Discover the Biggest Snowstorm to Ever Hit New York in March

Written by Gray Chapman
Published: March 15, 2023
© Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – License / Original
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For many New Yorkers, the onset of March is a sign that warmer weather and brighter days are just around the corner. But in March 1888, a historic snowstorm hit the city and upended expectations. This powerful storm was unlike any other ever to take place in March, leaving its mark on the city and its residents alike. Not only did it bring an unprecedented volume of snowfall, but its effects were also felt for weeks following.

This article will explore the details surrounding this record-breaking snowstorm. It will also consider how it affected everyday life in New York City.

What Is the Typical Weather for the State of New York During March?

New York State is located in the northeastern region of the United States. This state experiences a range of weather patterns throughout the year, and March is no exception. While March signifies the arrival of spring, the weather can still be chilly and unpredictable.

During March, the average high temperature for New York State is around 46°F (8°C), while the average low temperature is around 29°F (-2°C). However, temperatures fluctuate considerably, from below freezing to near 60°F (15°C) on milder days.

March is also known for its precipitation in New York. The state experiences an average of around 3.5 inches of rainfall throughout the month. 

Snowfall is also common during March, particularly in upstate regions of New York. On average, the state sees around 7.5 inches of snowfall in March, which can vary greatly depending on location and weather patterns.

Although March in New York can have cold and damp weather, it remains a crucial time for many residents. In fact, it marks the start of spring and a time of growth and energy. With the days getting longer and warmer, people tend to spend more time outdoors. They engage in various outdoor activities and admire the state’s natural beauty. Generally, March in New York represents a period of transition and rejuvenation as the state readies itself for the upcoming warmer months.

What Was the Biggest Snowstorm to Ever Hit New York During March?

The Great Blizzard of 1888 was one of the most powerful snowstorms ever to hit the state of New York. On March 11, 1888, it dumped an incredible 22 inches of snow and brought blizzard conditions to much of the eastern United States.

Originating from a complex low-pressure system over Canada, the storm intensified as it moved into New York City. With near-freezing temperatures from north winds, accompanied by wind gusts up to 85 miles per hour, The Great Blizzard caused significant drifting and whiteout conditions throughout the region.

The resulting snowfall was so severe that Central Park had to be closed for the first time in years. Travel was disrupted mainly due to canceled flights and suspended public transportation services. Nevertheless, emergency personnel worked hard to ensure the safety of people living in or visiting New York during this tumultuous and snowy period. Despite its consequences, the 1888 blizzard is a testament to human courage and perseverance against all odds.

Snow on Broadway
On March 11, 1888, the Great Blizzard dumped an incredible 22 inches of snow and brought blizzard conditions to much of the eastern United States.  

©960 × 770 pixels, file size: 413 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg – License

How Did the Snowstorm Affect Residents Living in New York?

The March 1888 snowstorm that hit New York was the biggest ever to hit the state in recorded history. Not only did it bring with it more than two feet of snow across most of the state. It also brought with it strong winds and icy conditions that made traveling and even walking around treacherous. Residents living in New York experienced unprecedented disruption. They could not get to work or school and other essential destinations like grocery stores, pharmacies, and healthcare services due to the hazardous roads. Even those who managed to brave the elements dealt with various other challenges, including power outages, blocked roads, and prolonged delays while trying to get where they needed to go.

The following is a detailed breakdown of how the snowstorm affected New York residents in various sectors.


The March 1888 snowstorm in New York significantly impacted the region’s economy. As a central metropolitan hub for business and commerce, New York City and its surrounding areas experience various economic effects when natural disasters occur.

The storm caused disruptions to transportation systems, making it difficult for workers to commute to their jobs and for goods to be transported around the city. Closing airports, bus, and train stations also caused delays and cancellations for travelers, impacting tourism and related industries.

Many business owners had to close temporarily due to safety concerns or a lack of customers. This resulted in lost revenue and reduced productivity. In particular, small businesses that rely on foot traffic were hit especially hard. Some reported losses of thousands of dollars in just a few days.


The March snowstorm of 1888 significantly impacted transportation throughout the New York region, a crucial hub for transportation services. The extreme weather greatly affected public transit systems, including subway, bus, and commuter train services. This resulted in frequent delays and cancellations. In addition, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) faced significant challenges in keeping tracks clear and services operational. This led to some lines being suspended or operating at reduced frequencies.


The biggest snowstorm that ever hit New York in March considerably impacted agriculture, which played a critical role in the economy then. The heavy snow and frigid temperatures caused damage to crops. They also created significant challenges for farmers who found it difficult to reach their fields. Moreover, power outages from the snowstorm prevented farmers from irrigating their crops and using machinery.

The impact on agriculture was particularly harsh in rural areas, where many farmers relied solely on their crops for income. The shortage of food and other agricultural products caused by the snowstorm led to price hikes and financial hardship for many families.

Despite the difficulties, the snowstorm of 1888 also brought some benefits to agriculture. The snow delivered much-needed moisture to crops, improving yields in the next growing season after a long drought. The snow also acted as an insulating layer, shielding crops from the extreme cold and preventing further damage.

Eastern Gray Squirrel in snow
Eastern Gray Squirrel out looking for food in winter snow.


How Do Late-Season Snowstorms Impact Wildlife in New York?

Wildlife in the New York area is affected by late-season snow storms because they can damage the animals’ habitat and food availability. For example, heavy snowfall can destroy nests, burrows, and den sites, leaving some animals without shelter. In addition, deep snow accumulations make it difficult for prey species to find food or escape predators.

Invertebrates, like insects, can be seriously affected by heavy snowfalls as they cannot survive extended periods of cold temperatures. When insect populations decrease, the food chain disruption affects other species which rely on these creatures as a primary food source.

While certain wildlife is better adapted to survive in harsher winter conditions, late-season storms still present considerable risks and challenges. That is particularly true when it comes to habitat destruction and reduced access to food sources. As such, New York residents must take steps to protect vulnerable wildlife whenever possible. This could include creating bird feeders and wildlife shelters or simply being mindful of their actions when out in nature. 

By doing so, residents can help ensure that New York’s wildlife is not adversely affected by extreme weather events.

Where Did Animals Go Amid the Snowstorm? 

The Great Blizzard of 1888 was one of the most severe winter storms in the northeastern United States. With massive amounts of snowfall and strong winds, the storm disrupted the daily lives of New Yorkers and caused significant damage to the city. While humans had to find ways to cope with the harsh conditions, the storm affected animals too. This section will explore how various animals, from domesticated pets to wild and farm animals, coped with the extreme weather conditions during the biggest snowstorm that ever hit New York in March.

Black Bears

Black bears are not native to New York City and do not typically reside in urban areas. However, black bears inhabit wooded areas and mountainous regions of New York State, particularly in the Adirondack Mountains. Therefore, the severe winter storm may have affected black bears in these regions.

To survive during the March 1888 snowstorm, black bears would have relied on their instincts and adaptations. These mammals can hibernate for long periods, conserving energy and reducing their metabolic rate to survive the winter months. However, the Great Blizzard of 1888 occurred in March, typically towards the end of the hibernation period for black bears in New York State.

black bear
The Great Blizzard of 1888 occurred in March, typically towards the end of the hibernation period for black bears in New York State.

© Crossman


Moose travel long distances in search of food and suitable habitat. During the winter, moose typically forage for food by browsing on twigs, bark, and other plant material. However, the deep snow cover during the Great Blizzard of 1888 may have made it difficult for moose to find food. To survive, moose may have relied on stored fat reserves, which they build up during the summer and fall.

To endure the blizzard, moose would have depended on their innate adaptations and behaviors. These creatures are naturally acclimated to cold climates. They possess various physiological and behavioral characteristics that enable them to survive in winter weather conditions. They are equipped with thick, insulating fur that protects them from the cold and snow. Moreover, their considerable bulk enables them to conserve body heat, which enhances their chances of survival.

Alaskan Yukon Moose
Moose possess various physiological and behavioral characteristics that enable them to survive in winter weather conditions.

©Szczepan Klejbuk/


Coyotes are opportunistic and adaptable predators that hunt various prey, including small mammals, birds, and even fish. They are also well-adapted to harsh environments and have several physical and behavioral traits that help them endure extreme weather conditions. Their thick fur coats insulate them against the cold and snow. Their keen sense of smell and hearing allows them to locate prey and avoid danger in low visibility conditions.

However, during the March 1888 snowstorm, coyotes may have found it challenging to find food due to the deep snow cover. They may have relied on stored fat reserves or altered their hunting strategies to cope with the limited food availability. Coyotes are also social animals that live in family groups or packs. During the blizzard, coyotes may have huddled together for warmth and protection from the elements.

Coyotes are opportunistic and adaptable predators that hunt various prey and are well-adapted to harsh environments.

©Fiona M. Donnelly/


Bats in the area likely went into a state of torpor to conserve energy and survive the harsh weather conditions. Torpor is a state of reduced metabolic activity that allows bats to conserve energy during periods of low food availability and extreme temperatures. During winter, bats typically go into hibernation or torpor to survive the cold weather and limited food sources. In this state, they lower their body temperature and heart rate, reducing their energy needs and allowing them to conserve fat reserves.

In the case of the March 1888 snowstorm, bats may have retreated to hibernacula, shelters where bats gather to hibernate during winter. These shelters can be found in caves, mines, abandoned houses or other sheltered areas that provide a stable temperature and humidity level conducive to bat hibernation.

Bat in the attic
Bats roosting in the attic of an abandoned house. Bats can easily get into a house through open spaces.

©Hermann Moller/


Birds possess several physical adaptations that aid in their survival during cold weather. For instance, their insulating feathers effectively trap body heat, thus keeping them warm. Birds’ small size also allows them to retain body heat more efficiently. In addition, birds have a high metabolic rate, which helps them maintain their body temperature in frigid weather conditions.

During the snowstorm, birds most likely searched for protected areas to shield themselves from the snow and strong winds. They probably assembled in groups to share body heat and enhance their chances of survival. Furthermore, birds might have adjusted their feeding behaviors. They may have relied on their stored fat reserves or foraged for food in remote regions, such as beneath trees or within buildings.

dark-eyed junco perched in tree during winter
Juncos are sometimes called “snowbirds.” Birds’ small size also allows them to retain body heat more efficiently.

© Huth

Bottom Line

The impact of the Great Blizzard of 1888 was not limited to New York City. The biggest snowstorm that ever hit New York in March had far-reaching consequences on the region’s economy, agriculture, and transportation systems.

Regardless of the numerous challenges, the storm proved to be a powerful lesson in resilience and adaptation for the area’s people and wildlife. The event serves as a reminder of nature’s crucial role in our daily lives and the importance of protecting and preserving our environment.

As we face the ongoing impact of climate change and other environmental challenges, we must mitigate their effects and ensure a sustainable and resilient future. Working together, we can safeguard the biodiversity and natural resources necessary for a thriving planet and ensure future generations inherit a world equipped to adapt and flourish in adversity.

The Featured Image

NYC Blizzard of 1888
The Great Blizzard of 1888 influenced city planners to implement underground power lines and transportation.
© Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – License / Original

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