Is It a Blizzard? A Nor’easter? And What’s the Difference?

On March 1, 1888, a buyer for the department store Edward Ridley & Sons in New York City made an error. For $1,200, the buyer, John J. Meisinger, bought a carload of unclaimed wooden snow shovels — 3,000 of them — to sell at the store, the story goes. It was a “ridiculous low price,” Mr. Meisinger later wrote, but strangely timed. “Many of the buyers laughed at the idea of me buying snow shovels at the end of the season,” he said.

Days later, a blizzard of epic proportions had descended on the east of the country. “THE WORST STORM THE CITY HAS EVER KNOWN. BUSINESS AND TRAVEL COMPLETELY SUSPENDED,” read a headline in The New York Times on March 13. Great drifts of snow, in some places 15 feet high, accumulated across the region.

In the end, nearly 400 people died during the Great Blizzard of 1888, including 200 in New York City. Communications, commerce and travel were interrupted for days.

The story ended well for Mr. Meisinger, however, who turned a late-winter profit on his snow shovels. “Ridley’s was the only store that had a large stock of snow shovels and sold every one the first day,” he wrote. “Had the laugh on the other fellows,” he added.

The storm of 1888 was definitively a blizzard. But what about others? Several criteria must be satisfied for the National Weather Service to use the word “blizzard,” said Eric Guillot, a winter program coordinator for the service.

We are having trouble retrieving the article content.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.

Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.

Thank you for your patience while we verify access.

Already a subscriber? Log in.

Want all of The Times? Subscribe.