The City of New York states, “With 21 inches of snow falling over a two-day period — the third largest accumulation on record — the blizzard of 1888 hit New York City by surprise at the end of a warm March day (March 11-14). As two storms, one approaching from the south and one from the north, met over the City, heavy precipitation and winds gusting up to almost 75 mph resulted in snowdrifts up to 30 feet high. Roads and highways were blocked, steam train service was suspended, horse-drawn streetcars and taxis halted operations, and ships docked in New York’s harbor.”
Here’s one original newspaper account of New York’s huge snowstorm in 1888 — even then, it was called a “Great Blizzard” — along with photos of the storm from a variety of sources.
The Great Blizzard: Its disastrous effects felt over a wide territory
Business and financial transactions at a standstill — Railroad traffic suspended — Funerals even postponed — The worst storm for years
The demoralizing effects of the worst storm ever experienced In this city are beginning to disappear and business is rapidly being resumed.
The storm was a peculiar one. It began with a slight snow fall about 8 o’clock Sunday night which hardly whitened the earth, and steady rain followed, lasting until 4:30 Monday morning. The cold wave had flung itself across the region surrounding the city by 5 o’clock, and the steadily-falling rain became snow.
By 8 o’clock, the wind was blowing a gale and snow was falling at a remarkably rapid rate. The wind increased until six o’clock Monday evening, when it was blowing a hurricane, and people had difficulty to stand up. The stores and offices closed before three o’clock that afternoon, and by evening everyone seemed to realize that a storm which would be long remembered was at hand.
There was more snow and an increase of wind again as Tuesday advanced, but by night wind and snow almost disappeared. Wednesday morning, the sun rose amid the clouds which brought snow about 11 o’clock, but the day closed fairly pleasant. Such is a synopsis of the blizzard, which it probably will take many days to write all connected with.
Snow fell to a depth of two and is half feet on the level over all the country within a radius of 30 miles of New York. The drifts on Broadway were in places six feet high, and only a narrow space between the shop fronts and the drifts were left for the people bound to their places of business. At times, for nearly a whole block, only the tops of their heads were visible above the snow, and now and then they could not be seen at all.
When the medium early risers, those who get up at 7:30 to 8:30, were ready to go to business on Monday, they found the horse ears gradually being tied up. The snow which had fallen after the heavy rain froze down hard and rendered the use of snow plows futile. Later, the elevated roads began to be troubled, until by noon, every traction vehicle in the city was useless. It grew bitterly cold, too, 6 above zero being generally reached. By early evening, the exposure of nose or ears to the storm in cases of most people was attended with freezing.
In the afternoon, New Yorkers began to prepare for a bad night. Residents in distant parts of the city went to the hotels and registered it for the night. By 8:30, it was impossible to get a room in any hotel downtown unless the rent was paid in advance. By midnight, hundreds of people were sleeping on mattresses and couches in the hallways.
In the best hotels, after Monday night, a person unwilling to pay a small fortune for a room, say, $25 to $50, could not get one. Cabs received fares ranging from $3 to $10, and hacks $5 to $25 for a single trip.