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Great Blizzard of 1888

A trolley pushes through the snow and ice brought on by the Great Blizzard of 1888. This storm spurred the development of New York's subway system.

Herbert A. French/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

In 1888, people living along the northeastern seaboard of the United States were expecting March to come in like a lion and leave like a lamb. No one, it seems, anticipated the bite of the Great Blizzard of 1888.

Just as the Big Apple's population readied for a few balmy days followed by gentle rain showers, there was a convergence of arctic air from the north and warm air from the south. From March 11 through 14, 1888, the ensuing storm swirled freezing winds and snow around the East, leaving more than 22 inches (55 centimeters) of flakes in its wake. Even the city's famed East River froze, forming an ice bridge that -- surprisingly -- was a more passable road than those in the city itself. Thousands crossed from Manhattan to Brooklyn on this ice bridge.

The storm's effects were well documented in New York City. The history-making nor'easter shut down the metropolis. It trapped passengers in New York City railcars for days, snapped elevated telephone and telegraph lines, and caused the deaths of 200 people. Another 200 were killed throughout the northeast.

Out of the perilous days by candlelight emerged a new reality, one that led to an underground transportation system known as the subway. It also prompted a change to the city's infrastructure that set the standard for many of today's highly populated areas across the U.S.: burying communication and electricity cables underground [source: Weissman, Wingfield].

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