The Great (Northeast) Blizzard of 1978
The Storm of the Century
If you're old enough to remember Star Wars' first run in the theaters, if you lived in the Mid-Atlantic or New England, you remember the Blizzard of '78 on February 6, 1978. People were snowed in for days. Cities were paralyzed. The National Guard was mobilized. Homes washed away. People froze on freeways in their cars.
Thirty years later, survivors look back with awe, pride... and in some cases, sorrow.
We were there. We survived. We remember.
The Great Blizzard of '78 - A retrospective by Matthew Rogers
I was too young to know the danger -- all I remember is the wonder. We lived in Chester County, PA, right outside Amish country, among farms, fields, and little clumps of forests that looked like The Shire. Better to be there than in the city: we had a root cellar and food stored away, plus a full rack of split wood and a fireplace. It was still an adventure.
My father was stubborn; he'd heard the weather reports, but stayed at work until the end of the day, then drove home.
Or tried to. Country roads back east are older than you realize; a century or two of use has dug them down below high banks on either side. Snow blows across and falls into the trough. A mile or so from home (it's a miracle he got that far) it was just impossible to cut through. My Dad drove his Buick into a nearby farmer's field where the snowplows wouldn't catch it, then walked home.
He's fortunate he made it home. Even pushing through snow up to your knees can be hard work, hard enough to cause heart attacks. Plus it's easy to get lost in white-out conditions.
My Father's Slides of the Blizzard of '78 in Pennsylvania
At any rate, Dad got home, and we tucked in with the winds howling and the drifts blowing across the yard like ocean waves. I don't remember the night that well. I just remember the days after: walls of snow. I don't remember how long the power was out: that's what the Coleman stove in the garage, the fireplace and candles were for.
Mainly, I remember hiking up the road each day in the bright cold sun, drifts higher than my head. My parents carried shovels. It took them some time even to find where the car was buried. Each day they'd dig a little more of it out, while I helped or played in the snowbanks, digging tunnels. We were snowed in for three days before the plows came. I think school was closed for even longer.
I remember my little black dog hopping along in the snow-paths we made, his tail just visible at the top of each bound.
We were lucky.
Snowfall Totals from Blizzard '78
In parts of NE, it snowed more than 3" an hour. Selected totals:
Providence, RI: 27.6"
Atlantic City, NJ: 20.1"
Boston, MA: 27.1"
Hartford, CT: 16.9"
Rockport, MA: 32.5"
Woonsocket, RI: 38"
Worcester, MA: 20.2"
New York, NY: 17.7"
...and THEN it drifted!
Blizzard of '78 in Massachussetts
In Harm's Way: Memories of a National Guardsman
From Rich A. Smith in Massachussetts
Wow. Here's a comment left in the guestbook at the bottom of this page. Thanks, Rich, for taking the time to share your memories with us, and more importantly, for serving when we needed you most!
“I was a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard during the blizzard of 78. I was a young man of 24 and I remember it like it was yesterday. I first heard of the impending storm a few days before and I remember not paying to much attention to it.
Well the afternoon of the first day was when I had a feeling that I was about ready to be called up with the national guard. Sure enough the next morning I heard the radio broadcasting " All members of the Ma national guard are to report to there local units." So on went my uniform and winter gear and off I went. Took me about an hour to get to the armoury at lincoln sq in Worcester ma. I lived only a little over a mile away. I made it through the snow and on foot no less. Well the duty came and I along with all the other guardsman followed the assigments.
I was first ordered to take a c59 tanker filled with fuil and refule all emergency vehicals. Then I was on assigment to help get emergency people to hospitals or where ever they were needed. Still more to do. Find fire hydrents with a squad of men and shovel them out. Well I remember working with the worcester police to use our military trucks to get people to the emergency rooms when needed. Well that is just a short memory of where I was and what I did. I was on duty for almost a week before things were in such a state of near normal life again.
I am Rich Smith and I was PFC in the ist bn 110th Ar of Hdq company lincoln square Worcester,ma.
Here's a salute to all the national guard, police, firefighters, and emergency services personnel who get us through storms and earthquakes and everything else. You folks are heroes!
The Blizzard of '78 in Connecticutt & New England
Book: The Blizzard of '78
More Blizzard of '78 Videos
Below: most of these amazing videos cover the "Storm of the Century" February blizzard that flooded and buried New England, but the Indiana and Fort Wayne videos below showcase the January blizzard in the Midwest that preceded it.
Blizzard Preparedness Tips - Be Ready for the Next Great Blizzard
Ever since the Blizzard of 78, which caught meteorologists and everyone else by surprise, a weather report about an incoming snowstorm triggers one of two reactions from the public (and usually a little of both): panic, and a run on supplies at local stores that strips shelves bare; or indifference, when people have gotten jaded by too many storm warnings and don't realize that this time, for once, the hype is warranted!
Don't panic; just take precautions for that rare storm that proves or exceeds predictions.
(Disclaimer: I am NOT an expert... check the FEMA Blizzard Preparedness website for official information. But here's some tips I've gleaned from other storm-related websites.
- In winter, keep warm clothes, a flashlight, food, water, and kitty grit (non-clumping... it's great for traction) in your car for emergencies. A space blanket can be a life-safer.
- If you get stranded on the road, stay in your car unless you're certain you can reach shelter: remember, even half a mile can be too far. If you're running the engine to stay warm, OPEN THE WINDOW at least an inch... snow can block your exhaust pipe, and asphyxiate you with carbon monoxide! Save gas by running the engine long enough to warm the car, then shutting it off.
- Have a family plan, including what to do if some family members are at work or school. Where will you meet if you have to evacuate? Have at least one contact out of the immediate area you can all (hopefully) call to check in.
- Be prepared for power and heat to be out for several days. You'll need warm clothes, space blankets, lots of water, non-perishable foods, flashlights, regular blankets, and a first aid kit.
- When you hear a storm is coming, charge all cellphones. They sometimes -- but not always! -- work when the power is out.
- Have a battery-operated radio and follow storm reports. You can even buy a special NOAA Radio that beeps and turns on to alert you of any severe weather warnings (see below).
- Set aside extra dry food, water, litter, and other supplies for pets. Practice collecting pets and putting them in carriers. The pets will hate it, but it's for their own good.
- Always have $100 cash available: ATMs and the bank won't be accessible if the roads are blocked and the power's out!
- Don't forget non-essentials: things to keep your family from going stir crazy. That may include a deck of cards, portable games, travel alarm clock, and/or FOAM EARPLUGS (if you have to go to a shelter).