The Valentine’s Day Storm of 1940 crossed Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts within just a few days in February 1940. Locals said it was the biggest storm to hit the region since the New England Hurricane of 1938, some 15 months before. The first flurries started on the morning of Valentine’s Day, before progressing into a steady snow with strong winds as the afternoon wore on. The storm didn’t stop until the morning of the next day when 14 inches of fresh snow lay across the area. The drifts reached six to eight feet in some places. Some reports described the drifts as approaching ten feet high.
The storm stalled train travel for hours on all of New England‘s railroad systems, and stranded many in Boston on Valentine’s Day. Many Lowell residents attending the ice carnival at the Boston Garden were trapped in Boston after all train service was cancelled after the 8:45 PM train left the station. Many of the stranded spent idle hours over the next day or two at hotel bars, still clothed in their dinner jackets and evening gowns that they had been wearing on the night of the storm. Those lucky enough to score hotel rooms paid steep premiums. When the rooms ran out, hotel owners were required to provide cots in their lobbies and ballrooms to accommodate those made ‘temporarily homeless’ by the storm.
The storm also stalled trolley car and bus transportation, and all plane service was cancelled for three or four days. In the city, all of Boston’s major department stores closed on the 15th, something that hadn’t happened in 14 years, not even in the New England Hurricane of 1938. The roads became so bad that Boston city police enforced a ban on all automobiles entering the downtown area. And, snow removal efforts became further hampered by the large amounts of automobiles that had stalled and subsequently abandoned on the streets.
In Lowell, hundreds of public and private employees fought in the days following the storm to free the city from the vast amounts of snow covering city streets. Snow removal moved slowly in Lowell. In the aftermath of the storm, the city dispatched 30 plows, two bulldozers, and a 10-ton tractor to clear the snow. Similar to the situation in Boston, they found many of the city’s main streets – Merrimack, Central, Bridge, and Rogers – all blocked with cars that had stalled in the storm. By the 16th, even in the downtown section, huge drifts of snow remained piled high on the edges of the streets. The Lowell Street Department estimated that some 200 streets remained blocked with snow, even on the 16th, two days after the storm had hit. Like Boston, by the end of the second day after the storm, many of the stalled cars on Lowell’s city streets had been cleared out, allowing plows to finally complete their rounds.
In the end, the Valentine’s Day storm of 1940 claimed 31 lives in New England. In the days following the storm, the number was feared to be much higher while searchers scoured the seas for the ten-man crew of the lost 49-foot dragger “Palmers Island”, which had sailed from New Bedford before the storm. Three days after the storm, the Coast Guard took the “Palmers Island” in tow, some 120 miles south of Block Island, RI. The dragger, with crew aboard, returned to New Bedford on Sunday, February 18.