Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Great Blizzard of 1888

Date:   March 11-14, 1888 
Location:   New York City and the Northeast

Known as "The White Hurricane" and starting as a freezing rainstorm on March 11th, this late season Nor'easter quickly became one of the worst storm events ever recorded along the eastern seaboard. Its effects were felt from Boothbay Harbor Maine to Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

Although areas both north and south of the city were severely impacted,  low population densities limited the destructive force of the storm in outlying areas. 50 inches of snow fell in Connecticut and Massachusetts and in areas of New Jersey and Long Island. Saratoga Springs, New York was buried under 58 inches of snow. 

The city itself received between 25-35 inches of snow. The sustained winds of nearly 50 mph, with gusts up to 80 miles per hour, created huge drifts, the highest of which was recorded at Gravesend, in Brooklyn, at 52 feet. 

True blizzard conditions lasted for nearly 40 hours in New York City,  freezing the East River solid. Hundreds of moored boats and ferries were destroyed as a result. Trains froze in place on the tracks. The city's water supply froze solid. Telegraph poles and thousands of miles of their thick electrical cables collapsed under the onslaught of ice and wind. 

The city was plunged into darkness and vicious cold (9 degrees, the lowest ever recorded temperature for March) caused over 400 deaths total, mostly in New York City, and mostly on the Lower East Side, Five Points, and other impoverished neighborhoods, since coal delivery was rendered an impossibility. One of the most famous victims of the storm was Senator Roscoe Conkling, a powerful machine politician who controlled Federal employment in the city.  

In other areas of the city, unchecked fires broke out, and when the storm finally did thaw, many areas of Manhattan were flooded. In the storm's aftermath, New York City began building its subway system and placing its electrical and telephone lines below ground.

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