Deep Freeze 2018

 

Day breaks on Boathouse Row and a frozen-solid Schuylkill

For two straight weeks bridging 2017 and 2018, December 26th to January 8th, the mercury never crept above 32º. Those 14 sub-freezing days tied with 1979 and 1940 for the second-longest cold spell in the city’s recorded history, according to a thing I found on the internet. Only 1961’s 16-day streak beats it. Throw in a new phrase “bomb cyclone” to liven up a brutal winter storm in the middle of that cold spell, and you’ve either got more than enough reason to cuddle up next to the fire with a glass of cabernet, or you layer up to take advantage of an ever rarer phenomenon: deeply frozen rivers.

Friends of the Wissahickon’s 2018 calendar features photos from the historic archives they share with Chestnut Hill Conservancy, and January features a 1935 photo of ice skaters in front of Valley Green Inn. It seems like a long-gone era, but this two-week deep freeze had bodies of water so solid that not only were people walking out onto Wissahickon Creek, but a few guys cleared the snow in a stretch of the creek near the Henry Avenue Bridge and set up an ice hockey (and figure skating) rink. Winter classic indeed. And the Schuylkill River was so solid that I walked out 20 yards onto the ice to watch the sunrise, just because.

Over on the Delaware River, the upper reaches of the river froze with such intensity and depth that the enormous chunks of ice are STILL jammed up at the falls in Trenton, creating incredible photos ops that reach all the way to Philly, where the melting ice is still floating past Penn Treaty Park and Race Street Pier. Friday the 12th was the real stunner, with 60º temperatures clashing with the still-frozen waterways to produce advection fog that I heard more than one person refer to as a Philly film noir scene.

The photos below, more or less in chronological order, span two weeks and many miles across the Delaware’s watershed: Wises Mill Run, Cresheim Creek, Wissahickon Creek, Schuylkill River, the mighty De La Warr. Click any photo below to launch the gallery.

About the author

Bradley Maule is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and the creator of Philly Skyline. He's a native of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and he's hung his hat in Shippensburg, Germantown, G-Ho, Fishtown, Portland OR, Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.



4 Comments


  1. These are great – Thanks Mr Maule!

  2. Great shots, Brad. “Snow Angels” is a cheeky fav. You’re so caught up in getting the shot…only after you click do you realize how incredibly cold it is and…why are you out there taking pictures?! 🙂

  3. Thanks for these great winster shots… Speaking of the frozen Delaware, this is from my book, Philadelphia’s Lost Waterfront (2011):
    From the Vine Street Landing and other places that offered easy access to the Delaware, people would skate on the iced-over river during the many times it froze in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Skating early on became a sport in which Philadelphians were noted, possibly because Quaker leaders approved of this ostensibly frivolous pursuit.
    Watson describes the scene vividly. On days the Delaware was frozen, booths were put up to sell refreshments to the gathered crowd; sometimes an ox roast would add to the excitement. Horses were also specially shod for racing sleighs on the solid river, and the course would go miles upstream. The ice could get so thick—often more than two feet—that horses pulled loaded ferryboats across the channel atop the ice!
    It’s no wonder that the first icebreaker in the world was built for Philadelphia in 1837 to keep traffic moving on the Delaware during winter months. Christened City Ice Boat No. 1, this was the first of a local fleet of such ships. Its original steam engine was made by Philadelphia’s Matthias Baldwin, who later won fame for his railroad locomotives. City Boat 1 cost $70,000 to build and remained in service for eighty years.

  4. Beautiful winter shots. Love the tiger!

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