On This Date in History:
In New York it is not unusual for a spring storm to get going. Typically, it starts with rain with it turning to snow with wind and colder air. Just a week or so ago, they had one such storm that dropped up to 15 inches of snow on Long Island. But that was a pretty fast moving storm. What would happen if there was a slow poke. It would be dragging down cold air from the north with the Atlantic Ocean serving as a consistent source of moisture. Well, that happened on this date in 1888. It began to rain. It rained all day on March 11 and
by the 12th, it was snowing hard. Typically, these storms are very deep lows. The change in air pressure over a distance is what causes wind. The lower the pressure relative to the surrounding pressure, the higher the wind. Most of the time, there is a an area of high pressure to the northwest of the low off the Northeast coast and so the difference in the big fat high to the northwest and the deep low off the coast is sufficient to produce high winds. By Monday March 12, 1888 when it was snowing hard, the winds were blowing up to 80 mph! Some call this storm “The Great White Hurricane.”
This storm was a “Nor’Easter” which is a storm that runs up the East coast toward the Northeast. Again, similar to the one from a week or so ago. The most common name for this event is “the Great New York Blizzard of 1888” or simply “The Great Blizzard of 1888.” It is considered the greatest snow storm in US history. The recent storm affected cities from Washington DC to Boston. This one did the same thing only the effect from the Chesapeake to Maine was quite a different scale. Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York and Boston were all paralyzed. You have to consider that these cities were even more vital to the US economy than they are today given that the nation was still expanding west and the great westerns and southern cities of today were just small towns back then. Parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut got 50 inches of snow. That’s over 4 feet. New York and New Jersey faired a bit better…those two states had just 40 inches! From Virginia to Cape Cod, over 200 ships were sunk.
Here’s the chronology of the storm. On March 10, the grass was starting to turn green, many trees had buds and New Yorkers were enjoying the relatively mild temperatures in the mid 40’s. On Sunday March 11, the noon time temperature was 42 degrees but the ENE winds off the Atlantic brought rain by afternoon and the mercury began falling. About 2/3 of an inch of rain fell before around midnight, the rain turned to sleet and snow. The wind shifted to the Northwest and the temperature fell from 33 at midnight to 14 by noon on the 12th. Now, the wind picked up to 50 mph with gusts to 80 mph. While the buildings were not the skyscrapers of today, there were still relatively tall buildings so there was still a sorta canyon effect. So, on the south side of some streets, the sidewalks were swept clean and on the other side of the street drifts of 15-20 feet buried sidewalks and the entry ways to homes and other buildings. By Tuesday, the storm had moved on and the snow had backed off to flurries. The wind abated. But, the snow was left behind. Some places reported drifts up to 40 feet high.
No one was prepared and so people had a hard time getting food. Many hard working folks ventured out on Monday to go to work. That proved to be fatal to many because the storm took over 400 lives. Some strange stories came out of the event. One guy got a gash in his head. No big deal, right? He got it when he fell into a snow drift. He hit his head on the hoof of a horse that was dead in the snow. He spent the next few days bragging that he was the only man in the world to be kicked by a dead horse. In another incident, a man was trying to walk home. He got fatigued and stooped down to the ground next to a lamp post. His face became stuck to the post and his jaws shrunk from the cold. He fell asleep. When he woke up, he stumbled home. Disoriented, he tried to regain his senses and when he did, he discovered his false teeth were missing. When he returned to the lampost, he found them frozen to the post, just where they were when he fell asleep.
Here’s a funny twist to a tragic situation. By 1947, many people had thought that the climate in New York had changed. It was thought that New York could not get hit by a big snow storm again. On December 26, 1947 over 25 inches fell and the city was once again paralyzed. It is estimated that 106,000,000 tons of snow was removed from the streets of the big apple. Some climate change. Aside from that foolish thought, is it not interesting that in the mid 20th century, people had thought that climate change was happening? It reminds me of John Muir who noted that the glaciers of California were melting at such a rapid pace due to rapidly warming global temperatures that they would be gone by the turn of the century. That entry in his diary came around 1870, which is well before anyone has suggested that industrial activity affected the climate. Just something to chew on.
Weather Bottom Line: Nine years before the Blizzard of 1888, Louisville set a record high of 77 degrees on March 10. Now, keep in mind that in 1879 the thermometer was not at an airport surrounded by a bunch of concrete. I believe at that time, the weather office was downtown along the river. You might say that there were buildings there but, then again, there were some brick buildings but no concrete or paved streets and they were down by the river. Nevertheless, we broke that record on Tuesday with a high of 78. Don’t expect that again anytime soon. We’re going to lose about 40 degrees by Thursday.
Look for highs in the 40’s on Wednesday, upper 30’s on Thursday, upper 40’s and low 50’s on Friday and Saturday with Sunday rebounding to the upper 50’s. Perhaps low 60’s on Monday. Saturday night and Sunday when a warm front approaches and moves through, rain chances will increase to the likely territory. All in all…not a great weekend. One curious item of note, the GFS vertical profile forecast is going nuts with the indecies…its trying to create a scenario for strong storms. We’ll see. It also 4 days ago called for snow this weekend and has since changed its tune.
As I write this late Tuesday night, a line of storms is moving our way. As I had mentioned yesterday, I suspected that the SPC would inch the slight risk of storms eastward. The storms appear to be on the downswing but there could be a few guys who will try to get a final punch in. At 11 pm, it was 74 in Louisville, 27 in Kansas City and -2 in Pierre, South Dakota. We still have a pretty strong jet stream aloft. Best guess is that if any storms early Wednesday morning are up to no good, it will be in the form of strong gusty winds.
DAY 1 CONVECTIVE OUTLOOK
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
0751 PM CDT TUE MAR 10 2009
VALID 110100Z – 111200Z
…THERE IS A SLGT RISK OF SVR TSTMS N TX NEWD INTO IL/INDIANA…
…N TX NEWD INTO IL/INDIANA…
THUNDERSTORMS — WITHIN A BAND ALONG THE SURFACE COLD FRONT
EXTENDING FROM NWRN INDIANA/E CENTRAL IL SWWD INTO NERN TX — HAVE
INCREASED IN ORGANIZATION/INTENSITY OVER THE PAST TWO HOURS.
INSTABILITY REMAINS QUITE LIMITED ALONG THE FRONT — PARTICULARLY
FROM MO NEWD…THROUGH SOMEWHAT BETTER INSTABILITY /GENERALLY AROUND
500 J/KG MIXED-LAYER CAPE/ IS INDICATED FROM THE ARKLATEX REGION
INTO N TX.
WHILE THE OVERALL LACK OF INSTABILITY WILL CONTINUE TO LIMIT THE
SEVERE POTENTIAL…DEEP-LAYER WIND FIELD REMAINS SUPPORTIVE OF
ORGANIZED STORMS — AND THUS A CONTINUATION OF SOME SEVERE THREAT
THROUGH MID TO LATE EVENING. GREATEST THREAT APPEARS TO BE
LOCALLY-DAMAGING WINDS…GIVEN THE ROUGHLY UNIDIRECTIONAL WIND FIELD
AND OVERALL LINEAR CONVECTIVE ORGANIZATION BEING FORCED BY THE
SURFACE FRONT. SOME HAIL WILL ALSO BE POSSIBLE ACROSS AR/TX WHERE
GREATER INSTABILITY EXISTS.
CONVECTION WILL CONTINUE EWD ACROSS THE MIDWEST/OH VALLEY REGION
OVERNIGHT…THOUGH THUNDER THREAT WILL DIMINISH WITH EWD EXTENT IN
CONJUNCTION WITH DECREASING INSTABILITY. STORMS MAY LINGER THROUGH
MUCH OF THE PERIOD ACROSS PARTS OF TX…AS THE FRONT SAGS SWD
THROUGH MODESTLY-UNSTABLE AIRMASS.