The Great Snow of 1717

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The Great Snow of 1717 was a series of snowstorms between February 27 and March 7, 1717 (Gregorian calendar) that blanketed the colony of Virginia and the New England colonies with five or more feet (1.5 or more meters) of snow, and much higher drifts. Snowfall may have occurred elsewhere, but settler population was sparse outside of New England at that time. The Great Snow is considered one of the benchmark storms in New England, often compared to the Great Blizzard of 1888 in severity.[1]

Winter of 1716–17[edit]

The winter, even prior to the Great Snow, had been the worst in memory. The temperatures had not been unusually cold, but in December 1716, there had already been snow to the depth of 5 feet (1.5 m). By the end of January, there were drifts 25 feet (7.6 m) high in a few places, overwhelming the people living in New England at the time.[2]

There had been a series of volcanic eruptions circa 1716. Ash circulating the globe in the upper atmosphere from the eruptions of Mount Kirishima in Japan, Kelud in Indonesia and Taal Volcano in the Philippines likely contributed to the exceptional New England snowfall.

The Great Snow[edit]

The great snow, depending on the source, began on February 27 or March 1. On February 27 a typical New England nor'easter passed through, with snow falling on some areas and other places receiving a mix of snow, sleet, and rain.[3] The first major snowstorm occurred on March 1, with another on the 4th, and a third, the worst among the three, on the 7th. At some points, the snow would lighten and stop, but the sky would remain cloudy, showing no signs of clearing.[4][3]

Some of the oldest Native Americans had said that even their ancestors never spoke of a storm of this magnitude.[5] Boston received around 40 inches (100 cm) of snow, while some places north of the city reached up to 60 inches (150 cm).[3] In Hampton, Massachusetts, the snow was so deep that people could only leave their houses from the second floor on the lee side of the house, implying actual snow depths of as much as 8 feet (2.4 m) or more.[4] Many single-story homes were buried completely, without even the chimney showing. On the larger residences, drifts reached the third-story window on the windward side.[4] Large expanses of snow were 10–15 feet (3.0–4.6 m) deep, with some significant drifts 20 feet (6.1 m) deep.[5]

The post roads were impassable until at least March 15, with the mailmen describing snow drifts 6–14 feet (1.8–4.3 m) from Boston to Portsmouth more than a week after the storm.[6] Travel was also impossible for a time from New York City to Boston.[7]

The geographic scope of the storm is unknown, due to the scarce population and poor record-keeping of the day. Most information is known only from private diaries. The snow was known to be several feet deep around Philadelphia, New York City, New London, Connecticut, Boston and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.[3][6][8]

Damage and losses[edit]

Many livestock lost their lives, either starving or freezing to death under tremendous drifts of snow. As many as 90-95% of the deer in the area died, either from starvation or predators, leading to many towns appointing "deer-reeves" to ensure their preservation.[9] Many orchards were damaged, since the snow covered even the tops of many trees, and animals would graze among the upper branches where they usually could not.[6][10]


  1. ^ The Big One! A Review of the March 12-14, 1993 "Storm of the Century" (PDF) Accessed 2009-02-03.
  2. ^ Perley, pg. 31
  3. ^ a b c d Zielinski and Keim, pg. 181
  4. ^ a b c Cram, William Dow (1938-12-01). "The Great Blizzard of 1717". Little Stories of Old New England. Hampton Union and Rockingham County Gazette. Retrieved 2009-02-03.
  5. ^ a b Perley, pg. 33
  6. ^ a b c Perley, pg. 35
  7. ^ Have Snow Shovel, Will Travel Archived 2009-04-28 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2009-02-03.
  8. ^ Burt and Stroud, pg. 90
  9. ^ Perley, pg. 34
  10. ^ "Remembering the Great Snow of 1717 in New England". New England Historical Society. Retrieved 13 February 2015.

Book references[edit]