Well, this storm isn't quite working out the way Baltimore snow-lovers might have wished. But it's going to snow hard somewhere. A slight change in the storm track and it could have been here.
The middle of February seems to be a favored time in these parts for big snowstorms. It's early enough in the season for cold, arctic air masses to become entrenched across the northeast, yet late enough for warm, wet storm systems to begin pushing far enough north to collide with the cold and unleash the snow machine in our laps.
Some of our biggest storms - indeed our very biggest - have come in the middle of February, between the 10th and 20th. We've had more than one "Presidents Day," "Presidents' Day Weekend," and "Valentines' Day" blizzard. Here's a list of the 10 biggest snowfalls for Baltimore and Washington from the National Weather Service. Notice that five fell between 2/10 and 2/20.
For some insight into Northeast snowstorms, read this interview with Louis Uccellini, director of the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction and an expert on the topic.
One of the worst for Baltimore was a storm that ended on Valentine's Day in 1899. Sun researcher Paul McCardell pulled the clips from our newspaper for that storm. Here's a flavor of the coverage we gave that storm 108 years ago:
Headlines: "WORST BLIZZARD EVER KNOWN HERE; Business Paralyzed and Travel Suspended; 15.5 INCHES SNOW IN A DAY; Total Amount in Nine Days is 32.1 Inches, Breaking All Records - Many Persons Overcome by Cold - Freezing Weather in The South."
After an accounting of vacant streets, closed schools and stalled streetcars, the reporter went on...
"Suffering among the poor is becoming very keen, and nearly 3,000 persons applied at the police stations for aid. Generous contributions are being made for their support, but a great deal more will be needed. The Chinese of Baltimore contributed $100 to help relieve the poor."
In Washington, "The commissioners sent an urgent appeal to Congress for an appropriation of $20,000 to remove snow and ice from the streets and $5,000 to clear a channel in the Potomac. Two thousand men will be given employment."
"The whole South shivers, zero temperatures being reported in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Kentucky, while Florida suffered with a freezing temperature. Damage to the fruit crops is expected."
"Thousands of persons in New York are starving and a bread famine is threatened."
In Baltimore, "There were few people on the streets who were not obliged to be there... Strong gusts of wind carried clouds of snow from the housetops and sent in whirling down into the streets, and other gusts caught the snow from the street and sent it whirling off to fall some other place... The unhappy pedestrian, plodding along, battling with snow in his face, would suddenly be brought to a stop by an unexpected plunge into a snow drift that would cover him almost to the waist...
"The snow would blow into the eyes, faces and down the necks of all alike, and then would melt from the heat of the body. Whirling along it piled up against the sides of houses and against fences, rendering the walking almost an impossibility."
The only effective communication was the still-novel telephone. But the Chesapeake and Potomac Company was struggling.
"The lines were kept going incessantly. Many of the operators became exhausted from the fatigue of answering calls and from the lack of food. One female operator at the central exchange, St. Paul street and Bank Lane, fainted from exhaustion."
Temperatures during all this snow climbed from 7 degrees, all the way up to 9 degrees before descending again. Winds blew at 30 mph. The effect on pedestrians was brutal.
"Miss Alberta Starr, aged eighteen years, an employee of the Gail & Ax tobacco factory, was overcome by cold on her way to her home, 1514 Boyd street, about 5 o'clock in the afternoon and sank in the snow unconscious at Light and Ostend streets. She was almost covered by snow when Patrolman Pfister saw her. He took her in his arms and hurried into Herman's shoe store with her. She recovered in about half an hour."
Another worker, a young man, the reporter continued, "started out in the morning with a freezer of icecream for a customer. After much struggling he managed to reach the customer's house, but while climbing out of the wagon was overcome and fell into a drift fully five feet deep, carrying the icecream freezer with him. He entirely disappeared from view, and a Mr. Lehmeyer, who saw the accident, rushed to the rescue with a large coal shovel. He managed to dig out the colored boy, who was nearly frozen."
One after another, The Sun detailed the near-death experiences of Baltimoreans trying to navigate the blizzard. A surprising number were rescued and taken to nearby drug stores for "restoratives."
Horses suffered, too. "Teams employed by business houses were scarce, and when they did appear the owners, recognizing the futility of attempting to make use of them, promptly sent them back to the stables. A humane South street merchant, when his team arrived, had the horses unhitched and took them into his office to escape the severity of the weather."
"A striking exception to the general lack of business was seen in the stores that sold rubber overshoes, Arctics and rubber boots. All day long they were crowded. There were not enough salesmen to wait upon the customers. So great was the rush that many had to wait upon themselves, going to the shelves, picking out what they wanted, taking the article to the cashier's desk and there arranging for their payment and their change."
"A good pair of rubber shoes could be had for 75 cents and a good pair of boots for $2. Naturally, there were higher prices for better goods, but the goods sold at the prices noted would serve for every purpose."