It's been more than a century since the last time Wall Street shut down for two straight days due to weather. Here's a look back at the last storm to do it.
Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, U.S. financial markets have been shut down for two consecutive days now, making it the first time in more than a century that Wall Street trading will have been halted for 48 hours due to weather. Technically, the markets could have operated all-electronically today. But the New York Stock Exchange has never opened for business without traders on its floor, and given some of the severe glitches that have plagued computerized exchange such as the NASDAQ in recent months, nobody wanted to attempt the experiment right now.
So with Wall Street dark, I thought we could take a brief look back at the last great natural disaster to bring the stock market to a two-day halt: the Great Blizzard of 1888. The unexpected, three day blast of winter weather began on March Monday. The weekend forecast had called for rain, but when arctic air from the north unexpectedly met with a warm, low-pressure system from the south, the two swirled into massive storm that deposited foot upon foot of snow from the mid-Atlantic up through New England. About 400 people died in total, including about 200 in New York City, where 22 inches of flakes piled up. Thousands were trapped in train cars stalled atop the city's elevated subway tracks, some for as long as two days.
The snow also wreaked havoc on the city's communications infrastructure. As the Newark Star Ledger recalled in a reflection on the storm last year:
In 1888, all the city's communication systems -- telephone and telegraph -- were above ground, as were many of the gas and water lines. A citywide web of overhead wires was destroyed by the wind and ice and by Monday all of the New York's 6,900 telephone lines were dead.
The storm also left the city largely in the dark. Once their above ground electric lines began to snap in the snow and wind, the city's power companies chose to shut down service in order to head off any additional problems. As CUNY's Virtual New York describes the scene, "By evening, with snow still blowing, the only light in the city was gas light and candle light, remnants of decades past."