I read Judah Cohen’s opinion piece in the New York Times yesterday and could not decide if he was being serious or not when he concluded “It’s all a snow job by nature. The reality is, we’re freezing not in spite of climate change but because of it.“
He had to be joking, right? There is no way a “director of seasonal forecasting at an atmospheric and environmental research firm” could possibly believe the weather we are experiencing out here on the east coast is in any way different from the past. One need only look through past issues of the New York Times itself to debunk that idea.
I went to the archives section of the newspaper and did a simple headline search on the word “blizzard”, then scanned through the oldest articles first looking for references to blizzards in New York City. A blizzard in mid-March 1888 immediately jumped out as a particularly memorable storm. A headline from the newspaper read:
IN A BLIZZARD’S GRASP
THE WORST STORM THE CITY HAS EVER KNOWN
BUSINESS AND TRAVEL COMPLETELY SUSPENDED
New-York helpless in a tornado of wind and snow which paralyzed all industry, isolated the city from the rest of the country, caused many accidents and great discomfort, and exposed it to many dangers.
Two feet of snow fell in New York City during the storm, and the wind approached, but did not quite reach, 50 miles per hour. The blizzard was quite expansive, stretching from Ohio to Boston. A report from Cleveland read “Worst snowstorm in a long period of years” with high winds and heavily falling snow following a winter “unusually mild and free from snow, only an occasional cold wave indicating the season of the year“.
While that winter may have been mild in Cleveland, 1888 proved quite harsh in the prairie states. A massive blizzard that accompanied arctic cold of 20 to 40 degrees below zero stretched from Texas to the Dakotas on January 12. Two headlines from the New York Times that January summed up the massive storm. First from January 13:
THE NORTHWEST BLIZZARD; SEVERAL LIVES LOST AND MANY PERSONS MISSING.
THE RAILROADS BLOCKADED, TRAINS ABANDONED, AND GREAT DAMAGE CAUSED TO LIVE STOCK.
“Yesterday’s storm proved to be of much greater severity than was at first supposed. It was general throughout Minnesota, Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and railroad men say it has not been surpassed since 1872. The storm effects were most severe from the peculiar action of the winds and drifts.“
And another from January 21:
THE BLIZZARD’S VICTIMS
TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY SEVEN LIVES LOST
The New York City blizzard of March, 1888 certainly left a lasting impression, as it was used to measure several other bruising storms that occurred during the remaining years of that century. This includes the blizzard of March 13, 1891; the February 27, 1894 blizzard where “only about a foot and a half of snow fell in 24 hours” with gale winds up to 44 miles per hour. That storm was closely followed by the monster of April 12, 1894 described by the Times as “almost a repetition of the blizzard of 1888.“
Then came the blizzard of January 28, 1897 that slammed the eastern seaboard. An article reported from Baltimore said the city had 7 inches of snow, the “most severe storm of the present season. There have been few heavier snowfalls since the blizzard of 1888. Ice has fastened itself in the waters of the rivers and Chesapeake Bay“. Then just northeast of New York City came the word that “Rockville, Conn., reports a fall of 34 inches of snow, drifts 5 to 8 feet deep, and that the blizzard has been the most severe since 1888.“
The final blizzard of the 1800’s did not, apparently, rise to the level where it could be compared with that of 1888. This storm occurred on February 11, 1899, and was nothing more than heavy snow accompanied by 50+ mile per hour winds, and it followed a week of record cold where, as the storm began, “the mercury mounted to a comparatively dizzy height of 6 degrees above zero“.
That storm of 1888 sure must have been something. I can tell you this – I sure don’t long for those “good old days.”
1888 blizzard references (requires a NYT subscription to open PDFs):