The Great Blizzard of 1888, or The Great White Hurricane, battered Americans from Washington, D.C., to Maine with extraordinary force — and little warning.

The national illustrated newspaper Frank Leslie's Illustrated reports on "the great storm" in New York City. | (Library of Congress)

On March 10, 1888, the weather in the Northeast was fair and in the 50s, more indicative of the spring to come than of the winter season almost passed. A storm heading eastward was predicted to be rain at worst — nothing to worry about. But an arctic wind swept in on March 11, dragging temperatures down. Rain turned to snow and wind gusts reached 85 miles an hour. By the morning of March 12, residents in Northeast towns woke to a complete whiteout.

There was 25 inches of snow in New York City. North of the city, the snow was nearly twice as deep — as much as 55 inches. The winds whipped the snow around with such ferocity that one snow drift in Connecticut was nearly four stories high, while another 10-foot drift stretched a mile. Hundreds of boats sank in the Atlantic. Thousands of animals froze to death. Train passengers were trapped in poorly heated cars for days. The blizzard killed 400 people, half of whom lived in New York City, which bore the brunt of the destruction.

New Yorkers hike across the Brooklyn Bridge after being forced to leave their stalled train. | (AP Photo/Arthur H. Fisher)

Seventy-five miles of the Long Island Railroad system was blocked for more than a week. New York's elevated trains were abandoned on ice-slicked rails. In the early days of the blizzard's aftermath, the East River was so packed with ice that desperate commuters walked across the frozen waterway to or from Manhattan and Brooklyn until police intervened.

New York City's system of above-ground telephone and telegram cables were destroyed. Brooklyn was cut off from electricity and communication entirely, resembling "a country village" at daybreak; its thoroughfares "looked more like a deserted cowpath than the main business street of a big city," reported The New York Times.

The storm actually helped push New York City into the 20th century. Officials were forced to consider new solutions for sustainable communication and transportation. In the years to come, telegraph, water, and gas lines would be buried underground. Within a decade, construction would begin on the underground subway system.

Even by today's standards, the Great White Hurricane ranks as one of the worst blizzards in American history. Take a peek at its destruction with this selection of vintage photographs.

Keene, New Hampshire. | (PNHF Collection / Alamy Stock Photo)

45th Street and Grand Central Depot, New York City. | (NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) Collection)

Near the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. | (Library of Congress)

A broken grocery story awning in New York City. | (AP Photo)

Men open pathways between Chesterfield and West Swanzey, New Hampshire. | (PNHF Collection / Alamy Stock Photo)

A boy leans against a snow drift in New York City. | (NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) Collection)

Keene, New Hampshire. | (PNHF Collection / Alamy Stock Photo)

Greenwich Village, New York. | (NOAA/Richard B. Levine)

Keene, New Hampshire. | (PNHF Collection / Alamy Stock Photo)