When the momentous blizzard of 1888 hit NYC no one could have foretold the huge impact it would have. It’s immediate impact was devastating with snow drifts up to 30-50 ft in places, 200 deaths in NYC alone and 400 in the State as a whole. But it was it’s long term affects that changed everything. The blizzard showed that NYC and its residents could not go on as they had previously.
Prior to the blizzard, train tracks had primarily been on elevated rail lines and there were also horse drawn cable cars carrying passengers around as well. Electrical wires and telegaph wires were strung up overhead between buildings sometimes so thickly that the sky could only be glimpsed behind a crazy cat’s cradle of wires.
The incredibly heavy snowfall brought all street travel to a standstill, trains couldn’t use the elevated rail lines, horse drawn cable cars couldn’t operate and all other horse drawn vehicles could not move through the heavy drifts of snow. Winds and heavy snow brought down th overhead wires cutting off all electrical and telegraph services.
It became obvious that everything had to go underground. By 1900 the construction of the present day subway was underway and the whole system of the underground transmission of electrical and telegraph services was being put in place.
And women’s clothing was changing. Up until the blizzard the floor length skirts worn by NYC women were held in place by many layers of heavy peticoats. The weight and volume of these many skirts reduced women to walking slowly and carefully. After the blizzard some women’s skirts became so wet and entangled when they ventured outside that they couldn’t move at all and they had to hauled out of drifts by men.
The difficulty of wearing all this voluminous clothing ushered in a fashion for much slimmer skirts, with them getting shorter and shorter right up until the 1920′s, by which time women were wearing skirts just below the knee and moving much more freely than they ever had before.
The only comparable weather event has been Hurricane Sandy and 2 years after that it is still too soon to see what major chamges will come. But it is now very clear how vulnerable Lower Manhattan and the outer boroughs are to weather events of this nature and major works along NYC’s shore line are essential.