THE BIG ONE: THE BLIZZARD OF 1978 – by GARRY ARMSTRONG

This is the time of year when big snowstorms hit this region. Thirty-nine years ago, a large winter storm began moving into eastern Massachusetts. On the afternoon of Feb. 6, 1978, thousands of people were let out of work early so they could get home before the storm.

High winds and a high tide along the shore did enormous damage

High winds and a high tide along the shore did enormous damage

Traffic was typically heavy. Snow began falling at more than an inch per hour and continued to fall for more than 24 hours. Soon more than 3,000 automobiles and 500 trucks were stranded in rapidly building snowdrifts along Rt. 128 (also Route 95).

Jack-knifed trucks and drifting snow soon brought traffic to a complete standstill everywhere. Fourteen people died from carbon monoxide poisoning as they huddled in trapped cars.


There are so many incredible scenes that remain clear in my memory from the great Blizzard of 1978.

I was smack dab in the middle of it from the beginning as one of the few reporters who could get to the station without a car. I lived just down the street and was able to slog through the snow to the newsroom. I found myself doing myriad live shots across Massachusetts and other parts of New England.

Seen from above, the daunting amount of snow residents had to dig through to get to their cars is apparent on Farragut Road in South Boston on Feb. 8, 1978. New England was hit by a blizzard with hurricane-force winds and record-breaking snowfalls the previous two days.

Seen from above, the daunting amount of snow residents had to dig through to get to their cars is apparent on Farragut Road in South Boston on Feb. 8, 1978. New England was hit by a blizzard with hurricane-force winds and record-breaking snowfalls the previous two days.

I would like to give a special shout out to my colleagues who ran the cameras, the trucks, set our cable and mike lines, kept getting signals when it seemed impossible and worked nonstop under the most dire and difficult conditions. All I had to do was stand in front of the camera or interview people. I recall standing in the middle of the Mass Turnpike, the Southeast Expressway, Rt. 495 and other major arteries doing live shots.

weather-map-blizzard-of-78

There was no traffic. There were no people. Abandoned vehicles littered the landscape. It was surreal. Sometimes it felt like Rod Serling was calling the shots. The snow accumulation was beyond impressive. I am (or was) 5 foot 6 inches. I often had to stand on snow “mountains” to be seen. My creative camera crews used the reverse image to dwarf me (no snickering, please) to show the impressive snow piles. No trickery was needed. Mother Nature did it all.

Downtown crossing right after the storm

Downtown crossing during the storm

Downtown Boston looked like something out of the cult movie “The World, The Flesh And The Devil”. The end of the world at hand. No motor traffic, very few people — just snow, as high and as far as the eye could see.

Ironically, people who were usually indifferent to each other became friendly and caring. Acts of generosity and compassion were commonplace, at least for a few days. Those of us working in front or back of the camera logged long hours, minimal sleep. Drank lots of coffee, ate lots of pizza, and intermittently laughed and grumbled. There are some behind the scenes stories that will stay there for discretion’s sake.

The Blizzard of ’78 will always be among the top stories in my news career. It needs no embellishment. The facts and the pictures tell it all. We have since had deeper snowstorms, but none which packed the punishing winds and extensive damage as that monumental storm.

One more thing. It needs no hype or hysteria.


POSTSCRIPT

And, as if in answer to this post, New England makes it’s own comment. Beginning tonight and for the next 48 hours, we’re expecting a foot (+ or – who knows how much) snow — with daytime temperatures in the mid 20s (-3 Celsius) — much lower at night. It’s that time of year again. February is the cruelest month, no matter what any poet says to the contrary.



Categories: Gallery, Garry Armstrong, History, New England, Photography, snow, Transportation, Weather

Tags: , , , , , ,

20 replies

  1. I recall as a kid the storm that hit Montreal in March of 1971. Buckets of snow fell rapidly causing everything to come to a halt. My older brother was playing hockey and was cut. The only way to the hospital for stitches was via snow mobile.

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  2. I was living just outside a very small town in Maine in ’78, so I wouldn’t have noticed any difference in the number of people around anyway. I do remember that the snow was piled as high as the first story of our house on one side, and we were VERY lucky a neighbor down the road had a snowplow that he could attach to the front of his tractor, or we’d have been stuck for a lot longer than we were.

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    • Maine gets so much snow anyway, I suppose it’s more a matter of degree. But still, this was a pretty impressive storm. Not just snow, but wind and bitter cold. We’ve been rescued by neighbors with a tractor, too 🙂 Living in the country, sometimes, that’s the only way out.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You think that was bad.., well here’s one for ya. I’m thinking about the big snow storm that fell on the NY metropolitan area in February 69, for which Mayor Lindsay was blamed for not keeping defective removal equipment in good enough repair to deploy in time to aid. However, the really bad thing was I was stranded at one of my Girl friend’s apartment in Washington Heights :-). I’m only kidding as this was NO laughing matter because some 50 people were killed and over 200 injured due to this lack of attention and oversight. It damned near brought down Lindsay’s whole administration. Bottom line, Don’t F’k with nature.

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    • I remember it. But this one in 78 was actually worse. Hard to believe, but true. 1969 was snow. A LOT of snow. This was a lot of snow, hurricane winds, high tide, and bitter cold. The whole enchilada.

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    • I’m sure it was a biggie, and unusual characteristics to boot.., looks pretty bad from the photos too. My reference was not a picnic either, but I threw it in for a little “tongue in cheek” value. Those folks who have not ever lived in the north east just don’t have a clue. While I miss the romantic part of winter and snow, I can’t say I miss being there during one of these white blizzards.

      BTW it’s 70+ degrees today, in da desert, sun’s shining’, boids is chirping’ bees is buzzin’ and you’d never know we was in da middle of winter

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  4. I’m assuming we either missed the full force of it, or I was too busy with “yet another damn storm” to notice. Just found this: http://www.blizzardof78.org/ which was horrendous, for sure.

    The one I remember most vividly is 97, we had an ice storm in northern New England that lasted maybe a week, and took down the entire top six feet of forest upper story from NH and Maine We got our power back after 8 days, but it took us two full days and some fancy chainsaw work to clear our driveway so the power crews could get to our power poles. some people were without power for weeks.

    I think it all depends on where you are when something hits, that’s what you remember. That was a chilling account, btw. I have photos of my mother in 1939 standing on a plowed-up snow bank (in the days when roads around here were mostly hand shoveled when the town grader broke down) just able to reach the bottom dummy wire on the utility pole.

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    • I was apparently born right after a huge blizzard in New York city in 1947.

      We’ve had a lot of really bad storms, a series of them just two years ago, though out in the country, we seem to survive them better than they do in town. I think ’78 takes a prize for the amount of destruction (and loss of life) it caused — in a metropolitan area. But there have been a lot of other really destructive storms. I think when they hit cities, they get more attention because they affect more people. Population density = $$$. To this day, Boston has not fixed a lot of the problems. If the same storm hit today, it would be deja vu all over again.

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  5. I think we had that storm too in Deep River, Ontario Canada. I remember opening the door and the snow was to the top of the door frame.
    Leslie

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  6. In Ohio we were hit by blizzard of ’78 and then sent it your way. It was a doozy. We had four truckers and a couple of snowmobilers stranded with us who slept on our couches and floors. Luckily we had a freezer full of meat. but ran out of toilet paper!
    My husband was called upon to remove snow from the township roads with his heavy equipment. We have Amish neighbors who were not nearly as inconvenienced as the rest of us. My husband stopped in an Amish farmhouse to get warm while clearning the roadways, and tripped over their clothesline!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So many “people” stories from that blizzard. We saw the better side of humanity under duress.

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    • Garry always makes fun of me, but I usually have enough TP to last at least a year. Coffee, half & half, and toilet papers. The essential! Thank you for sharing. I remembered that the blizzard arrived from the midwest. We could see it coming, but no one thought it would be as bad as it was. Live and learn. We have something on the way for tonight, tomorrow, and Friday. I was so hoping for a snow-free winter.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. O YA there have been some doozies over the years. Killed lots of people.
    And this is a very bad winter for lots of folks. That darn Ice Storm has continued unabated for a month or more. How long could you get by without electricity? That’s not to mention the tornadoes now ravaging certain US areas.
    We’ve had two cold spells here in Alberta – with 2 weeks of beautiful warm weather in between – but no blizzards.
    I hope – and suppose – most people are fine But some folks are getting hammered.
    One more month and we should be home free here … if weather patterns follow traditional pathways. But they aren’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    • No matter where you may stand on climate change vis-a-vis “the cause,” there’s no denying that something is happening. Patterns are changing. Someone somewhere commented if humans lived 200 years rather than so much less, we’d care more about long-term effects. But we aren’t long-lived, so we can just say “Oh not my problems.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, Alberta!! I always think of Ian & Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds” when Alberta is mentioned.

      Hope you’re right about just one more month. I’ll be a bit more cautious.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great story! I love the reminiscences of weather history.

    A few years back, on the anniversary, I did a piece on my own blog about this blizzard (which I did not experience firsthand):
    https://seanmunger.com/2014/02/06/the-noreaster-from-hell-the-great-blizzard-of-1978/

    Liked by 2 people

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