This Month In History
March 2015

This Month in NYS History – The Great Blizzard of '88 Struck the Northeast – March 1888

The Great Blizzard of '88 Struck the Northeast – March 1888
The Great Blizzard of '88 Struck the Northeast – March 1888
One of the worst blizzards in American history hit the Northeast in the early morning of March 12, 1888. The storm, which resulted in the death of more than 400 people, dumped as much as 60 inches of snow in some areas. Along the Atlantic coast, hundreds of boats were sunk due to high winds and heavy waves, while major cities, such as New York, were ground to a near halt.

On March 11, 1888 temperatures plummeted. Shortly after midnight the rain quickly turned to sleet and heavy snow, while winds reached hurricane strength levels. The blizzard raged from March 11th to March 14th. It was reported that Saratoga Springs, NY received 58 inches, Troy, NY reported 55 inches, and 48 inches was reported in Albany, NY.

New York City received just 21 inches. However, winds that gusted to 85 miles an hour caused snow drifts towering 20 feet. Subzero temperatures caused the East River, running between Manhattan and Queens, to freeze. New York City’s transportation system was left paralyzed. Boat, rail, and road transport was impossible for days. As a result, food and coal deliveries halted, residents were unable to travel to work, and up to 15,000 people were stranded on New York’s elevated trains. The storm claimed the life of 200 people in New York City.

One New York Times reporter observed:

“In looking back at the events of yesterday the most amazing thing to the residents of this great city must be the ease with which the elements were able to overcome boasted triumph of civilization.... The elevated trains became useless; so did the telegraph wires, the telephone wires, the wires for conveying the electric lights, the wires for giving the alarms of fire. And worse than useless, they became dangerous… It is hard to believe in this last quarter of the nineteenth century that for even one day New York could be so completely isolated from the rest of the world as if Manhattan Island was in the middle of the South Sea.”

After the storm, officials throughout the Northeast began moving telegraph, water, and gas lines below ground. In New York City, a decision was made to create an underground rail system. By 1904, New York’s first subway line opened.