The Snow Piled Six Feet High


 

This year, local meteorologists are predicting a very snowy winter for Philadelphia. With such a forecast looming in the future, snow is probably the last thing that residents of this city want to think about. It is likely that Philadelphians did not want to think about the prospect of snow in 1914 either, especially as spring was nearing.

However, March 2 and into the early morning of March 3, 1914, the snow was practically all people were talking about. On that night, a storm blew in from the Atlantic Coast, causing great troubles in New York and Camden. It did not spare Philadelphia from the problems of frozen precipitation either.

In New York, winds of up to 72 miles per hour were reported to accompany the storm as it made its way through the region. By the end, it dropped only 7 inches of snow in the Philadelphia area, however combined with the wind and the snow remaining from a snowstorm the previous week, drifts of 6 to 10 feet in some areas occurred. These conditions shut down the city, cutting off communications with neighboring areas as well as the influx of food from nearby farms. The blizzard was particularly destructive across the river in Camden, where it was reported that:

‘fierce winds from the northwest whipped through the street, tearing off roofs, blowing down chimneys, sending signs clattering away into the darkness, and punishing pedestrians with cutting, stinging, particles of ice-laden snow. Electric lights were torn from their fastenings in all sections of the city. Poles gave way under the best of the winds and collapsed, falling into the street or upon the roofs and sides of houses. Twisted masses of live wires emitted sparks which set the poles blazing and the snake-like shattering imperiled the people struggling through the blinding storm.’ (“Winds Tear Off Roofs”, p. 1).

The snow also caused problems for travelers. Several trains stalled on the way to Philadelphia from New York, not being able to plow through the snow drifts. The Philadelphia Inquirer told stories of people who had become stranded on the trains overnight, some not making it to Broad Street Station until 20 hours after they were expected. Travelers told of being hungry, cold, and tired while imprisoned on the train by snow and ice. One traveler in particular spoke of sending out an expedition to ask for food at a nearby farmhouse he and fellow train riders spotted through the windows of their car. He was quoted in the Inquirer:

‘We fought our way to it [the farmhouse], at times through drifts above our waist. I obtained the name of the kindly lady who opened the door for us, when we had finally swept her deeply-covered porch free.She had little enough in the house, but what she had she gave freely. She supplied us with bread, butter, bacon and a great steaming pot of tea. We carried these things back to the train, and mighty welcome they were. Many of the day coach passengers had not had a thing to eat since noon of the day before and they were half starved.’ (“Passengers Tell Stories of Snow-Bound Trains,” p.2)

Philadelphia spent the next few days digging out from the storm. A 600 man team worked to clear the streets in the central business district by the morning of March 3. Life in the city was beginning to get back to normal at that point, with many of the trolley lines clear and running on schedule and churches and schools reopening.

References:

  • “600 Men and 300 Teams Clearing City Streets.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 3 March 1914. 3.
  • “Deserting City Storm Travels Off Into Ocean.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 3 March 1914. 1.
  • “New York Isolated by New and Severe Blizzard.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 2 March 1914. 1.
  • “Passengers Tell Stories of Snow-Bound Trains.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 3 March 1914. 2.
  • “Traffic Tied Up Under Seven Inches of Snow-Houses Unroofed by Forty-three-Mile Gale-Worst Storm Since 1909.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 3 March 1914. 1.
  • “Trains Arrive After 24-Hour Fight With Snow.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 3 March 1914. 1.
  • “Winds Tear Off Roofs, Sections in Darkness, Trains Tied Up.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 2 March 1914. 1.

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