The historical worst blizzard of 1888

CJ Coombs
Photo by Annie Nyle on Unsplash.

Don't underestimate the power of snowfall.

The worst blizzard in our history in the United States took place on the East Coast affecting the Chesapeake Bay up to Maine and into eastern Canada. The blizzard lasted for four days from March 11–14, 1888. Few storms are as iconic as the “Blizzard of ‘88'."

The amount of snowfall including ice was up to 58 inches in areas of the states of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Some of the snowdrifts produced by 45 mph winds exceeded 50 feet. 

As a result of the snowstorm, railroads couldn’t operate and people were paralyzed for about a week in their homes. Communication via telegraph lines wasn’t functioning. Within 10 years of this storm, an underground subway would be constructed.
Park Place in Brooklyn, NY on March 14, 1888.Source.

About the storm

Before the blizzard hit, it was raining and the temperatures started to drop. Interestingly, on March 10, the temperature was in the 50s. On March 11, soon to be midnight, the storm came crawling in and lasted for a day and a half. 

The blizzard’s impact was so great that, until 1969, survivors met to commemorate the storm’s anniversary. The storm caused officials to recognize the advantages of putting power and telegraph lines, as well as public transit, underground. (Source.)

Houses and trains were buried by the high snowdrifts. More than 400 people died which included seaman. Ships were sunk. From Washington D.C. to Maine, people were affected by this storm. Due to the strong winds and waves up the coastline, boats were sinking.

By midnight on March 11, gusts were recorded at 85 miles per hour in New York City. Along with heavy snow, there was a complete whiteout in the city when the residents awoke the next morning. (Source.)
Brooklyn, NY after the storm.Source: Breading G. Way, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Other resources above the ground such as water mains that would freeze, and gas lines were affected and repair crews couldn’t reach them due to inaccessibility. And you couldn’t just get out on the streets to walk; it was too dangerous. A lot of people were stranded and some even died

The trapped

Writer Mark Twain was trapped in a hotel for days. Circus entertainer P.T. Barnum was entertaining stranded people at Madison Square Garden.

Some people were stranded on pieces of frozen ice on the East River when they tried to cross it because the ice broke up and was moving with the tide. 


The historic snowfall to areas north of New York City are indicated below:

  • Keene, New Hampshire — 36 inches
  • New Haven, Connecticut — 45 inches
  • Troy, New York — 55 inches

Seven months later on October 1, 1888, an article authored by Edward Everett Hayden (a naval officer, inventor, and meteorologist) about this storm appeared in the first issue of the National Geographic Society magazine.

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30 years of legal secretarial experience, and a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. Thinker, giver, and lover of life. Born into Air Force service life, my life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, truth, non-fiction, reading, history, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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