Winter can be a perilous time. Winter conditions can cause accidents for drivers and pedestrians alike who venture out, especially after a good snow. Sometimes enough snow falls that it shuts down a major city for a time, like the blizzard in 2011 that stranded cars on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. But only once has there ever been a storm like the one in 1888 that shut down the entire East Coast for a whole week, from Maine to New Jersey and even parts of Canada, dumping almost 60 inches of snow in some places.
The winter of 1887 - 88 had been the mildest in 17 years, and March 10, 1888, was the warmest day so far. At 9:30 p.m., the temperature was still in the 50's, with the weather reports all pointing to a continued run of even warmer weather. But no one knew that a monstrous Arctic storm was barreling in at 80 mph. It began on March 11 as a windy downpour, which quickly turned to a vicious hurricane, blowing snow instead of rain for the next 24 hours, as the temperature plunged. The wind whipped up enormous waves that sank nearly 200 ships, and blew snow into drifts as high as 52 ft. In New York City, the city hardest hit, the blizzard buried multiple-story buildings, downed telegraph wires, forced the NY stock exchange to close, and stopped the elevated trains from running, stranding the city for a whole week. Basic necessities were difficult or impossible to obtain, as the few stores that managed to stay open quickly ran out of supplies. Many people were unable to get home from work, and many more were buried by snow as they tried to walk home. Over 400 people died, half of them from New York City.
This disaster, which became known as “The Blizzard of '88,” was responsible for improvements in New York City and other cities. Telephone, telegraph, gas, water, and power lines were all buried underground instead of being strung above the city. New York's first subway was built, and many improvements were made that made detecting weather patterns easier and more reliable.