With the threat of Winter Storm Juno looming over us, Alex and I freaked out just as bad as everyone else in NYC. We were pretty convinced that being snowed into our apartment for a couple days was a real possibility. So we went to the store (which was absolute chaos) and stocked up on whatever goods we thought would get us through his “potentially historic blizzard.” There was talk of over two feet of snow, which even for a Mainer like me is a dumb amount. For NYC, that would shut the city down. What the hell would we do with all that snow? This was the question of everyone’s mind when we all went completely bananas.
All this talk of snow lead to a pretty humorous string of emails with my colleagues at the New York Transit Museum entitled “A Blizzard of Lies.” While we where talking about other historic snowstorms, I think that calling Juno a Blizzard of Lies is totally appropriate. It looks like NYC got just over 4 inches. ERMAHGERD! What are we possibly going to do with all that?!?!!? I almost got into a fistfight with a senior citizen over chicken broth, and we only got 4 inches of snow? She totally could have taken me, by the way…
Juno may have been a dud, but what about other snowstorms, specifically the big one of 1888? The Blizzard of 1888 was one of the worst natural disasters to strike New York City ever, ever. The blizzard struck in mid March, and no one was prepared for it. The day before, the temperatures where in the 50s, but suddenly they dropped, and a really nasty storm blew into town, dumping about 23 inches of snow in a matter of 2 days. The early New York City electrical lines were still above ground, and they were all destroyed. The elevated trains where stopped in their tracks, leaving all the people in the trains stranded above the streets for days. We aren’t sure exactly how many people died, but it could be as low as 200 or as high as 400. With wind speeds in excess of 75 miles per hour, the snow drifts could be as high as 60 inches or more. This was truly a nasty blizzard. It took the city weeks to dig itself out. There were reports that some of the big drifts of snow lasted until July!
The reason why this storm was so devastating in particular was the fact that NYC didn’t have a department of sanitation to speak of, so there wasn’t anyone really working on clearing the streets. In Robin Nagle’s book “Picking Up” (which is incredible, everyone should read it!) she talks about how the Blizzard of 1888 changed New York City forever. This blizzard led to the original Department of Sanitation, known as “The White Wings” because of their sharp white uniforms, the creation of the subway system, and led to all the electrical lines being placed underground. These are all huge advancements, and all of them created to prevent another disaster like the Blizzard of 1888 from being so devastating.
Even with the piddling four inches we ended up getting, New York City would have been crippled without the men and women of the Department of Sanitation working tirelessly to keep the streets clear and safe. If it wan’t for the advancements in infrastructure, four inches of snow would have lead to a serious power outage. People might still be getting stuck on elevated trains for hours or days if we hadn’t created a subway system. So much of what makes NYC great stems from the aftermath of the Blizzard of 1888.
Anyway, even though the storm was weak-sauce, schools are still cancelled and the Department of Education has stopped all field trips. This means that museum workers, like Alex and myself, have been stuck inside for the past few days with nothing to do. I think our cats, Mouse and Junebug, are ready to see Mommy and Daddy get back to work. With my constant pestering, they haven’t been able to sleep more that 16 hours in the past few days. Poor Kitties.
Stay warm, everyone!