THE WHITE HURRICANE: 03-11-1888

Today is my birthday.

It’s also the anniversary of the biggest, baddest blizzard to ever hit the east coast of the United States. The early part of March is frequently stormy. Blizzards are common, though usually the snow melts quickly in the spring.

Woods in winter

I appear to have been destined for snowy climes. This is not only the story of a storm, but a cautionary tale to never forget winter isn’t over until the daffodils are in bloom. You can never overestimate how dangerous weather in this region can be, especially in the spring when wind patterns become unstable.

I was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 11. There had been a blizzard a few days before, but apparently it wasn’t a problem because I was safely born in Brooklyn Women’s Hospital. Nonetheless, throughout my childhood, no one in my family ever forgot to mention the blizzard that had hit right before I was born — they called me “the blizzard baby — and everyone still talked about my birthday storm from 1888.

Home in winter

Early March is a fine time for big snowstorms in the northeast. March 11, 1888 brought the biggest winter storm to ever hit the region. Known locally as the Brooklyn Blizzard of 1888 and up and down the east coast as the Great White Hurricane, it is my birthday blizzard, a foretaste of Marilyn to come. Or something like that.

Downtown crossing right after the 1978 blizzard

It was the worst blizzard to ever hit New York city and broke records from Virginia to Maine. It remains one of the worst — and most famous — storms in United States history. Accumulations of 40 to 50 inches were recorded. It’s hard to picture how much snow that is unless you’ve been through a few really big snowstorms. The deepest snow from one storm in my life so far was 28 inches. That’s only a bit more than half the amount of the 1888 blizzard. Despite all the changes and improvements to technology and infrastructure, that volume of snow would still paralyze us today. It’s more snow than any infrastructure can handle.

Did I mention snow is heavy? 50 inches on a standard roof will cause it to cave in. It would crush us.

It wasn’t merely a snow storm. The super storm included sub-zero temperatures and gale force winds. It was one of those occasions when people get put in their place, forcibly reminded of how strong Mother Nature is.

The storm blanketed areas of  New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It carried with it sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour. It produced drifts in excess of 50 feet. My house, at its peak, is about 40 feet, so so we are talking about drifts as high as a three-story building.

All forms of transportation were stopped. Roads and railroads were unusable. People were trapped in their houses for up to a week.

The Great White Hurricane paralyzed the U.S. East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. The storm extended all the way up into the Atlantic provinces of Canada. The telegraph went down, leaving  major cities including Montreal, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Boston without communication for days to weeks. Because of the storm, New York began putting its telegraph and telephone wiring underground to protect it from future disasters.

The seas and coastlines were not spared. In total, from the Virginia coast to New England, more than 200 ships were grounded or wrecked and more than 100 seamen died.

130 years later, no winter storm has yet topped the big one of 1888.

29 thoughts on “THE WHITE HURRICANE: 03-11-1888”

  1. Don’t forget the Great Snow of 1717. It may have been as bad as 1888. Looking at the numbers, we may have to beware of 2020. It’s about time for another one 😉

    Happy birthday.

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    1. I don’t know much about 1717 … but these big March storms have been the superstorms of their centuries. I think the most recent one was 1978, though I think it was dwarfed by the one in 1888. I’m going to have to look up 1717 and see. It must have been a humdinger since our measuring wasn’t up to snuff back then. If it knocked everything out way back before electricity et al, it had to be huge.

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  2. Many Happy Returns of the Day!! Here’s hoping you have sunshine today and not more of the miserable white stuff, but que sera sera, yes? I too am a “blizzard baby”, although I doubt the storms in Utah could match the one you describe. My mother and father, not having a car, took a taxi to the hospital when I was due, and this hospital was at the top of a very tall hill…the poor driver got a hefty tip from Pop I believe for getting us all there in one piece. Ma said he kept watching her in the rear view mirror and asking if she felt okay…suppose it wasn’t the first time he’d had to have delivered a baby, but the snow always makes the most simple task complicated. Happy Birthday Marilyn, and many more! 🙂

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