(1888, that is)
On this day in 1888, ordinary life in Massachusetts came to a standstill. One of the most destructive blizzards ever to strike the East Coast raged for 36 hours. Called "the White Hurricane," the storm produced a combination of blinding snow, deep drifts, driving wind, and severe cold.
On Saturday, March 10, 1888, the skies were clear and bright and signs of spring, a week away, were noticeable with temperatures in the 50s.
In assessing weather conditions for the next few days, the main weather station at the time, the U.S. Army Signal Corps. in Washington, D.C., incorrectly predicted “fresh to brisk winds, with rain, will prevail, followed by colder brisk westerly winds and fair weather throughout the Atlantic states.”
Because of this lack of any warning, East Coast residents went about their usual business unaware that two major weather systems, a westerly mass of Arctic air from Canada, and a warm air mass from the Gulf of Mexico, were dangerously poised to combine off the Jersey Coast and unleash a hurricane-like storm with unprecedented winds.
Over 400 died from the storm
More than 400 people died from the storm and the cold which followed the snow.
Big cities were especially hard hit. In Springfield, Worcester, and Boston, food supplies soon ran low. So did heat, because most homes were warmed by coal-fired stoves at that time.
Over four feet of snow fell in Massachusetts, and the storm suspended communication and travel in the U.S. Northeast for nearly a week.
Those lucky enough to arrive at their destination from surrounding towns and cities arrived very late. Some unfortunate souls ended up stranded with their disabled trains in a dark, white wilderness.
The heavy, wet snow just proved too much for the steam engines. To make matters even worse, downed telegraph wires meant that the stalled trains had lost all means of communication, leaving the stranded passengers and crew completely cut off.
The National Weather Service estimated this Nor'easter dumped as much as 50 inches of snow in parts of Massachusetts, and many compare it with the Blizzard of 1978 almost a century later.
Coal moved by rail back then, and trains were not moving. The disruption caused by the storm persuaded city officials to invest in underground utilities and transportation. The Boston subway system, the nation's first, was one positive outcome of the Blizzard of 1888.
Eurasian curlew blown across the Atlantic by a storm
On this day in 1978, a lone Eurasian curlew apparently forced across the Atlantic by storms had taken refuge in the tidal flats of Menemsha, touching off a "flurry of excitement in the bird-watching world," according to The New York Times.
The two-foot wader - numenius arquala - had been seen in North America only twice before, in Georgia in the early 1800s and on Cape Cod two years earlier. Its normal range is from England to Iceland in winter and extending south to North Africa in summer.
Some bird-lovers speculated that the curlew seen at Menemsha was the same one witnessed on Cape Cod in 1976, while others concluded it was a second bird forced across the ocean by that winter's unusually fierce storms.
"By Thursday, hundreds of people from as far away as Texas and Florida had come singly or in groups to see the same wayward bird," the Times reported, "and Roger Tory Peterson, the nation's foremost bird watcher, was pronouncing its presence and survival here 'remarkable' ."
"As soon as the word gets out, the hard-core birders who have become so numerous lately will be here in droves," Peterson told the Times.