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Let it Snow! A Look at Historic Blizzards

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This blog post was written by Jennie Horton, a 2020 Librarian-in-Residence in the Serial and Government Publications Division.

Winter is in full swing! The season’s shimmery first snow is always beautiful and exciting, but what about after the magic wears off? Icy temperatures, blustery winds, and inches upon inches of snow! This week, we look back on some of the nation’s biggest blizzards in history as reported by America’s newspapers.*

“Blizzard was King,” The Sun (New York, NY), March 13, 1888.

On March 11, 1888, a heavy rainstorm turned to snow which lasted three days. The Mid-Atlantic United States was covered in nearly three feet of snow—halting trains, causing traffic accidents, and severing telegraph wires. Even the New York Stock Exchange couldn’t endure the Great Blizzard of 1888!

“Traffic Hindered by Land and by Water.” New-York Tribune (New York, NY), February 18, 1902.

The East Coast got hit with another terrible snowstorm in February 1902. New York City was hit particularly hard, where Manhattan was buried in over 15 inches of snow. In addition to wreaking havoc across the city, this storm was one of the first to be recorded on film. The short film features scenes of pedestrians and workers, including the New York Fire Department navigating huge snow drifts and slippery streets in Madison Square.

“How the Blizzard Held Washington in its Clutch During Inauguration,” The Daily Gate City (Keokuk, IA), March 9, 1909.

The next blizzard on our list had a large impact on one historic event, the inauguration of President William Howard Taft. Washington, DC, was hit with close to 10 inches of snow the night of March 8, 1909, the night before inauguration day. Though the event usually takes place outdoors, President Taft had to take his oath of office inside the Senate chamber. Snow didn’t stop citizens from celebrating, however, and the inaugural parade from the Capitol to the White House still took place.

“Blizzard is Raging Over Region of the Great Lakes,” Ottumwa Tri-Weekly Courier (Ottumwa, IA), November 11, 1913.

The Great Lakes Storm of 1913, also known as the White Hurricane, battered the Great Lakes region and the Midwest from November 11th to 16th. Telegraph, phone, and streetcar wires were damaged, cutting off communication to and from cities in the area. Winds of 90 mph and waves up to 35 feet caused devastating shipwrecks on four of the five Great Lakes. Twelve ships were completely lost, and dozens more were run ashore. Damages amounted to $5 million at the time, which roughly equates to $131 million today. The White Hurricane remains the most devastating storm to ever hit the Great Lakes region.

“Regions Used to the Sun Took the Severest Blows,” New York Times (New York, NY), March 13, 1993, p.A1. Detail from microfilm.

The Superstorm of 1993 raged from as far south as Cuba to as far north as Canada, dumping snow across the United States East Coast from Alabama to Maine. Occurring from March 12th to 14th, and dubbed the Storm of the Century, this cyclone-blizzard caused many to lose power, spawned 15 tornadoes in Florida alone, and left behind upwards of 60 inches of snow. Damage was widespread and cost $5.5 billion ($9.9 billion today), making the Storm of the Century the nation’s most costly winter storm in history.

Were there any memorable blizzards in your area? Let us know in the comments below!


* The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Comments (6)

  1. What about the Knickerbocker Storm or Snow of 2009?

  2. Great article!

  3. This post prompted my mom to share her memory of a the blizzard in Chicago in 1967. She remembers walking to a corner to buy milk from a truck since the city was pretty much shut down. Mother Nature… oof!

  4. 1967 snowstorm in Chicago I think it was around 18 inches and shut down everything for days

  5. The storm I remember was in January 1996. Three feet of snow fell in Annapolis, rather less in DC.
    Under the headline “Weather Imitates Politics And Paralyzes Washington,” the New York Times said, “Despite the recent budget agreement ending a 21-day partial shutdown that left 110,000 Federal workers in the Washington area on furlough, the Office of Personnel Management was expected to keep all Federal agencies in the area closed on Monday, giving work crews more time to clear highways and streets.”

    See also

  6. What about the blizzard of 02/11/1983? DC was hit by wind and snow of up to 20 inches. Things were shut down for days.

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