Several significant weather disasters have struck New York City over the past two hundred years, ranging from howling blizzards to torrential hurricanes to intense heat waves and droughts. Severe weather in New York City history has had a way of bringing into focus the relationship between New Yorkers and their lived environment. Weather extremes have often challenged the ability of the city to operate as normal, while revealing to New Yorkers vulnerabilities in the city’s infrastructure and emergency response capabilities.

Throughout the nineteenth century, New York City gradually evolved as settlement spread outwards to resemble the sprawling urban landscape we know today. But early in the century development was confined to the areas beneath 14th Street–settlements on other parts of Manhattan were considered outlying villages. As flocks of migrants and immigrants flowed into the city over the course of the century, development spread outwards, even as New Yorkers had to adjust to more dense living and working conditions as well as the problems that came with moving people from one part of Manhattan to another. When storms hit New York--such as the Cape May-Long Island Hurricane in 1821 that flooded the Battery and much of downtown Manhattan–the city’s vulnerabilities became more apparent. Knowledge gleaned from storms has been used in expanding the city and strengthening its infrastructure.

Events such as storms, which shake New Yorkers’ sense of normalcy, provide great insight into the particular moments in which they occur. Because of the impact storms have had on New Yorkers’ senses of comfort and routine, and the ways that they dramatically transform familiar landscapes, storms stick out in individual and group memories. Perhaps no weather event has had as significant an impact on New York City as the Blizzard of 1888. While not an event that fueled progress in and of itself, the Blizzard of 1888 did clarify for New Yorkers specific steps that New Yorkers needed to take to make the city a more efficient–and weather guarded–environment. For this reason, as well as for the dramatic stories wrought in its path, the Blizzard of 1888 has long stuck out in New York memory.