On April 6, 1982, a blizzard raged through New York City, piling thick snow with blustering winds that caused icy, whiteout driving conditions. By the end of the day on that April 6, there was over a foot of snow blanketing New York City. The fact that it was April made this surprising, and the fact that this was the day before Pesach made this extremely challenging.
We planned to spend Pesach in Michigan with our family, and we had expected to fly to Michigan from New York that very day of the blizzard with our then six-month-old baby. Our flight, along with all the flights up and down the Eastern Seaboard, was canceled, and we panicked as we were not prepared to spend Pesach at home. We didn’t have the makings of a Seder or any way to procure what we would need, considering the howling wind and zero visibility outside.
This year’s April snowstorm, on the first day of Chol HaMoed Pesach, brought back memories to many, of that unexpected April blizzard in 1982.
This April snowstorm, 36 years later, spewed a heavy, wet snow between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. The accumulation in Queens reached 5.5 inches, even though during the snowfall the temperatures were slightly above freezing. Disappointed parents and children were forced to cancel outdoor plans that day, because of the snow and cold. “It felt like we were living in Michigan or Canada,” one resident noted. This storm caused the Yankees Opening Day to be postponed. However, it cleared quickly so that, by the afternoon, it was mostly gone. Luckily, this time the storm happened in the middle of Pesach, so it didn’t disrupt people getting to where they needed to go for Pesach. This year’s storm was actually the biggest snowstorm in April since the famous Pesach blizzard of 1982.
The April blizzard in 1982 began in New Jersey and blustered through Queens and much of the East Coast. There were up to 14 inches and gale warnings with winds up to 60 mph. That 1982 April blizzard left an indelible impression on anyone who experienced it.
The blizzard was considered the first April blizzard recorded in history of the metropolitan area, because it combined winds of more than 35 mph and enough snow to cut visibility to less than a quarter of a mile. Snowfall on Long Island in 1982 ranged from 8-10 inches. New England airports closed, leaving thousands stranded for Pesach. It was nerve-wracking for many people trying desperately to get to where they had planned to go for Pesach. The National Weather Service told people in northern Connecticut and southern Massachusetts to stay home because of dangerous conditions. The 1982 baseball season had begun two weeks earlier, but the Mets and the Yankees canceled their season openers.
“It was a great storm,” one man commented. “It was a real blizzard in the Poconos, with temperatures in the teens at the height of the storm.” It included lightning and temperatures in the 20s.
In an article in Mishpacha Magazine in April 2017, Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman recalled his experience that Pesach. He noted how the blizzard on April 6, 1982, dumped a foot of snow on New York City. Airports closed, and the temperature was 21° F.
He was a yeshivah bachur then, and he remembers how difficult it was for his family that year. He and his parents had planned to spend their Pesach holiday with relatives who lived 15 minutes away. The driving blizzard created such hazardous conditions that they couldn’t even drive there before Yom Tov and walking was out of the question. He and his parents were left making a make-shift Seder at home. It was hard not thinking of the leibidig Seder just 15 minutes away that his relatives were enjoying without him.
A resident of Kew Gardens Hills recalled that the blizzard happened during her first week of work. When she discovered that the Long Island Railroad wasn’t running, she had to call her new boss and tell him she wouldn’t be able to make it to work.
Jeff Feinberg, a member of the Orthodox Union’s accounting department, recalls walking to shul bundled up in his winter coat and snow boots. “I couldn’t tell if it was Passover or Chanukah.”
One Queens rebbetzin recalls worrying if people would make it to the mountains or wherever they were going for Pesach and thinking she would host people who didn’t make it.
Another Kew Gardens Hills resident recalls being stuck in New Jersey at work and his father had to come to drive him to Baltimore. Amazingly, they made it there for Pesach.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, rav of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, said that he did not have a pleasant memory of the blizzard of 1982. “It was Erev Pesach, my uncle Dr. Arnold Schonfeld was a guest in the Homowack that year, and people were so anxious about getting to the hotel for the Yom Tov that he treated four heart attacks that evening in the hotel.
We were in a panic that day of the 1982 blizzard. Somehow, we managed to reschedule our flight for Michigan to the next day, April 7, which was Erev Peach. We were apprehensive about flying so close to the chag, but we felt that this was our best option. Our next problem came when we started calling car services. They were either booked or not driving on the icy roads. We couldn’t find a cab to take us to the airport. It looked like we were still going to be stuck in New York for Pesach.
A kind friend who heard about our plight offered to drive us to the airport. The trip from Kew Gardens Hills to LaGuardia Airport is usually not more than 15 minutes. That day on the slick icy roads it took much longer. I remember closing my eyes in terror during parts of the drive because of the icy conditions.
We were so relieved when we pulled up to the departures area at the airport. When we arrived in Michigan, we discovered the storm had traveled there ahead of us, and our family had lost power, but at the last minute they regained it, in time to warm the food for the Seder.
So we come back to this year, and to the unseasonably cold temperatures. The daffodils on Vleigh Place are drooping and the pretty purple and yellow crocuses that had briefly popped up in the neighborhood were covered in snow. I caught a photo of a robin on the one warm day of Chol HaMoed, but he disappeared again when the temperatures plummeted.
Eventually it is bound to warm up in Queens. Thankfully, our snowfall this year was in the middle of Pesach, and it didn’t snow as much or as furiously as that famous April blizzard of 1982.
The warm memories of this year’s Pesach should keep all of us warm and hopeful that spring must be just around the corner. After all, the saying goes that April showers bring May flowers, not April snowstorms.
By Susie Garber