Massachusetts

The Valentine’s Day Storm of 1940

The Valentine’s Day Storm of 1940 barreled into New England just 15 months after The Great New England Hurricane of 1938. Heavy snows and high winds made it one of the most memorable storms in Boston's history.

Pedestrians struggle to stay upright during the Valentine's Day Storm.

Pedestrians struggle to stay upright during the Valentine's Day Storm.

The blizzard caught Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts by complete surprise, as the National Weather Service had predicted ‘rain and light snow.’

The storm killed 31 people, paralyzed travel and stranded thousands for days. It closed every department store in Boston, something the Great New England Hurricane hadn’t done.

Valentine's Day Storm

It started benignly with flurries in the morning of Valentine's Day and developed explosively. As the afternoon wore on, the snow began to fall at a rate of three inches per hour -- for seven hours. Winds as high as 60 mph drove drifts as high as 10 feet, making the roads impassable.

The National Weather Service forecast rain mixed with snow in the afternoon. Office workers left home in the morning wearing heels and had to struggle through the snow on the way home.

Workers struggling through the snow on one of Boston's wharves.

Workers struggling through the snow on one of Boston's wharves.

The storm created blizzard conditions throughout New England and into New York and Pennsylvania. It halted all train travel throughout New England. Two thousand people who had come to see Sonja Henie perform at the Boston Garden were stranded. They thronged North Station’s Hotel Manger lobby and restaurant all night long. The trains didn’t run until 10 a.m.

weather history
Notice of train delays during the storm.

Notice of train delays during the Valentine's Day Storm.

Some managed to find hotel rooms at pricey rates. When the hotel rooms filled up, hotels put cots in their lobbies and ballrooms. Many Henie fans hung out in hotel bars for several days, still in their dinner jackets and evening gowns.

So many cars were stranded that Boston police enforced a ban on automobiles entering the city.

An auto stuck in the snow.

An auto stuck in the snow during the Valentine's Day Storm.

Poetic License

In Provincetown, the Advocate reported the Valentine's Day Storm began with 'an angry, darkening sky that shone dull green' in the surf. The northeast wind ripped shingles off the town hall with such force that a shingle cut through a parked car. About 25 men and women slept in chairs in town hall overnight. Winds up to 80 mph were recorded along Beach Point.

Charles Olson

Charles Olson

The Valentine’s Day Storm launched the poetry career of Modernist Charles Olson. Olson, then 29, was about to leave Gloucester, Mass., to work in New York City. On the night of the awful storm he left his mother in the house near the Annisquam River, jumped off the porch and wandered down to the bay to be bombarded by sheets of ice blown in from the sea.

Years later he wrote an epic series of verse called The Maximus Poems, which alluded to the storm as marking the time he started writing poetry.

there was a Dance Hall there
like literally ye Olde
West on the spot what he
looked out and saw the sun gleaming
on the snow after
the St Valentine Day's
Storm spring
1940

The Clean-Up

The next day crowds of men wanting work waited at the City Yards on Albany Street, reported the Boston Globe. It took 17,000 of them to dig Boston out of the snow, as 9,000 Works Progress Administration workers joined the 7,500 regular public workers and extras. Any man with a shovel could go to the local work yard and get a job. The city ran out of shovels and they had to supply their own.

A firefighter tries to shovel out his truck during the storm.

A firefighter tries to shovel out his truck during the Valentine's Day Storm.

Emergency workers cleared train tracks with bonfires, oil lamps and flame throwers. Boston hired 17,000 men to shovel the city out. That included 9,000 WPA employees and 7,500 regular workers. Any man who showed up with a shovel could get work. The shovel was crucial, for the city ran out of them.

In Medfield, Mass., the snow was higher than the tops of cars.

weather history

For days afterward in New Bedford, the family and friends of the crew of the Palmer Island awaited news of the 49-foot dragger, feared lost at sea during the storm.  The Coast Guard scoured the seas for it and after three days found the Palmer Island  120 miles south of Block Island. On Sunday, Feb. 18, the Coast Guard towed the vessel back to New Bedford with all 10 crewmen aboard.

With thanks to The Boston GlobePhotos, except for Charles Olson, courtesy the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. This story about the Valentine's Day storm was updated in 2018.

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Howard Wasden

    Howard Wasden

    February 14, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    You still coming to work, right?

  2. Molly Landrigan

    Molly Landrigan

    February 14, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    No snowblower?

  3. Steven Skorupowski

    Steven Skorupowski

    February 14, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Not only is is deep. It’s someone’s Nana shoveling……

  4. Dave Landrigan

    Dave Landrigan

    February 14, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    Cambridge, MA, 2/15/1940

  5. Terry Hibbert

    Terry Hibbert

    February 14, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    I wonder if after shoveling this spot out she put out a chair to save her space lol

  6. Roman Dubecky

    Roman Dubecky

    February 14, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    global warming started a long time ago

  7. Molly Landrigan

    Molly Landrigan

    February 16, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    I always worry when they predict flurries!

  8. Roseland Cottage

    Roseland Cottage

    February 20, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Well that picture puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

  9. Clare Silliman

    Clare Silliman

    February 13, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    1992 Chicago. Working at Malnati’s and got slammed on carryout. Everyone wanted hot pizza.

  10. Helen Brewster

    Helen Brewster

    February 13, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    Tracy Lee Murphy

  11. John Vendettuoli

    John Vendettuoli

    February 13, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    Good stuff sue

  12. John Vendettuoli

    John Vendettuoli

    February 13, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    Good stuff sue

  13. Christina Rolsma

    Christina Rolsma

    February 13, 2015 at 11:44 pm

    My. Word. 17,000 men?!

  14. Bobo Leach

    Bobo Leach

    February 14, 2015 at 12:08 am

    Wow!

  15. Kris Harvin Viens

    Kris Harvin Viens

    February 14, 2015 at 12:17 am

    The weather men haven’t gotten any more accurate

  16. Mary Cote Buetow

    Mary Cote Buetow

    February 14, 2015 at 1:15 am

    I just read a historical account of 100 men digging out the road from Woonsocket, RI to Providence, RI after a blizzard back in 1928. 16 miles. It took them 3 days! Crazy. We won’t feel so bad snow blowing our driveway this weekend.

  17. Pam Lincoln

    Pam Lincoln

    February 14, 2015 at 6:04 am

    Happy Valentines Day !
    ❤️❤️

  18. Carole Brooks Fowler

    Carole Brooks Fowler

    February 14, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Kathleen Scherpa and Judith Dimino, Elva Hughes

  19. Bob Wells

    Bob Wells

    February 14, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Sounds like the 38 Hurricane.

    • New England Historical Society

      New England Historical Society

      February 14, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      ^Bob, It was 15 months or so after the ’38 Hurricane. People must have felt then like they feel now — tired of storms!

  20. Buxton Antiques Emporium

    Buxton Antiques Emporium

    February 16, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Looks familiar!

  21. Pingback: Weather History of New England - Six Storms that Changed Our World - New England Historical Society

  22. Pingback: Six Quick Facts About the Valentine in History - New England Historical Society

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