Surface analysis of Blizzard on March 12, 1888 at 10 p.m.
|Lowest pressure||980 hPa (29 inHg)|
|Maximum snowfall or ice accretion||58 inches (147 cm)|
|Damage||$25 million in 1888 (equivalent to $710 million in 2021)|
|Areas affected||Eastern United States, Eastern Canada|
The Great Blizzard of 1888, Great Blizzard of '88, or the Great White Hurricane (March 11-14, 1888) was one of the most severe recorded blizzards in American history. The storm paralyzed the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine, as well as the Atlantic provinces of Canada. Snow fell from 10 to 58 inches (25 to 147 cm) in parts of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, and sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) produced snowdrifts in excess of 50 feet (15 m). Railroads were shut down and people were confined to their homes for up to a week. Railway and telegraph lines were disabled, and this provided the impetus to move these pieces of infrastructure underground. Emergency services were also affected.
The weather was unseasonably mild just before the blizzard, with heavy rains that turned to snow as temperatures dropped rapidly. The storm began in earnest shortly after midnight on March 12 and continued unabated for a full day and a half. In a 2007 article, the National Weather Service estimated that this Nor'easter dumped as much as 50 inches (130 cm) of snow in parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts, while parts of New Jersey and New York had up to 40 inches (100 cm). Most of northern Vermont received from 20 inches (51 cm) to 30 inches (76 cm).
Drifts averaged 30-40 feet (9.1-12.2 m), over the tops of houses from New York to New England, with reports of drifts covering three-story houses. The highest drift was recorded in Gravesend, Brooklyn at 52 feet or 16 metres. 58 inches (150 cm) of snow fell in Saratoga Springs, New York; 48 inches (120 cm) in Albany, New York; 45 inches (110 cm) in New Haven, Connecticut; and 22 inches (56 cm) in New York City. The storm also produced severe winds; 80 miles per hour (129 km/h) wind gusts were reported, although the highest official report in New York City was 40 miles per hour (64 km/h), with a 54 miles per hour (87 km/h) gust reported at Block Island. New York's Central Park Observatory reported a minimum temperature of 6 °F (-14 °C), and a daytime average of 9 °F (-13 °C) on March 13, the coldest ever for March.
In New York, neither rail nor road transport was possible anywhere for days, and drifts across the New York-New Haven rail line at Westport, Connecticut, took eight days to clear. Transportation gridlock as a result of the storm was partially responsible for the creation of the first underground subway system in the United States, which opened nine years later in Boston. The New York Stock Exchange was closed for two days.
Similarly, telegraph infrastructure was disabled, isolating Montreal and most of the large northeastern U.S. cities from Washington, D.C. to Boston for days. Following the storm, New York began placing its telegraph and telephone infrastructure underground to prevent their destruction.
Fire stations were immobilized, and property loss from fire alone was estimated at $25 million (equivalent to $710 million in 2021). The blizzard resulted in the founding of the Christman Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary located near Delanson, New York.
From Chesapeake Bay through the New England area, more than 200 ships were either grounded or wrecked, resulting in the deaths of at least 100 seamen. More than 400 people died from the storm and the ensuing cold, including 200 in New York City alone. Efforts were made to push the snow into the Atlantic Ocean. Severe flooding occurred after the storm due to melting snow, especially in the Brooklyn area, which was susceptible to flooding because of its topography.
Not all areas were notably affected by the Blizzard of 1888; an article in the Cambridge Press published five days after the storm noted that the "fall of snow in this vicinity was comparatively small, and had it not been accompanied by a strong wind it would have been regarded as rather trifling in amount, the total depth, on a level, not exceeding ten inches".
On 1 October 1888, an article appeared in the first issue of the National Geographic Society magazine about the great blizzard. It was written by Edward Everett Hayden and described the blizzard and the courageous and successful struggle, told by boat-keeper Robert Robinson, of the crew from the pilot-boat Charles H. Marshall, No. 3.
Perhaps the most important legacy of the Blizzard of 1888 was the Boston subway system. Alarmed by the paralysis and economic damage the storm caused, Boston decided to build a subway.
There is no overstating the significant impact this tragedy had on the metropolis, especially on transportation. The resulting standstill on the elevated lines resulted in the city adopting a plan to build subways.