Today is my birthday. It’s also the anniversary of the biggest, baddest blizzard to ever hit the east coast of the United States. This year, it snowed just the other day. There’s talk of more snow next week. The early part of March is frequently stormy. Blizzards are relatively common, though usually when the sun is this high in the sky, the snow melts pretty quickly. But not always.
I appear to have been karmically 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 this time of year when wind patterns become unstable with the upcoming change of seasons.
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 neglected to mention the blizzard that had hit the area just before I was born.
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.
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.
125 years later, no winter storm has topped the big one of 1888.
- The Great White Hurricane Of 1888 (stevengoddard.wordpress.com)
- U.S. blizzards to begin getting names (kshb.com)
- Hurricane Sandy’s big size presents huge problems (earthsky.org)
- Major Blizzards in U.S. History (history.com)
- Nemo’s Got Nothing On 1888 (newhavenindependent.org)
- Worst Blizzards in History (katenews2day.wordpress.com)
- NOAA : Five Worst Snowstorms In US History All Occurred Before 1960 (stevengoddard.wordpress.com)
- Ye Blizzard Men and Ladies (city-journal.org)