The Netherlands’ worst years: 1672 to 1674

by Rick Roberts
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When we consider how much has happened in the year 2020 already it is amazing to think that we don’t have more stories to tell about the last 2000 or so years. Upon closer inspection is it clear that history is filled with endless stories and there are numerous cases of disaster years where everything went wrong. If we take the Dutch as an example 1672 to 1674 will always be remembered as the worst time ever, 2020 doesn’t come close.

In the Netherlands 1672 is still described as the disaster year. It was a year when the country had to defend against invasions from the French, the English, and the Germans. It was a year that the country spent entirely at war. Many cities in the country were destroyed and any money that the country had, went towards its defense. Many cities were left with nothing and Utrecht is one city in particular that stands out as having nothing left. The next years were still as tough as the country slowly tried to recover from the financial devastation and the loss of life that had taken place.

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Yet in 1674 misery found more misery as a natural disaster struck. For years this natural disaster has defied explanation. It was a summer’s day in the Netherlands. That means it was hot (but not incredibly hot) and it was humid. By the end of the day, thunderstorms were starting to occur and this makes sense in hot humid conditions, something that has been seen many times since and many times before in the country and surrounding areas. 

The strange disaster was that these thunderstorms continued to grow and become angrier. As the day went on they got worse and worse and by 6pm it was clear that something else was happening, something far greater. At around 6pm some devastating force ripped through the city of Utrecht and other surrounding areas. It was stronger than had ever been seen before and possibly since. It took the top of churches clean off, lifted boats out of the water, and left them four fields away. It lifted entire trees from the ground and sent them through the sky.

If this all sounds like a scene from the Wizard of Oz to you then you may be thinking it was a tornado that took place and for years historians agreed. Although the storm was localized a tornado is generally even more localized. While this occurrence devastated Utrecht it devastated a wider area as well. In addition, the destruction was not uniform. There were parts of Utrecht that appeared untouched while other parts were completely desecrated. 

Today scientists think that it was not just a tornado that occurred but something called a bow echo storm. This bow echo storm is so-called because when it forms in the sky it has the appearance of the circular shape of an archers bow. The middle front slightly leads the two sides as if it is charging through the sky. This echo storm moves quickly and can pass an entire area in a couple of hours, so it fits with the stories suggesting that it would pass through their location in just 15 minutes. They are also associated with localized winds called straight-line winds. In fact, these echo storms are known to produce a number of whirlwinds. So it is very likely that a tornado may have created the damage but it was not just a tornado, it was many, and it was part of a larger event.

While 2020 has been a tough year for many people, humanity has seen far worse. There are numerous years throughout history that we may simply want to strike from the record books but we can’t. If the Netherlands made it through the 1670s than we can make it through this year. Good times are on the horizon and luckily not an echo bow storm.

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