of reliable statistics began to be gathered by observers in different parts of the state and these data are the basis upon which the statements of this article are made.
As to the actual amount of rainfall in inches, it may be stated in a word to vary from thirteen and one-half inches per year in the extreme west of the state to thirty-nine and a half on the Missouri river.
A carefully constructed map of the mean annual rainfall for the period from 1878 to 1884 inclusive, based upon several thousand observations, shows that the area having thirty-five to forty inches per year is a narrow strip skirting the Missouri river but with a considerable westward extension in the Platte Valley, the thirty-five inch line crossing the Platte in Colfax county. The thirty-inch line starting in Dixon county sweeps far to the westward, crossing the Platte near Kern, then eastward again, leaving the state in Pawnee county. The twenty-five inch line crosses the Platte near Plum creek, the twenty-inch line near North Platte, while the fifteen-inch line passes close to Antelope, on the Union Pacific railroad.
It is a general impression with old residents of the state that the rainfall in increasing and this is probably true although previous to 1878 the data are to meager to warrant any exact statements. Some years ago Prof. Samuel Augbey compiled, from such data as were available, a map showing the distribution of rainfall for the period from 1859-1869. As far as these data go they show that at that time the thirty inch line ran nearly straight, crossing the Platte and the mouth of the Elkhorn river instead of at Kern, and the twenty inch line ran considerably east of North Platte instead of a little west of it.
Since 1878 there has been no notable increase in the amount of rainfall in the better settled portion of the state, but the important fact is that it is better distributed through the season; in other words there are more rainy days, as the following tables will show;
Rainfall. Rainy Days.
In order to show better what progress there has been these nine years may be thrown in to groups of three and then of four years as follows:
IN GROUPS OF THREE Rainfall Rainy days
28.87 81 IN GROUPS OF FOUR
30.35 83 Gain per cent 2 38
Of course the actual amount of rainfall is of much less importance than its distribution throughout the year.
The average rainfall and melted snow for the several months of the year for south-eastern Nebraska is shown in the following table which will make it clear that the rainfall is exceedingly well distributed:
Inches Rainy days
Coming now to another topic which is of importance in constituting climate, it may be said in general that Nebraska is not subjected to the extremes of heat and cold to which she is often now thought to be liable. The following table will give the mean temperature and the number of days in which the thermometer rises above eighty-five degrees or falls below zero in different months of the year:
Mean Temp. Above
24.0 0.0 7.0
36.9 0.0 0.6
50.4 0.2 0.0
63.0 4.0 0.0
70.1 10.3 0.0
75.4 15.4 0.0
74.0 13.0 0.0
61.8 5.9 0.0
32.6 0.3 0.0
30.3 0.0 0.6
28.3 0.0 4.8
40.1 49.8 19.2
The following table is also instructive as showing the very highest and very lowest temperature of the year by self registering thermometers as reported by any station in the state:
It will thus be seen that the extremes of temperature are not very severe. Two modifying circumstances should be noted, one favorable, the other unfavorable, to comfort. One is that the effect of cold upon the human body is more dependent upon the amount of wind than upon the absolute temperature. This is what fives to our blizzards their terrors. But as we shall see these occur but a few days in the year at the most, while on the other hand the fact that is is quite rare that the atmosphere is motionless in Nebraska makes even the hottest days of summer much easier to endure than in most states and makes the nights almost always comfortable enough.
Boswell observatory, the central station of the Nebraska weather service, stands in a position especially exposed to the force of the wind. Its wind record for the month, as shown by the self recording anemometer has almost without exception, been higher ever since the observatory was built than either of the other four stations in the state which posses anemometers.
Hence the following record of wind velocities at the station will show that the average condition of Nebraska atmosphere is that of gentle motion and that it hardly reaches the point of danger to buildings in its most violent movements. The figures give the velocity in miles per hour:
Nebraska, through a windy state is, as shown by statistics, remarkably free from tornadoes, although it lies threateningly near the belt of most frequent occurrence, in this and in other perils "a miss is as good as a mile".
In a "report of the character of 600 tornadoes," published by the signal service in 1884, is given a most comprehensive map, showing the distribution of tornadoes in the United States for a period of eighty seven years from 1794 to 1881 inclusive. The area of greatest frequency from a part of eastern Kansas, lying midway between the Platte and Arkansas rivers, eastward to central Illinois, in this area the locality of the very greatest frequency is in Kansas and Missouri at the west end of this strip. Two other small areas of nearly as great frequency lie in Georgia and New York respectively. The area of medium frequency surrounds these three smaller areas and includes the greater part of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania with a spur reaching south to include parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, and an isolated area in Texas. The boundary of this area of Medium frequency skirts closely the eastern boundary of Nebraska but hardly touches it, while the area of less frequency lies all around the last mentioned area and of course includes our own state.
The highest wind velocity for the several months of the year are as follows:
During the winter months the velocity may some times reach fifty miles an hour, (65 miles an hour once at Boswell observatory) which, if accompanied by cold and snow would be a severe blizzard, or may not rise at any time during the month higher than twenty-eight miles an hour. In other words, severe gales of wind combined with cold and snow, are of comparatively rare occurrence although when they do occur they demand comfortable shelter for man and beast.
The climate of Nebraska is sturdy and invigorating. The very atmosphere in which we live and move is one that begets activity in all who breath it; and of its vitalizing and fructifying influence upon plant and animal life, let our flocks of cattle and sheep and our abundant harvest speak.
DAILY NEBRASKA STATE JOURNAL, LINCOLN, SUNDAY 5 JUNE 1887 p28
The Geological Formation of the
State of Nebraska
A Paper Especially Prepared for This
Edition by Prof. L. E. Hicks,
Professor of Geology
of the University of Nebraska
Nebraska is comparatively simple in its geological structure, and yet it contains rocks belonging to four different geological ages, and each of these four ages is represented by at least two groups or epochs. Thus, we have eight geological formations in this state. Beginning with the oldest they are as follows: Carboniferous age, two formations, the Coal measures and the Permian; Reptilian age, two formations, the Dakota group and the Colorado group of the Cretaceous period; Age of Mammuals [Mammals], two formations, the Miocene and Pliocene; Age of Man, two formations, Glacial drift and Loess. Without attempting any exhaustive descriptions of these eight formations I shall take them up in order and state some facts about their distribution and economic value. In stating the localities where any formation occurs it is to be understood that I speak of the bed rocks which underlie the soils, subsoils, gravel beds, sands and clays at or near the surface. One of the difficulties which the geologist encounters in Nebraska is the infrequency of the out-crops of bed rocks. He must explore many sections, sometimes entire townships, to find any rent in the blanket of loose materials which is spread above the bed rocks in most parts of the state. But this blanket itself presents much interesting and profitable matter for study by the variety of its component parts.
The coal measures belonging to the carboniferous age underlie 3,200 square miles of southeastern Nebraska, including the counties of Richardson, Pawnee, Johnson, Nemaha, Otoe, most of Cass and portions of Gage, Lancaster, Sarpy and Douglas. These seams of coal have been observed at or near the surface in most of these counties, some of them exceeding two feet in thickness. A considerable amount of coal is taken from these seams for local consumption, one in Pawnee county having yielded 1,300 tons during the year ending December 31, 1886. These surface seams belong to the upper coal measures. The lower coal measures were penetrated by the test well at Brownsville, Nemaha county, and a seam of bituminous coal thirty inches in thickness was found at the depth of 821 feet. Other finds of coal are reported in the newspapers from time to time and it is to [be] hoped that some of them will prove to be all that the prospectors fondly imagine them to be.
But aside from any present or prospective development of coal mining in Nebraska, the rocks of the carboniferous age are already yielding a very valuable product, viz: building stone. In every one of the counties named above, there are stone quarries, and from some counties, extensive shipments are made besides supplying local demands. All these quarries in the coal measures supply limestone, but this is of various grades from that which is fit only for rubble work to good cut stone. Excellent lime is also burned from these limestones.
In eastern Nebraska the dip of the rocks is to the westward; hence the coal measures dip under the newer rocks lying west of them and in travelling from east to west we pass up the geological column, or from older to newer rocks. In western Nebraska on the contrary the dip is to the eastward. In other words the strata curve down, toward central Nebraska both from the east and the west. But since the western end of the state is 3,000 feet higher than the eastern the trough formed by the dipping rocks is tilted up on the west side. An economic fact of great importance results from this structure, viz: the success of artesian wells. In almost all the borings made in eastern Nebraska the water rises to the surface or above the surface if carried up in pipes. In some cases the flow is so strong and copious as to encourage the boring of such wells for waterpower as well as for irrigation, watering stock and domestic use. The artesian wells in Cedar county present a fine example of this source of power. There are good reasons for the belief that flowing wells might be obtained in many parts of the state where they have not been tried. When the water bearing stratum is deep in the earth and the head far up in the high plains or mountains of the west, an outflow is secured just as well on high divides as in the valleys and hence this source of supply is available and extremely valuable for many tracts of land remote from, and high above any surface stream.
Selling a Farm
"Your price is too high," said an eastern speculator as he rode over the farm of a Dakota man living near Fargo, "I can't pay $5,000 for such land as this."
"It's worth it though," replied the owner.
"Why, look here, it's all low, flat land."
"Covered with water half the year."
"Yes, just about."
"The soil is heavy and cold."
"Yes, middling heavy and cold."
"Then, how do you make out its worth $5,000?"
"My friend, do you see that hole over there back of the barn!"
"Yes - digging a well, I would judge."
"Supposed to be, but has a deeper meaning than that. That hole is down sixty feet and I have two dead dogs in the bottom."
"Well, what's the scheme?"
"Why, you buy the land for $5,000; dogs begin to smell good and strong in about a week, expert sniffs around and pronouces its natural gas, Fargo papers full of it, 'farm sold, for $25,000 inside of two days, clear profit of $20,000. See it?"
"Y-e-s, the plan appears feesible, but why don't you work it youself?"
"Me? Why, you see I'm a minister and the people in my church are getting so very particular that I don't want to try it. But I'll let you have the place at those low figures, and preach a powerful sermon that next day after the expert is here and point out that natural gas in the Red River walley is prophesized about away back in Deuteronomy."
In southern Nebraska the rocks, which immediately overlie the coal measures, belong to the Permian formation, which covers 450 square miles, mostly in Gage county. The economic products of the Permian are marls and building stone. The latter are mostly magnesium limestones, and several of the quarries are extensively wrought for shipment as well as for local use.
Next above the Carboniferous and Permian comes the Dakota group of the Cretaceous period, Reptilian age. The eastern boundary of this formation passes through Gage, Lancaster, Cass, Sarpy and Douglas counties, crossing the Missouri River into Iowa just above Omaha. Its western boundary runs from Jefferson county through Saline, Seward, Saunders, Dodge, Cubing, Wayne and Dixon counties, crossing into Dakota near the northeastern corner of Dixon county. The Dakota group consists of loose sands, clays, shales and sandstones. The latter have been used for building but are too soft for that purpose except in sheltered places such as cellar walls. Near the top of the formation occurs a thin stratum of very hard grit, which may prove valuable. The most valuable product of the Dakota group, however, is its clays. Many brickyards and several potteries obtain their raw material from it. Several other geological formations in Nebraska yield excellent clays. It is confidently believed that these will sometime be an important source of revenue to the state. Numerous salt springs also occur in the Dakota group. Preparations are being made for the manufacture of salt on a large scale from the brines near Lincoln. The strongest brines are found in the sands at the base of the Dakota group, some 200 feet beneath the surface in this region.
Above the Dakota group lies the Colorado group of the same period and age. Its eastern boundary is the same as that given above for the western boundary of the Dakota group, and it extends to the central region of Nebraska where it is covered by tertiary rocks, rising again to the surface, however, in the extreme western portions of the state. It is composed of marls, clays, shales and limestones. The latter are soft and often packed full of shells. They are largely quarried for local use, notwithstanding the softness and irregular forms. In some cases this magnesian limestone may be cut with a knife when taken from the quarry, but hardens by exposure.
Above the Colorado group are the Miocene and Pliocene rocks of the Tertiary or age of mammals. They cover most of the central and western portions of Nebraska. The Pliocene is much more extensive than the Miocene, but no attempt will be made in this article to trace the boundary lines, as they have not yet been thoroughly worked out. The economic projects of the Tertiary are building stones, marls for fertilizing and clays. Some of the calcareous strain yields what is known as "natural plaster." Without any other preparation than to mix it with water, it makes a rough plastering material, which is of some value. The building stones are limestone, sand stones, conglomerates and quartzite. The latter are very hard and are commonly called "granite." They are similar to the so called "granite" of Sioux Falls, Dak., whose merits [are] well known. In hardness, homogeneous structure, resistance to heat, cold and moisture, these quartzites are superior to granite, although they are inferior to true granite in beauty.
The glacial drift covers all the bed rocks in eastern Nebraska, extending westward to near the center of the state. It forms an excellent subsoil with its fine and coarse gravels, sands and clays. Above it lies the loess, a fresh water locustrine deposit still more extensive then the drift. In its most characteristic development, the loess is a light, loamy buff colored clay. It forms the best subsoil in the world. Mingled at the surface with decaying organic matter it forms also some of the best soils in the world. The excellence of these soils depends not only upon their rich stores of plant food, but on their capacity to endure either drought or wet without fatal injury to crops.
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