It has snowed every night for the past week but only a few inches at a time. We often get more snow (or rain) later in the day, but every morning when I get up, the ground and the deck is white. Since I’m still hurting from my last fall, I’m forbidden to go out there unless it is dry which it hasn’t been in weeks.
We are heading into the 135th anniversary of the worst blizzard to ever hit the east coast of the United States. February and March are our snowiest months while January is usually our coldest. This month has not been terribly cold which is just as well since we’ve had 13 inches of snow which would translate into about 130 inches of snow — more than 10 feet — in one month.
Many people think of March as “spring” and it may be elsewhere, but in the northeast, March is still winter and it’s not unusual for the first half of April to be cold too. Blizzards in March are common, though the snow will usually melt more quickly than storms we get earlier in winter. At least in Massachusetts, February has been the month that has had the biggest blizzards.
I was 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 bloom. You can’t overestimate how dangerous weather in this region can be, especially in the spring when wind patterns are unstable and anything can happen.
I was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 11. There had been a blizzard a few days before, but apparently, it was no a problem as I was safely born in the hospital. Nonetheless, throughout my childhood everyone reminded me of the blizzard hit on my birthday before I was born. They called me “the blizzard baby.” Everyone talked about it as if it had just happened. It was a memorable storm — the biggest snowstorm ever recorded in the northeast.
On March 11, 1888 it hit the east coast. It’s officially known as the Brooklyn Blizzard of 1888 (also as “the great white blizzard”). Up and down the east coast, the Great White Hurricane buried cities from Virgina into Canada. It included parts of Ohio, too, My birthday blizzard, a foretaste weather come?
It was the worst blizzard to ever hit the city of New York and broke records from Virginia to Maine. It remains one of the worst — and most famous — storms in U.S. history.
Accumulations of 40 to 50 inches (1.5 meters, approximately) 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 a single storm in my life 36 inches, about 1 meter. The incredible storm that hit Buffalo earlier this year was about the depth of the 1888 storm.
Despite all the improvements in technology and infrastructure, that amount of snow still paralyzes us today. We still have no control of weather, a reminder of why the whole climate change issue is serious. A storm that heavy is more snow than any infrastructure can handle. Did I mention snow is heavy? 50 inches on a roof can cause it to cave in, especially if it’s a wet snow.
This wasn’t just a snowstorm. It was a superstorm and included sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds. It blanketed areas of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. It carried with it sustained winds of more than 45-miles per hour, produced drifts in excess of 50 feet high — more than 15 meters. 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 stopped. Roads and railroads were unusable. People were trapped in their houses for up to a week.
The Great White Hurricane paralyzed the Atlantic 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 major winter storm has topped the big one of 1888.