Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Great Blizzard of 1888

I am a woman of the mid-Atlantic, with deep paternal roots in Virginia and a heart that beats for a climate with long, warm days and the pounding of the ocean surf. I like experiencing all four seasons --  the beautiful, riotous blooms of spring, and bountiful colors of autumn. I accept the hot, hazy, humid days of summer in exchange for a small, very small, dose of winter.

Yet I find myself living, temporarily, in upstate New York. The Hudson River Valley is beautiful country with mountains to the east and west of the river and much history to explore. The winter of 2017-2018 has been brutal, however. So far I have survived wind gales over 60 mph accompanied by below zero temperatures and much snow. I long for spring!

When I heard another 10 inches of snow was expected in early March, I began to wonder if winter would ever end. Surfing the Internet for some answer as to when my suffering would be over, I found as I always seem to do times when upstaters had it worse. One such day occurred 130 years ago.

In March 1888 the 11th day fell on a Sunday. Light snow began to fall about 3:00 p.m. and there was 3 inches of snow on the ground at midnight. The storm intensified overnight and people of the New York capital region awoke to 18 inches of snow accumulation. The snow continued to fall on the 12th and the 13th of March before finally stopping about 3:00 a.m. on the morning of the 14th. What became known as the Great Blizzard of 1888 dropped nearly 47 inches of snow with drifts up to 50 feet high. All these years later, the great blizzard still holds the record snowfall for a storm in Albany by 20 inches.

Albany, New York, after the Great Blizzard of 1888; courtesy of the Albany
Institute of History and Art, Morris Gerber Collection

The blizzard paralyzed the Eastern seaboard from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. Trains stopped running, telegraph wires fell, and people were confined to their homes for days at a time. With no coal being delivered, people's houses went unheated. It was this blizzard that impelled government officials to move pieces of infrastructure underground.

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