New York City Blizzard of 1888
Prelude to the Snowstorm of 1888
The snowstorm that occurred on January 26, 2015, was predicted to be one of historic proportion, fortunately, only a small portion of the New York City area was hit by it. Obviously, the meteorologists cannot predict the exact location of the storm center since the center of the storm was 50-miles further east than they have expected it to be over the Atlantic Ocean. Had they been right this storm would have gone down in the pages of significant meteorological events.
However, the blizzard of March 1888 in New York City is considered to be one of the most famous blizzards in American history on record because it was created by a rare combination of meteorological events. In fact two blizzards occurred that year, one in the Midwest around the Nebraska region on January 12, 1888, and the other in the northeastern region of the country on March 11-14, 1888. The blizzard of March is often called the "The Great Blizzard of 1888" and by another name "The White Hurricane." This is the first blizzard to be captured in pictures.
It was calm and unseasonably mild the day before the storm. It was bright, clear, sunny day without a single cloud in the sky. Everyone in New York and along the eastern region of the country was enjoying balmy weather before the storm. Temperatures on March 11 were in the 40s and 50s. People have already started planning their gardens. It was only about a week before the first day of spring. On that day heavy rain began falling and on March 12, the temperature dropped dramatically and the wind began to pickup and the heavy rain turned to heavy snow.
What started the Storm
The Great Blizzard of 1888 started as a result of a collision of two major low pressure systems. A mass of Arctic air from Canada moved in from the West to combine with a warm air mass from the Gulf of Mexico that moved up the coast as a Nor'easter. Today people along the East coast up to the Northeast hear about this system all the time. The two storms combined right off the Jersey coast and started a super storm like a hurricane with an eye with wind whipping around it. The storm stalled for four days off the coast.
Conditions continued to get worse after the storm became more organized. Light snow started falling about 3 PM and by midnight there were 3 inches of snow on the ground. By midnight the snow intensified. Wind gusts up to 85 miles per hour were reported in New York City and sailors at sea called the storm "The White Hurricane" because of the blinding wind slept snow. The weather got so cold, with temperatures below zero, that sparrows were found frozen on the telephone wires. The next morning during the peak of the storm residents in New York witnessed a total whiteout and some residents bravely walked across a semi-frozen East River between Queens and Manhattan. When the storm hit New York, 15,000 people were left stranded on elevated trains in the city. Even the Stock Exchange was affected by the storm, only 30 of the 1,000 people employed showed up for work that day. After the storm the Stock Exchange remain closed for three days.
Some famous celebrities at time, such as Mark Twain, the famous writer, and P. T. Barnum, the circus entertainer, were stranded in New York at the height of storm. P. T. Barnum continued to put on a show for the stranded at Madison Square Garden.
The storm continued without letting down for 36 hours. After it was all over, the entire eastern coast from Virginia to Maine was paralayzed.
The Aftermath of The Storm
The storm caused 25 million dollars in damage. Most of the damage was cause by fires that could not be put out because fire equipments were useless during the storm. Communications between New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D. C. were completely knock out for two days due to snapped telegraph and telephone wires.Today many of the gas lines and communication lines in New York and other cities are underground from the communication crisis cause by the blizzard. The shipping industry took a big hit when two-hundred ships were put out of service and one hundred sailors were lost at sea. A total of about four-hundred deaths were reported after the storm.
Many residents were without food for several days after the storm because in those days people only brought food for one day. People were also without heat for several days since it was impossible to make coal deliveries because the road was impassable. It would take several days to clear those roads.
The storm dumped up 50 inches of snow in most places with wind drifts up to 20 feet high going up to the second floor of some buildings in New York. The deep snow left all trains snow bounded and it took several days before they were moving again. This transportation crisis after the storm started the planning and building of the New York Subway System we know today.
The storm also cause damages all along the East coast. Many ships were sunk in docks and many residents in other places faced the same problems as the residents of New York did.
In closing, there have been many blizzards since the "The Great Blizzard of 1888." But none of these have top it in intensity and duration. Below is a list of notable blizzards since this one.
Other Notable Blizzards since 1888
Armistice Day Storm (November 11-12, 1940), The Great Midwest Blizzard (January 26-27, 1967), Blizzard of 1978 (January 25-27, 1978), Superstorm of 1993—also dubbed the "Storm of the Century" (March 12-13, 1993); Blizzard of 1996 (Jan. 7, 1996), Blizzard of 2010 (February 5-6, MidAtlantic States)
© 2009 Melvin Porter
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