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Robert McNamara

The Great Blizzard of 1888

By February 11, 2013

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Whenever a blizzard is in the news it's a reminder of the colossal and deadly storm that, for generations, was the blizzard. When people living in the American Northeast woke on a Monday morning, March 12, 1888, they were stunned by a world of whiteness outside their windows.

The rain of the night before had turned to snow after midnight. Temperatures plummeted, and a steady howling wind created the notorious Blizzard of 1888. It would be considered the most famous weather event in history.

In New York City, drifts of snow 15 feet high blocked some streets. New Yorkers, who had become reliant on the new elevated railroads, discovered the mechanical wonders, mainstays of metropolitan life, had become useless.

Cities which had been connected for decades by skeins of telegraph wires were abruptly cut off from the outside world. And everyday life became perilous as people were simply overwhelmed by the horrendous conditions.

On the streets of Manhattan frozen bodies were discovered in snowdrifts. One of the most famous politicians of the day became disoriented in a drift and nearly died (and would die of complications a month later). And while a spectacular train collision on the Third Avenue Elevated produced miraculously few casualties, it emphasized the need for a railroad under the ground.

Alarmed by food shortages, newspapers of the day even warned of a potential famine. Things did return to normal fairly soon for most people, but the Blizzard of '88 became the storm everyone told their children and grandchildren about.

More: The Blizzard of 1888

Illustration: Scene of the Great Blizzard in New York City, from the front page of an illustrated newspaper/Library of Congress

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