Little Bits of History

Great Blizzard of 1888

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 11, 2015
Great Blizzard of 1888 - 11th Street in New York City after the storm

Great Blizzard of 1888 – 11th Street in New York City after the storm

March 11, 1888: The Great Blizzard of 1888 begins. It lasted until March 14 and was one of the most severe blizzards in the history of the United States. The extratropical cyclone or Nor’easter began with unseasonably mild temperatures but with heavy rainfall. As the temperature dropped the rain turned into snow shortly after midnight March 12. The snows and winds held sway for a day and a half. The National Weather Service recorded as much as 50 inches of snow in parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Parts of New Jersey and New York got up to 40 inches while most of northern Vermont got 20-30 inches. Saratoga Springs, New York reported 58 inches of snow, Albany had 48 inches, New Haven, Connecticut had 45 inches, and New York City reported 22 inches.

Drifting was reported to have averaged 30-40 feet from New York into New England. Gravesend, New York reported the highest drift at 52 feet. The severe winds topped out at 80 mph gusts. New York City’s highest reported wind gusts were at 40 mph while Block Island had 54 mph gusts. New York Central Park Observatory had a minimum daytime temperature of ⁰F 6 and a daytime average of ⁰F 9 on March 13, the coldest ever reported for March. Sustained winds of more than 45 mph in other regions produced the enormous drifts. The lowest pressure of the storm was measured at 982 hPa or 29.0 inHg.

The storm was also called the Great White Hurricane and it paralyzed the East Coast of the US from Chesapeake Bay to Maine. It also affected the Atlantic provinces of Canada. The telegraph infrastructure was disabled and Montreal was isolated. Most of the area from Washington, D.C. to Boston suffered the same fate. After the storm, New York began to install telegraph and telephone lines underground to avoid this disastrous result in future storms. More than 200 ships were either grounded or wrecked by the storm and accounted for more than 100 of the 400 deaths attributed to the storm.

It took eight days to clear the New York – New Haven rail line at Westport, Connecticut and the transportation gridlock was responsible for the adoption of underground subway systems. The New York Stock Exchange was closed for two days. Fire stations were unable to respond to calls (if a call could even get through) and property loss from fire alone was estimated at $25 million ($660 million today). After the storm finally abated, there was flooding from the melting snow, especially in the Brooklyn area – always prone to flooding due to topography. There were attempts made to push snow into the ocean itself. One positive, the storm led to the founding of the Christman Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary near Delanson, New York in Schenectady County.

New Yorkers, in general, love disaster. They love blizzards, power failures, etc. (I don’t mean that they loved September 11.) A shared disaster brings them together more — ethnically, racially — because the disaster affects almost all of them, making no distinctions. Their manners are generally very good indeed. And their generosity can be without limits. – Pete Hamill

Blizzards, floods, volcanos, hurricanes, earthquakes: They fascinate because they nakedly reveal that Mother Nature, afflicted with bipolar disorder, is as likely to snuff us as she is to succor us. – Dean Koontz

The greatest blizzards start with the finest snow. – Mark Helprin

The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches. – E. E. Cummings

Also on this day: Freedom of the Press? – In 1702, England got its first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant.
Great Sheffield Flood – In 1864, the South Yorkshire, England region was flooded after a dam failed.
LAX – In 1882, the Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association was formed.
Roxy Theater – In 1927, the Roxy Theater opened in New York City.
Death and More Death – In 1946, Rudolf Hoss was arrested.


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