Friday, March 11, 2016

The Great Blizzard of 1888 —White Hell

Trying to cross Broadway in New York City at the height of the the Blizzard of '88.

Here in McHenry County, Illinois it will be in the 50’s today.  The crocuses are opening and the daffodils are in spike.  The trees are begging to boud.  Robins are back and the redwing black birds sing from last year’s cat tails in the fen nearby.  All the classic signs of early spring are upon us.
It is coming after an El Nino winter when we had about three slush-turn-to-icy snow storms, some rain, and a few brushes with storms that were serious elsewhere but turned into dusting here.
So naturally, folks are talking about it as if we will not see a flake again or waken to ice in the bird bath.  Not so fast, sez I.  I remember some epic blizzards in late March and early April, including one that dumped nearly a foot of wet, heavy snow on what was supposed to be Cub Opening Day at Wrigley Field.  Of course it melted in a couple of days.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that nature can whoop us up-side the head still and laugh about it.
Case in point…
A train wreck in the snow drifts.

On March 11 the Great Blizzard of 1888 started—the worst and most devastating snow storm in American history.  The East Coast was enjoying unseasonably warm and pleasant weather when heavy rain began moving in from the Atlantic.  Shortly after midnight on the 11th temperatures plummeted and the rain turned to snow. 
Snow lasted through the next three days as band after band of snow pelted states from Maine to Virginia.  The heaviest snow fell in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.  More than 50 inches fell across a wide region and sustained winds of more than 40 miles per hour with gusts up to 80, piled up drifts more than thirty feet high, burying homes and shops.  
Digging out.  Gotta wonder about the folks across the street....

Everything ground to a halt.  It took more than a week to dig out most cities—a job that had to literally be done by hand.  Temperatures were in the single digits by day and colder by night. 
At least 400 people died ashore and about 100 sailors died when more than 200 ships were run aground or wrecked.  With fire departments unable to respond, fires burned uncontrolled in several cities.  When the storm finally passed and spring weather started melting the snow, flooding was wide spread and devastating. 
Aren’t you glad you missed it?


  1. Patrick, Hello! My name is Daryl Kane, I live in Tennessee, doing geneology and just found out yesterday that my Great Grandfather died in the Blizzard of 1888 at the Stamford RR Station. I was never able to find anything out about him, death record, etc. Your photo is great! I'm just guessing here,
    but could it possibly be Stamford??? Do you have one? I got a picture just of the station -- no snow of course -- but would love one of the snow. If you happen to have the time some day, I would greatly appreciate it.
    Thank you for your contribution to history.
    Daryl Kane

  2. Sorry, all the photo I used were found by Google image search for Blizzard of 1888. Perhaps you can find what you are looking for there.