Monday, March 11, 2019

White Hell on the East Coast—The Great Blizzard of 1888

Pedestrians on Broadway in New York City battled the drifts like polar explorers and improvised head gear.

It’s been a hell of long bitter winter across most of the United States.  Parades of epic snow storms, sleet, and ice have alternated with record shattering cold.  Here in Northern Illinois a lot of those storms went north or south of us.  But, believe me, we had plenty of winter misery and everyone is sick to death of it.
This week we have our first temperatures above freezing since mid-January but the ground is still so frozen solid that one day of rain on Saturday amounting to less than an inch could not be absorbed leading to ponding, minor flooding, and wet basements.
The usual signs of spring that are evident by now most years are missing—no snow lilies, crocus, or daffodil spikes have popped up.  The peepers in the marshes and wetlands still sleep in frozen mud.  The trees are not starting to bud.
So naturally, folks are hopping that this week’s timid thaw will mark the end of winter and the last of the arctic blasts.
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.
The track of the Great Blizzard  was similar to that of hurricanes that reach the northeast coast.

Case in point…
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 Virginia to Maine.  The heaviest snow fell in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.  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.  
Crews try to free a burried locomotive and train.
In New England because of the gale force winds and the track of the center of the storm over the coastal Atlantic, the called it the White Hurricane.
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.  

111th Street in New York.
At least 400 people died ashore and about 100 sailors were killed 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 widespread and devastating.  

Burried telegraph poles.
Aren’t you glad you missed it?

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