Blizzard of 1888: The Worst Blizzard of all Time?

Snow is starting to fall in northern New England as the region braces for an epic blizzard. Snowfall is expected to reach 2 to 3 feet when all is said and done. *Yawn* Unless things change dramatically, the Blizzard of 2013 will be nothing compared to the Great Blizzard of 1888. 125 years ago, 40 to 50 inches fell in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut over a four day period. Saratoga Springs received almost 6 feet!

The Blizzard of 1888 snowdrifts were epic. In Keene, New Hampshire, “drifts of hard packed snow from 12-15 feet deep were piled across the roads, and half way to the top of the second story windows.” And that was on the low end. Whopping 30 to 40 foot snowdrifts were common with the highest drift topping out at 52 feet (not the best day for residents of Gravesend, New York). Here’s more on the Great Blizzard of 1888 from Forgotten New England:

During New England‘s Blizzard of 1888, also known as the Great White Hurricane, over four feet of snow fell in Connecticut and Massachusetts.  The storm dumped as much as 40 inches of snow in New York and New Jersey.  In a world before road salt and snowblowers, the Great White Hurricane suspended communication and travel in the U.S. Northeast for nearly a week in March 1888.  History most remembers the particularly horrific conditions in New York City.  There, the New York World reported that almost two feet of snow had fallen amidst biting 50 mph winds and sub-zero temperatures.  However, the storm also wrought havoc in smaller northern cities along the US East Coast…

(See the rest at Forgotten New England)


Climate Change…Millions of Years Ago?

In 1850, scientists began recording semi-detailed, quasi-global temperature data. While earlier records exist, they are less reliable, and more localized. Of course, 161 years isn’t much data, especially considering that the earth is believed to be about four and a half billion years old. In order to get earlier temperature data, we have to turn to a field of science known as paleoclimatology.

Why is Paleoclimatology Important?

Paleoclimatology is the study of earth’s ancient climate. Since scientists often examine the past in order to better understand the present, paleoclimatology has huge ramifications on the wider climate change debate that rages today.

As mentioned earlier, fairly reliable temperature data exists back to 1850. For earlier periods, scientists rely heavily on proxy measurements. In other words, ancient temperatures are inferred via preserved physical objects. Dendroclimatology, or the study of changes in tree growth via tree rings, is one source of proxy data. Others include coral rings, ice core samples, differences in sedimentary rock levels, and borehole temperatures. Using these proxies, as well as observations recorded in ancient texts, scientists have been able to reconstruct temperature data as far back as 2,000 years for some areas in the northern hemisphere.

The field of paleoclimatology attempts to go back even further. It uses similar proxy sources as the ones mentioned above. Unfortunately, there are some limitations to this practice. Currently, the oldest ice cores are just 800,000 years old while the oldest marine sediments are only 200 million years old. Adding to the difficulty, these sediments have been influenced over time by chemical and physical changes. The biggest problem is that our confidence of proxy sources deteriorates the further back in time we go.

Despite these challenges, paleoclimatology scientists have constructed a timeline of historical temperatures on Earth going back about 500 million years. The chart above provides an overall perspective on what temperatures might have looked like over the course of that time period (please note that it uses a logarithmic scale).

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Assuming that the data is fairly accurate, the chart represents about 11% of Earth’s 4.5 billion year history. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to go back any further due to a lack of reliable proxy sources.

So, what conclusions can we draw from this paleoclimatology data? Well, for one we can see that there are about four cycles of ice ages and non ice ages, with about 140 million years separating each one. Second, temperatures have fluctuated fairly wildly throughout these cycles. Third, we are in an ice age as we speak. The Quaternary glaciation began about 2.58 million years ago. Surprised? Well, the reason it doesn’t feel more like an “an ice age” is that we are in a warmer, interglacial period.

Fears over a coming glacial period have existed for decades. Back in 1972, a group of paleoclimatology scientists suggested that “it is likely that the present-day warm epoch will terminate relatively soon if man does not intervene.” Thanks to scientific advances, most scientists no longer worry about so-called global cooling. In fact, most paleoclimatology scholars expect the current interglacial period to last another 15,000-50,000 years.

It should be noted that the present interglacial period, which encompasses the last 10,000-15,000 years, has been quite stable and warm compared to the previous one. This period of climate stability may be more important than it first appears. Some even think that it has been a decisive factor in allowing humanity to blossom into the present civilization we enjoy today.