Thursday, January 27, 2005

Cold enough for ya?


Image: Digital Snow Museum

The modern benchmark for New England snowstorms is, of course, the Blizzard of 1978, which paralyzed the region and was responsible for 17 deaths. Previously this distinction was held by the Blizzard of 1888, during which some 400 people died, 200 ships were grounded and $25 million in property damage was done.

Yet for over a century prior to that, New England's most famous blizzard was the Great Snow of 1717.

Beginning on February 27 and ending on March 7, the Great Snow consisted of four successive blizzards, occuring almost without interruption. Conditions over the span of that week were such that, as one colonist described,
"...scores of [cattle and sheep] were buried and then of course they froze to death before help could reach them. In the spring some of the cattle were found standing erect, frozen solidly in their tracks. In other places the sheep had huddled together for mutual warmth and had succumbed in that way."
In Boston, snow accumulation reached four feet, with 25 foot drifts that covered entire houses. Families burnt furniture for heat, since they were unable to get outside for firewood, and roofs collapsed under the weight. Cotton Mather, in a letter to the Royal Society, reported the storm to be "so violent as to make all communication between Ye Neighbors every where to cease." Deers, meanwhile, found themselves unable to run in the deep snow, and thus fell as easy prey to packs of wolves — which fast depleted the nearby forests, and were subsequently forced to raid Boston's outlying farms for sustenance.

It took weeks for the Bostonians to dig themselves out of their homes once the storm had passed. Indeed, Mather's congregation was not able to attend mass for two weeks, which, given the piety of the early Puritan settlers, is quite remarkable. Postal riders were likewise prevented from carrying out their routes, thus effectively cutting off all communication between the city and its neighboring settlements. The snow from the blizzard lasted until April, when, as it melted, it muddied roads and fields, making travel both difficult and exceedingly messy.

So, my dear readers of Boston and environs, if you think this particular week has been bad...

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