The Great Blizzard of 1888 in Greenpoint

Image courtesy of Brooklyn Children’s Museum

Monday, March 12th marks the hundred and thirtieth anniversary of the greatest storm ever to hit Greenpoint: The Great Blizzard of 1888. Snowfalls of 20–60 inches fell locally, and sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour produced snowdrifts 50 feet high. Railroads were shut down and people were trapped in their houses for up to a week. This snowstorm became legendary, earning the nickname “The Great White Hurricane,” after it paralyzed the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. Ships at sea sunk or were grounded, telegraph and telephone wires came down, cutting off communication between major cities. All transportation was immobilized.
When the storm first hit the city, the temperature was mild as a light rain began to fall on March 11th, gradually increasing in ferocity. By March 12th these torrential rains changed to heavy snow and buried Greenpoint in drifts of up to thirty feet deep! The temperature plunged and winds reached over eighty miles per hour. This monster storm raged for the next 36 hours. Sources vary on the total devastation caused by this massive storm, but over 400 people lost their lives, some 200 in New York City alone.

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By the second day of the storm, the snow had fallen to depths of between two to five feet, with drifts piling up over fifteen to thirty feet locally. The East River was so thoroughly coated with ice that many people were able to walk across from Brooklyn to Manhattan. This was soon stopped by several tugs, which chopped up the ice. The Observatory in Central Park reported an average temperature of 9 degrees, the coldest March 12th ever.

Writing a letter to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1940, Ms. Etta Sherry remembered that the snow banks reached her second story window. She also recalled that the snowflakes were the size of teacups. Greenpointer Arthur Skivens also recalled the great snowstorm in a letter to the Eagle. He was trapped at his job at the Astral Oil refinery and could not return home for two days. He also recalled that dozens of wagons and other vehicles were snowed in by the blizzard and as the snows finally began to melt more than a week later their tops slowly began to emerge. Local stores soon ran out of food and with no means of getting deliveries, their shelves were bare for a week.

Finally, on March 14th the storm abated and Greenpointers could begin to start digging out. Some twenty-two inches of snow fell in our area and with only horses and wagons to remove the snow, many streets were impassable for over a week. The snow finally melted, but anyone who experienced the huge storm never forgot it.

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog He has lived in Greenpoint for over twenty years and is the author of a history of the area Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past.

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  1. Pingback: Untapped Staff Reads: Twin Wood Houses Time Forgot, Robot Workers to Fix Subway Hell | Untapped Cities

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