MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Weathering Some of the Biggest Recorded Storms Ever: Background information when reading Winter Sisters

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Winter Sisters

by Robin Oliveira

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira X
Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2018, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2019, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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About this Book

Weathering Some of the Biggest Recorded Storms Ever

This article relates to Winter Sisters

Print Review

1888 BlizzardIn the afterword of Winter Sisters, Robin Oliveira notes that she based the blizzard in the novel on one of the real-life deadliest blizzards in North American history, which took place in 1888. According to the Life Science website, "More than 400 people in the Northeast died during the Great Blizzard, the worst death toll in United States history for a winter storm. On March 11 and March 12 in 1888, this devastating nor'easter dumped 40 to 50 inches (100 to 127 cm) of snow in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. Huge snowdrifts buried houses and trains, and 200 ships sank in waves whipped up by fierce winds."

However, while the location of that storm fit Oliveira's story, other aspects don't. That's when I noticed that earlier that same year, in January 1888, another disastrous storm hit the plains states of the US. This one was called the Schoolhouse Blizzard or the Children's Blizzard (among other similar names), because the snow fell during the day, trapping many children in their schools (as well as stranding people outside their homes in their places of employment). This blizzard had a death-toll of 235 people, which might have been much lower, had the storm not hit so suddenly, right during an unseasonably warm patch of weather. The time of year of this blizzard, and the way it hit people unawares and in the middle of the day, are more like what Oliveira describes in her novel.

Storm of the CenturyWhile these two storms aren't the worst blizzards in recorded history, together they made 1888 the year with the deadliest winter weather on record. One other winter storm front in the US was also calamitous, gaining it the title "Storm of the Century." This storm took place in 1993. Over 310 people died, as it stretched across almost the full length of the eastern coast of the US, dropping huge amounts of snow from Cuba to Canada, together with hurricane force winds, which AccuWeather called a "snowicane" (not to be confused with the "Snowmadgeddon" of 2010)!

1972 Iranian BlizzardHowever, according to the World Atlas site, none of these storms were as devastating as the 2008 blizzard in Afghanistan (with 926 fatalities), the 1719 "Carolean Death March" blizzard in Sweden and Norway that killed 3,000 people, or the 1972 storm in Iran with a total estimated loss of about 4,000 lives.

Storm of 1888 on 14th Street, NYC
1993 Storm of the Century, courtesy of Appalachian Magazine
1972 Iranian Blizzard, courtesy of centre.ca

Article by Davida Chazan

This "beyond the book article" relates to Winter Sisters. It originally ran in April 2018 and has been updated for the February 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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