March 12: The “Great White Hurricane” Paralyzes Connecticut.


When snow started falling across the state in the early hours of March 12, 1888, Connecticut residents thought nothing of it. It wasn’t unusual to have light to moderate snowfall in early March, and the forecast for that day called for “fair weather, followed by rain.” Later that morning, amid moderate snowfall, most Connecticans headed for work and school as usual, unfazed by the few inches of accumulation on the ground. By midday, however, the situation had drastically changed: temperatures plummeted; the rate of snowfall increased; and fierce winds created whiteout conditions not only across Connecticut, but also the entire northeastern United States. It was the first day of the Blizzard of 1888, a the three-day “Great White Hurricane” that ranks as the worst recorded blizzard in Connecticut history.

A Bridgeport man poses in front of a snow tunnel that sports a “To Rent” sign after the Blizzard of 1888. (Connecticut Historical Society)

Within hours, nearly two feet of snow had piled up in some parts of the state, stranding thousands at their workplaces. And by the time the storm blew offshore on March 14, some Connecticut towns reported snowfall of nearly 50 inches — though exact amounts were nearly impossible to measure due to the gale-force winds that earned the storm its nickname. Winds over 60 miles per hour created massive snowdrifts that reached the second story windows of houses and buildings. Cheshire and New Haven recorded snow drifts nearly 40 feet high. The wind also created dangerously cold conditions for those foolhardy enough to try and brave the storm. The actual air temperature measured minus 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit before wind chill was factored in.

For three days, life across Connecticut and the entire northeastern United States ground to a complete halt, as telephone and telegraph lines snapped, and both dirt roads and railroads proved completely impassable. The winds and snow drifts toppled locomotives, leaving thousands of passengers stranded for days aboard stalled cars and at snowed-in train stations.

For all its challenges, the shared experience of digging out after the storm of the century seemed to bring out plenty of neighborly goodwill — and even a sense of humor — among Connecticut’s stalwart Nutmeggers, who helped dig out each other’s homes, and even posed for playful photographs amid snow tunnels and forts.

By the end of the week, more seasonable March temperatures helped melt  away most of the snow from the storm that left in its wake a death toll of over 400 people and damages estimated in the tens of millions of dollars throughout the region. The “Great White Hurricane” became a truly unforgettable winter storm, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Jeannine Henderson-Shifflett, “Blizzard of 1888 Devastates State,”

Colin McEnroe, “The Great Blizzard of 1888,Hartford Courant

Historical Images of the Blizzard of 1888 via Connecticut History Illustrated