Horrific, gusting east canyon winds have been a periodic phenomenon ever since the pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.
The first record of such winds struck Davis County hard in the fall of 1848: "East winds have come from time to time (in Davis County) ever since the people can remember, doing much damage to trees and roofs," states the history book "East of Antelope Island," published by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
The first recorded incident of strong east winds comes from a diary of Daniel A. Miller, one of the earliest settlers in Farmington.
He recorded that the very first day his family arrived in the area — the fall of 1848 — there was a heavy east wind.
Early settlers created inventive ways to try to secure their roofs from these winds, but nothing seemed foolproof. One early Kaysville resident, John R. Barnes, made the east walls of his home four bricks thick to ward off canyon wind damage.
Prominent settler George D. Watt made a special windstorm shelter for his family, but he still had his home's roof blown off.
A strong east wind in the summer of 1854 was actually a miracle. The canyon winds saved the day by blowing hordes of invading grasshoppers away from Davis County crops and into the Great Salt Lake, where they perished.
Perhaps the first most widespread east winds that affected most of the Wasatch Front was recorded on May 12, 1859.
The Deseret News of May 18, 1859, reported:
"On last Thursday evening, the wind commenced blowing in this city from the east and continued to increase in velocity till three or four o'clock on Friday morning when it reached the height of its fury and came rushing down from the Wasatch range through the kanyons (sic) opening into Great Salt Lake Valley, sweeping every thing before it that was not sufficiently strong, or firmly attached to terra firma to resist its force."
The account continued:
"Much damage was done to buildings, fences and other erections ... The gale seems to have been the strongest at Farmington, Davis County, where the house of Wells Smith and of David Hess were completely destroyed, eight more unroofed and many others materially injured ... and nearly once half the fences in that vicinity were prostrated."
The newspaper reported that the wind was also severe in Centerville and destroyed the home of Thomas Rich, plus another eight or 10 homes and barns were unroofed.
Residents of Ogden city and Weber County reported considerable damage to buildings and fences too.
The courthouse in Brigham City had the roof blown off and then the walls fell in, making it a "total wreck."
Salt Lake County reported loose items blown all over, carriages overturned and much dust and gravel in motion.
Still, there were no reports of fatalities.
The Deseret News reported that there had been several other gales in previous years "that would make a man wish he was somewhere else out of this cold, high, airy, mountainous region, if there was any other place on earth he could dwell in peace."
The Deseret News reported another major east wind event on Nov. 16, 1860, as reported in the newspaper of Nov. 21, 1860.
Due to its proximity to Emigration Canyon, the wind was worst in the Sugar House area of Salt Lake City.
Again there was considerable damage done to buildings, barns and fences. Roofs were blown off in Centerville and somehow the wind help start a fire and then intensify it so that a mule and some 106 sheep and tons of hay were consumed.
"Three houses at Freedom (one of Kaysville's early names), including the large dwelling of Bishop Taylor were unroofed," the newspaper reported.
"The City of Ogden suffered severely ... The large and elegant Tabernacle was considerable (sic) damaged."
Hurricane-force east winds struck at least twice in the early 1860s, and the roof on the East Bountiful chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had to be replaced twice.
After one such east wind, the Tuttle brothers from Bountiful jokingly inquired if any missing hats had been found on Antelope Island.
The east winds were a very feared and dreaded occurrence, especially in Farmington. Canyon winds and water shortages plagued many early Davis settlers the most.
Perhaps the saddest east wind incident took place in February 1864 when Elizabeth Rigby of south Farmington and her 18-month-old son, John, froze to death after being pinned against a fence by hurricane force canyon winds. Husband John Rigby had left his family to travel to Salt Lake City for medicine. Upon returning, he not only discovered the two deaths, but the home's roof was also blown off and 200 sheep, six horses, 10 cows and four pigs perished because of downed buildings and the frigid winds.
During a Nov. 9, 1864, visit to Farmington with Wilford Woodruff when the canyon winds were blowing, President Brigham Young rebuked the winds in the name of the Lord, Wilford Woodruff noted and is published in "Wilford Woodruff — History of His Life and Labors."
Woodruff's diary reports that east winds did decrease substantially for some years afterward, perhaps as long as the late 1890s.3 comments on this story
When Matthew Cowley reviewed Woodruff's diary in 1909 before its publication in "Wilford Woodruff — History of His Life and Labors," he noted:
"In late years these winds have occurred in some of their old-time severity."
Strong east winds struck Davis County twice during 1896 and two more times in 1898. A fierce canyon wind in 1906 took the roof off the 2-year-old West Bountiful chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sources: Deseret News Archives; "East of Antelope Island" book, by Daughters of Utah Pioneers; "Weather and Climate" book, by Dan Pope and Clayton Brough.