“The worst storm the city has ever known. Business and travel completely suspended. New York helpless in a tornado of wind and snow which paralyzed all industry, isolated the city from the rest of the country, caused many accidents and great discomfort, and exposed it to many dangers.” - headline from The New York Times
Yesterday’s snow storm—The Blizzard of 2010—produced a legitimate snow day, but little else. It was a good day to stay in, which I did, fighting a cold. By the time I went out to take pictures this morning, it was anti-climactic, with some snow covering Central Park and a lot of slush everywhere else. Luckily for me, snow storms bring out the inner photographer, so many people were out yesterday with their cameras or cell phones, shooting away and uploading to sites such as Flickr.
One thing I noticed is that many of these pictures are rendered in black and white or greyscale. This makes the images moody and atmospheric, and also connects the dots to the ghosts of storms past. Another thing I noticed is that the farther back you go, the worse the storm was. 2010, 2006, 1996, 1993, 1967, 1915, and on back to 1888, when New York was hit by the great-grandaddy of all blizzards, also known as “The White Hurricane,” which elicited the headline quoted above.
This truism holds in my experience. The blizzard of 2006 was worse than yesterday’s—just look on Flickr if you doubt this—but not as bad as the one in 1996, when for two or three days the only people moving around SoHo were on skis or sleds. And 1967 (or maybe it was ’64?) was worse yet, with snow drifts over my head. Although my head was lower than it is now, this was quite a bit of snow. I remember I had to walk ten miles back and forth to school, digging my way with a shovel while pulling my sister on a sled…
One thing that remains consistent through images of the various blizzards is the city itself. The snow burnishes the nostalgic quality of the city, focusing attention on the beauty and drama of the urban landscape—with less bustle, the streets and buildings acquire an even more timeless character. Looking at snowscapes, it becomes harder to distinguish 1910 from 2010. Also consistent is the character of New Yorkers. Snow, in any quantity, is something to be navigated on the way to work, used for sledding or snowballs, or photographed.
The images presented here are in no particular order. Many, I think, are from the Blizzard of ’06. Maybe in a few weeks there will be a greater selection for yesterday’s storm. Thanks go out to the various photographers.
As for the Great Blizzard of 1888, it was the product of two separate blizzards that hit the city a day apart, dropping over 40 inches of snow on Manhattan, and up to 50 inches elsewhere in the region. It crippled the city for days, and caused massive damage to the network of overhead wires. This shone a spotlight on what had been a contentious civic issue, and led to a more extensive submerging of electric, telegraph, and telephone wiring—an obvious tactic in retrospect. Oh, and P.T. Barnum continued to put on his show for people stranded at Madison Square Garden. Then, as now, in New York, the show must go on.