- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

The capital city's colossal snowstorm has striking similarities to the calamity that struck Washington almost 115 years ago.
Like the contemporary storm, the blizzard in March 1888 marred a Washington weekend, with Sunday as the focal point.
A gentle rain began as Washingtonians attended morning church services March 11. By 5 p.m. the rain became torrential and quickly changed to large flakes that were blinding in their intensity. But unlike the current blizzard, the 1888 storm was swift. By midnight it was over.
The first problem for Washingtonians was the flood of slush in the streets. Then the heavy snow turned to ice on its resting place on tree limbs, telegraph wires and electric-light lines. A heavy northwest wind dropped the temperature to 20 degrees, and the scene moved one writer to write:
"Ice-laden trees … looked like huge ghosts as they waved their withered branches violently in the wind. A more cheerless night could not have been imagined."
Everything seemed to come down. First, the electric wires, leaving Pennsylvania Avenue "as dark as a suburban street." Then the telegraph lines snapped, crackled and popped, especially on B Street, from Sixth to Ninth streets. "Here all the wires were down, and they hung so thick across the street that it was difficult to cross."
Activity at the Western Union office came to a standstill, with only one line intact by midnight. And that was to Pittsburgh. Associated Press stories could not be transmitted, and testy reporters got the cold shoulder from telegraph employees. Said one, "If you have been outside, you know as much about the weather as we do."
Trees and their limbs were the last to fall, but their storm effect was major. An immense limb blocked the east gate of the White House. The intersection of Ninth and G streets was blocked by a fallen tree. Elsewhere the tree damage was widespread, especially in the city's outer sections, where, according to one lament, "fires, murders, riots, or any other species of disturbance might have taken place and no assistance could have been summoned."
Train movement was stymied by the storm, and by the next morning Washington was "isolated from the world." The only train from New York City that made it to Washington was a record 12 hours late. The storm was the "most remarkable that the city had seen for years and the most disagreeable."
As for damage estimates, it was incalculable. So, too, was the time it would take to get the city back to normal.
Bone-chilling, blustery cold falling to zero degrees prevented telegraph and electric crews from making immediate repairs. By March 13 warmer weather permitted repair teams to restore some telegraph service to the north, which revealed that Washington had been spared the brunt of the storm.
New York City and New England were so overwhelmed with snow and cold that the blizzard of 1888 came to be identified with their areas.
By March 15, the nation's capital was almost back to normal. And Washingtonians put their minds on other things. After all, spring was just around the corner.

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