"This could be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before," said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday of the blizzard expected to arrive in the Big Apple late on Monday.
Forecasters warn that this might be the biggest storm to hit the Northeast in our young 21st Century, disrupting the lives of 50 million people by dumping snow up to 18 inches deep from Philadelphia northward, and perhaps 30 inches deep from New York City to Boston, while bringing near-hurricane-speed wind gusts of up to 65 miles per hour.
Mayor de Blasio waved a list of "the 10 worst storms to hit New York City since 1872," but never learned what one blizzard 127 years ago did to his city's infrastructure.
Ideological efforts by progressives like de Blasio to centrally control everything are making our technologies and society dangerously vulnerable to natural and human-caused disruptions, as Craig R. Smith and I explain in our 2014 book "Don't Bank On It!"
In early March 1888, farmers were already plowing their fields in the Bronx after a mild winter. The crocuses were already up, and robins had been spotted returning to Central Park.
Without satellites, however, New York weather forecasters did not know that two giant storms were headed their way. A Pacific-born storm was rolling across the Great Plains at 600 miles per day. Another, full of moisture-laden air, was roaring north along the East Coast.
On March 12, 1888, the two storms merged over New York City, held there by a mass of frigid air from Canada. For 36 hours this perfect storm became a 200-mile-wide snow machine. Historians call this white hurricane the "Great Blizzard of 1888."
The storm piled snow 30 feet deep against buildings in the stone canyons of Manhattan, trapping many, and forcing others to exit or enter via third-floor windows. Its 84-mile-per-hour wind gusts blew people off their feet, forcing closure of the Brooklyn Bridge.
People took shelter in theaters, saloons — and even jails. Hundreds slept in Grand Central Station, even though the winds blew a dusting of snow through the railroad tunnels and as high as the ceiling in the main building.
The winds and weight of ice accumulating on the new spider web of outdoor telegraph, telephone and high-voltage electrical lines snapped wires and poles, shutting down nearly all this new technology, including the new electrical street lights. The city fell into eerie darkness after sunset.
The storm shut down the New York Stock Exchange for the first time since it began trading in 1817. Along the Northeast coast, the monster storm wrecked or sank more than 200 ships and killed at least 100 sailors. A gale blew the water out of Baltimore's harbor, while leaving Philadelphia's harbor, as one witness said, "choked with the wreckage of broken ships."
The blizzard halted the railroads and almost all road traffic into and out of New York City, cutting off food shipments for its then-1.5 million residents.
The fire department struggled through ice age city streets to reach burning homes, only to find that the water from their pumpers froze into sheets of ice the moment it struck buildings. City transit was then the "El," train cars traveling on tracks elevated above city streets. The ice and storm quickly shut these down.
In its wake the storm left at least 200 people dead in New York City. The disappearing snow revealed the frozen carcasses of many hundreds of horses that died in the cold. The city hired 17,000 workmen for 25 cents per hour to break up and haul away 24 million cubic yards of ice and snow.
The Great Blizzard of 1888 would change New York City forever. Then-Mayor Abram Hewitt said the storm "shows the necessity for an underground rapid-transit railroad." Future rails would be mostly subterranean subways, as would be the routes for future telephone and electrical wires.
Today, the progressive politics of centralized control are making us more vulnerable to other storms, whether from explosions on the Sun or from terrorism. As with the Internet, the more we decentralize political power, the safer our future will be.
Lowell Ponte is co-author, with Craig R. Smith, of "The Great Withdrawal"; "Crashing the Dollar: How to Survive a Global Currency Collapse"; "The Great Debasement: The 100-Year Dying of the Dollar and How to Get America's Money Back"; "The Inflation Deception: Six Ways Government Tricks Us . . . And Seven Ways to Stop It"; and "Re-Making Money: Ways to Restore America's Optimistic Golden Age." Read more reports from Lowell Ponte — Click Here Now.
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