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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Today Marks 127th Anniversary of 'Great White Hurricane'

08fig02I've always maintained that the most difficult months to forecast the weather are March and April. The transition from Winter to Spring can bring just about any kind of weather to the region. Although our weather has been relatively quiet over the last two weeks, another storm will bring rain, wind, and some snow to the region later tomorrow.

Did you know that this week also marks the 127th anniversary of arguably the most famous snowstorm in American history? The famous Blizzard of 1888 has been known as The Great White Hurricane due to the heavy amounts of snow, ferocious winds, and prolonged duration. The storm actually lasted from March 11 through March 14, 1888.

Remarkably, the days leading up to the blizzard were unseasonably mild, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s along the East Coast. The storm initially brought torrential rains to the Northeast, but on March 12th the rain changed to heavy snow, temperatures plunged, and a ferocious wind began. The rest, as they say, is history.

The storm continued for the next 36 hours. Sources vary, but the National Weather Service estimated that fifty inches of snow fell in much of Connecticut and Massachusetts and forty inches covered New York and New Jersey. Winds blew up to 48 miles an hour, creating snowdrifts forty to fifty feet high. Snowdrifts of 10 to 13 feet high and over a mile long were reported in Bridgeport, Connecticut!

The storm paralyzed the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. The photo above shows the depth of the snow in New York City between 5th and 6th Avenues. In fact, much of the telegraph system in New York City was demolished. The telegraph and telephone wires snapped, isolating New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington for days. According to various sources, more than any other event, it was this storm that popularized the practice of burying communication lines instead of placing them above ground. 

In addition, two hundred ships were grounded, and at least one hundred seamen died. Fire stations were immobilized, and property loss from fire alone was estimated at $25 million. Overall, more than 400 deaths were reported. The photo below of the horse-drawn sleigh is courtesy of the Historic National Weather Service Collection. It dramatically illustrates the magnitude of the storm.


The Vernal Equinox is just nine days away, and the battle between Old Man Winter and Mother Nature is just heating up. Winter refuses to lighten its grip, while Spring is eager to take control. That clash has led to many memorable weather events over the years. In fact, one of the worst ice storms in recent memory occurred on March 17, 2007, when it took me almost three hours to get to work. Spring can't some soon enough.