THE SNOW BOMB OF JANUARY 2018 AND THE BLIZZARD OF 1978 – GARRY ARMSTRONG

THE BLIZZARD OF JANUARY 4, 2018


Duke watching snowfall

The snow began before sunrise this morning. Expressions like “Snow Bomb” were coined by meteorologists to describe its impact. It was quite a storm. I know because I was out there shoveling, then taking pictures.

Aldrich Street

Originally, we thought we’d get off with under a foot of snow, with most of the storm hugging the Atlantic coast. Storms don’t watch television and rarely listen to the weather reports. To no one’s surprise — at least to no one’s surprise who has lived in this region for any length of time — the storm didn’t stay on the coast. More accurately, it did serious damage to the coast and significant damage inland, too.

Footsteps — mine — from house to road

Mailboxes and the house

This was a big storm. Not as big as the Blizzard of 1978, but very few storms will ever match the power of that one. This was big enough to take down power lines and cause the worst flooding in Boston anyone can remember. This, on top of the longest period of deep cold in the almost 150 years of recorded weather history. And the cold is coming back without giving us a break to clean up the mess from the storm.

Shoveled

Our winter home

There’s about a foot and a half out there on the ground. It’s hard to tell exactly how much. The wind has been powerful — strong enough to knock down a grown man and bitterly cold. The good part? We don’t have the massive amount of snow on the roof we sometimes have because the wind blew it around. At least we don’t have to worry about the roof collapsing.

The shoveled walk, until next time

I shoveled the front walk because we have small dogs and they can’t maneuver in deep snow. Even Duke who is comparatively long-legged found himself bogged down. Bonnie and Gibbs have to stick to shoveled areas. I’ll have to go back and shovel again after dinner.

Tractor in the snow

It’s dark now. The storm is almost over, or at least that’s what they are saying on television. The winds will die off and we’ll be cleaning up for the next few days. We have a full tank of oil and plenty of food, so until we get plowed, we’re home with the dogs.

Our house and woods in winter

You know how great retirement really is when you realize … you don’t have to go anywhere. The world is snowed in and so are you, but it’s okay. We aren’t on a schedule. We don’t have appointments to make. We are retired. And aren’t we glad we are!


THE BLIZZARD OF 1978 – THE BIG ONE! – GARRY ARMSTRONG


This is the time of year when big snowstorms hit this region. It was one month short of forty years ago when a massive winter storm moved into eastern Massachusetts. It had already done significant damage all over the Midwest, but its dangerous journey was far from over.

On the afternoon of February 6, 1978, thousands of people were let out of work early so they could get home before the storm hit. Too little and too late for many people, the storm hit harder and faster and more intensely than anyone imagined possible.

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 heavy and the snow began falling at more than an inch per hour. It continued to fall for more than 24 hours. 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 across the state. 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  in the middle of it from the beginning, one of the few reporters who was able to get to the TV station without a car. I lived down the street and was able to plod through the snow to the newsroom. I found myself doing live shots all across Massachusetts and in 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.

No additional hype or hysteria required.



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

Tags: , , , , ,

72 replies

  1. Great photos, Garry. Retirement–sure is grand! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Been watching the south wind blow allll the snow north, and then the north wind comes along and blows it back.
    It was about zero this morning but it’s inching downward now to 10 below. Now and then the wind stops, and you think, what was that?.

    We both are struggling with our annual Christmas cold (thank you, SO much, small children) and like it or not, when he gets the road cleaned out tomorrow we are going to have to buy food. And tissues. Many many tissues.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This looks so bleak and brutal. Take care both, dogs and all.

    Like

  4. I’m not even sure what year it was that I was working in NYC and commuting to and from Long Island when, on a Friday we were all let off from work early to get home before the storm hit (it was not the one you write about in 1978, but quite a bit later). Friday afternoon and you couldn’t get onto a subway to get down to the Long Island Railroad so I trudged back to my now empty office and spent the night on a couch, wrapped in my down filled jacket for warmth. The next morning I awoke and went downstairs to walk and stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue. No traffic, very few pedestrians.It took me almost 6 hours to walk down to Penn Station, then catch a train to the island, then walk from the station to my house- a journey that usually took an hour and a half.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember the winter of ’77-’78….I lived in a tiny little town in South Eastern Utah and had to walk several blocks to the high school (it was my senior year). One could walk down the middle of Main Street (one had to actually, you could not get to sidewalks, as the snow was piled in huge drifts along the road) and the snow was several feet above my head. Felt like being in a maze. This year Utah is experiencing almost no snow at all (unheard of…well mostly) and we would sincerely welcome even one mega storm such as y’all have had ‘back East’ there. So count your blessings. Come spring/summer here I suspect it’s going be quite dry…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad we’ve gotten the snow at least because we’ll be glad for the water. I could have done without the killer cold and the high winds, but at least we are warm and safe at home. Sometimes, when snow has gotten as high as 12 or 13 feet, our whole road is like a tunnel. You can’t see anything because the snow is so high.

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    • Em, I still have images of the Mass Pike — barren of all traffic back in the blizzard of ’78. During live shots, I walked around like the lone stranger in Bret Harte’s “Outcasts of Poker Flats”. It was very, very surreal.

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  6. It’s really weird watching old weather terminology I picked up in college get thrown around and abused by the media now that it is so fascinated by extreme weather. “Bomb” refers to a rapidly deepening (the pressure is dropping at a greater than normal rate) low pressure system that by its very nature always has strong winds and generally only forms in the wintertime. I learned that term in the meteorology classes I took a tad over 20 years ago, and now I see it being bandied about among the commoners as a trending hashtag by the same people who now name winter storms (really?) and put the awful phrase “polar vortex” into the vernacular. Wake me up when it’s Spring so I don’t miss Tornadogeddon, coming to a plains state near you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know. It actually drives me a bit crazy because I never know whether this really IS The End of The World by Snow or just another big snowstorm. This was a blizzard because it was below freezing, lots of wind and coastal damage, and we got a lot of snow. We have had worse blizzards and not all the long ago, but we didn’t give them NAMES. Grayson?

      “Grayson, I told you to put that toy back on the shelf!”

      Garry thinks the weather guys have orgasms when they see big storms on radar.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am convinced they have orgasms during their blizzard coverage. I’ve seen their faces. No, I’ve never gone onto their sets to check. It was tough enough outside – where the real action was developing. PREVERTS all!

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    • Squirrel, you may miss the end of the world again. I’ll leave you a DVD of my report.

      Like

  7. Hey, if only you could get that old plow working with a shovel in front. Your roof looks okay to me. Looks like you got away easy compared to 1978.
    Leslie

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  8. I am reading through these comments and feeling how incongruous they are right next to your sunny photo. I sure hope everything is OK for you guys. I hate snow. Maybe I’m just a wimp or maybe having grown up in San Diego, on the beach…my body is just outraged and insulted by snow (though I did enjoy a few years of Cross Country skiing when I was younger…) Hang in there!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Those are great photos! I don’t think I could be paid enough to have covered that story. You must have been freezing! Thank goodness there are people like you who were brave enough to be out there. A piece of history for everyone to see. Well done!

    Like

  10. fascinating! and confirms what I have been thinking about “back in the day” in Grand Rapids as a school girl and at St. Olaf as a, oh, yeah, I guess the term still works, school girl. Plus, gorgeous, gorgeous photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wonderful photos Garry.. you should be able to make great Christmas cards this year? 🙂

    Now that’s how reporting SHOULD be done: accuracy, realism and a little humour as well as humility!

    You’ll always be a giant to me, my friend! 🙂

    Stay warm ! (Hugging helps!) 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I saw it on on our news and was thinking of you, as it was heading for your region. The photos are great, but probably not so great to live in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pretty it is. Cold too. And there are giant blocks of ice and snow on the roof and you can bed they are going to turn into humongous icicles in a few days. And there’s nothing to be done about it. Within the abilities of we two older people, we’ve done what we can do. The rest? We can’t and we don’t have the money to hire other people to do it … or even know people who if paid, WOULD come. So it will be what it will be. Winter is SUCH a pain in the butt.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s scary. I’ve never seen anything like this ever before (just heard of it)! I hope everything is well and good for you guys there. Stay warm and drink coffee.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m glad you are safe and warm inside with plenty of food for you and the dogs. You don’t mention it so I’m guessing power is OK too. Stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. It’s hard for me to imagine such a storm — I understand wind, as we just had our share along with the fires, but snow is another thing! I’m glad your oil delivery came, and you have food and water — stay indoors and stay safe till it’s over!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not in any shape to slog through more than a foot of snow UPhill, so yeah, I’m going to be inside until the plow gets here … could be tomorrow, but I’m betting more like Saturday. Or Sunday. This is why I don’t like winter. It’s so hard to get around. Garry was out taking pictures and he wanted to kneel down to get some shots, but he was afraid he’d fall and be squashed in the road by a passing car. Though it doesn’t look like anyone is going to be driving our road until the plows clean it up. Right now, it’s just a lot of snow.

      Like

      • I always think it is only pretty till people start moving around, especially in wheeled vehicles — the longer you can stay inside, the safer — and the prettier! Stay warm!

        Like

    • My least favorite season of trhe year.

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  16. It’s absolutely incredible – and scary. We’re watching this from Alberta with no envy. Nova Scotia was just hammered a week ago – many people not no electricity over Christmas. It gets to be a life threatening situation in many areas. Many car accidents. Now here comes another blast.
    We hope you will be well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’re okay. We’ve had worse. The good news is that we are pretty well set up to deal with storms because we have at least two of these blizzards every winter and sometimes a lot more of them. We don’t usually get so much publicity, but this one was a huge storm, so it didn’t just hit us. It hit just about half the country, from the Midwest down to the Carolinas and now it’s on it’s way through northern New England and heading for Canada.

      What’s more distressing is the intense cold that’s preceded and is following it. NOTHING will melt, so this mess will be with us a long time. We aren’t likely to see a plow until Saturday, so we’re stuck here until then. Theoretically, Garry could get to the car and move it into the road if he had to — it’s a 4-wheeler — but as of last time I looked, our road wasn’t plowed either and I doubt there even IS a main street right now. This is going to be some winter, eh?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the supportive words. Just happy I don’t have to stand outside on live TV anymore and freeze the family jewels. The bloom faded from the glamour rose long, long ago.

      Liked by 1 person

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