Written By: Ben Cosgrove
Something about snowstorms brings out the kid in most of us. Memories of those blessed, almost always unexpected reprieves from the drudgery of school “Snow day!” undoubtedly plays a part in the collective excitement, and whether it’s in a vast metropolis or a remote, small town, the prospect of a blizzard elicits something nearly primal in those in the storm’s path.
There’s concern, for sure about our families, our neighbors, our power and heat, our ability to get out and about once the snow stops falling. But for a good number of us, there’s something more: something like pure, primal excitement.
In December 1947, a huge, historic storm dumped record levels of snow on the northeastern United States. In New York City, where the snow fell quietly, and steadily, for hours and hours, several LIFE photographers stepped out of the magazine’s offices, cameras in hand, and recorded the scene. Here, we remember the Great Blizzard of 1947 with some photos that ran in LIFE, and many others that were never published in the magazine.
As LIFE put it to its readers in its Jan. 5, 1948, issue:
At 3:20 in the morning it began to snow in New York City. By the time most New Yorkers were going to work the blanket lay three inches deep. But the city, used to ignoring all natural phenomena and reassured by a weather forecast of “occasional flurries,” went about its business. But as the day wore on this characteristic blasé attitude vanished. The air grew filled with snowflakes so huge and thick it was almost impossible to see across the street. They fell without letup all morning, all afternoon and into the night.
Long after night fall the illuminated news sign of the New York Times flashed an announcement to little groups of people huddled in Times Square that the snowfall, which totaled an amazing 25.8 inches in less than 24 hours, had beaten the record of the city’s historic blizzard of 1880. A faint, muffled shout of triumph went up from the victims.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.