This storm sounds bad. The Great Blizzard of March 12, 1888, was a lot worse

Headlines from the March 13,1888, Boston Globe amid the three-day storm that caused havoc across the Northeast.
Headlines from the March 13,1888, Boston Globe amid the three-day storm that caused havoc across the Northeast.

New Englanders braced for the area’s third nor’easter in two weeks on the 130th anniversary of the East Coast’s Great Blizzard of 1888, a storm that killed more than 400 people and dumped nearly 60 inches of snow on some parts of the region, officials said.

The blizzard hit Boston at 7 a.m. on March 12, 1888, according to Boston Globe archives, and raged until March 14, 1888, plowing through eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, eastern New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and most of Maine, National Weather Service meteorologist Kim Buttrick said on Monday.

“The region faced 50-mile-per-hour winds, along with blizzard conditions and temperatures that plummeted into the single digits,” Buttrick said of the 1888 storm. The snow drifts were “packed as hard as sand” and high winds whipped the city, but no serious casualties were reported in Boston, according to the Globe archives. In several towns, nearly all telegraph and telephone wires were down, and severe damage had been done to chimneys and trees, many of which had blown down. The Massachusetts Bay was empty during the storm, and not a single vessel left port.


The wires of the fire alarm service had been damaged beyond use in Malden. Streets in Cambridge were completely deserted. The horse car lines in Springfield were abandoned.

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North Adams received the most snow in the state at 40 inches, Buttrick said, but Saratoga Springs in upstate New York reached the highest total, 58 inches. About 200 people froze to death in New York, she said.

“History does not tell of a storm that equals the one which begun here last Sunday night,” said a Globe article published on March 14, 1888.

The blizzard, which began in the Rocky Mountain region near Utah, isolated Boston from the rest of the region, cutting off telegraph wire lines and blocking New England railways, according to the Globe archives. Officials estimated damages at around $50 million.

The New England Historical Society, which calls the blizzard “The Great White Hurricane of 1888,” reported that the storm wrecked 200 ships and lost 100 seamen. “Children died trying to get home from school and adults perished in snowdrifts higher than their heads,” the historical society reported. “Telegraph boys tied wires around their waists so they could be pulled out of the drifts.”


Buttrick said the 1888 storm stalled off the Atlantic Ocean, sitting and spiraling on the region.

“Sometimes when you have these storms stall — very similar to the storm at the start of March — there’s upper level energy that is slow to move through,” she said.

The Monday night storm is also in a blocking pattern, she said.

“We do also have upper level energy that is slow to move through,” she said. “We could have continuing snow showers Tuesday night into Wednesday. The main storm will have passed, but we could have some snow squalls.”

But this week’s storm will be farther offshore, and the heaviest amounts of snowfall are expected to be over southeast Massachusetts, she said.


“Another thing that’s different is the communication,” she said. “We’re able to communicate the impact to a much larger population”

Elise Takahama can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @elisetakahama.