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Talk About the Weather: 46 Years of It at the HOCR
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Jimmy Connelly
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Flakey weather

When we think of fall weather in New England we think of crisper temperatures and the need to dress in layers when heading outdoors. For rowers in the Head Of The Charles® Regatta, though, the unpredictability of fall weather in New England can mean everything from sun burn and dehydration to wind burn and hypothermia.

As we head into this year's 47th edition of America's Fall Rowing Festival with fingers crossed for great weather, we also can look back at what have been some true weather extremes that you can always expect to find in New England.

From freezing cold to uncharacteristic heat, heavy winds to rain so hard that the banks of the Charles River overflowed, the Head Of The Charles has seen it all. Here, then, are some weather highlights (and lowlights) from the Regatta's first 46 years.

  • Let's begin with the extreme. Everyone knows the story of the 100 Year Storm, which occurred on Oct. 20, 1996. That storm was the only in the Regatta's history to completely wipeout all races. So how bad was it that day? While the temperatures were a somewhat average 52 °F, the winds were of epic proportions. The average wind for the day was 32 miles per hour, with recorded gusts reaching 50 MPH. Rainfalls, that day were also record-setting as the National Weather Service recorded 5.66 inches in Cambridge. To put that in perspective, the total precipitation for all days of Regatta's remaining history is 6.67 inches. The cancelation of the 1996 Regatta led organizers to expand to the two-day event format used today the following year.

  • While the Regatta was canceled in 1996, only once has the Regatta's emergency short course been put into place for the entire weekend. That occurred in 2004 when winds caused extreme conditions in the Charles River basin forcing organizers to move the start line from the Boston University Boathouse to Riverside Boat Club. On Saturday, winds averaged 15 miles per hour from the northeast and gusted to 32 MPH. The next day, though the forecast was for milder conditions, that was hardly the case. Wind gusts reached 37 MPH to accompany nearly a half-inch of rain.

  • The Regatta's history is hardly about wind and rain, though. In fact, 23 of the 46 Regattas have seen no rain whatsoever. As for heat, the warmest day in Regatta history came on Oct. 21, 1979, when the average temperature was 68 °F. The high that day in Cambridge was a remarkable 80 °F. Humidity on that day played a big factor as well, with the dew point reaching 61 °F. The 80 °F fell two degrees short of the all-time record for that date in history, recorded in 1920.

  • The coldest day in Regatta history occurred Oct. 20, 1974, when the average temperature was 36 °F, with a low of 32 °F, tying a record originally set on that date in 1972. What made things worse that Sunday was the 1.72 inches of rain that was dumped on Cambridge to accompany the frosty temperatures. According to the National Weather Service, there was no actual recorded snowfall that day, though the temperature and precipitation could have easily have resulted in such snow.

  • That honor, of course, was saved for the 2009 Regatta, when the only recorded snowfall hit the Charles. Throughout Sunday afternoon, snowflakes the size of silver dollars fell on the rowers creating incredible photos, frosty rowers and a grand total of 0.10 inches of recorded snow, the only recorded snow accumulations in Regatta history.
So what is the ideal condition for the Regatta? Well calm winds certainly help. In fact, when US Rowing set the all-time course record (13:58.900) in 1997, winds were extremely calm, averaging 8 miles per hour from the north-northeast. There have been few days in the Regatta's history when the average wind dips below double digits. Temperatures that day were a brisk 49 °F.

How does that compare to the women's side? When USRowing's women's eight set the women's course record (15:26.572) in 2007, the wind was stronger blowing at 11 MPH from the WSW and temperatures were considerably more favorable, averaging 65 °F and reaching the day's high of 75 °F as the women's Championship Eights race launched.

What can we take from all of this? Keep your fingers crossed for mild temps and low winds. If that comes true, the 2011 Head Of The Charles will certainly be one for the record books!


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10/13/2011  11:16:49 AM
Interesting thing about the 100 year storm in 1996 - I remember driving down Memorial later in the day (around 1-2pm) and it was absolutely calm/flat water. All the wind was in the morning / earlier part of the day. Going to 2 days was a good idea.

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