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Great Blizzards of 1978

Updated on December 6, 2018
Blizzard of 1978, Rhode Island
Blizzard of 1978, Rhode Island | Source

What is a Blizzard?

According to Wikipedia, a blizzard is "a severe snowstorm, especially with strong winds and greatly reduced visibility". A blizzard is different than a snowstorm because of the strength of the wind. It has sustained winds or frequent gusts that are at least 35 mph (56 km/h) with blowing or drifting slow that reduces visibility to 1/4 of a mile or less for at least 3 hours.

Weather Map for the 1978 Blizzard
Weather Map for the 1978 Blizzard | Source

The Great Blizzard of 1978

The blizzard I am writing most about is the one in the northeast, where I live. But there is one big blizzard that happened in January of that same year.

The Great Blizzard of 1978 occurred a few days earlier than the one in the northeast, and it affected the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes. It happened Wednesday, January 25 through Friday, January 27, 1978. It turned into a severe blizzard. Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and southeast Wisconsin were the hardest hit. Around 51 people died in Ohio, and 20 in Michigan as a result of this terrible storm. In some areas, up to 40 inches of snow fell, and winds gusted up to 100 mph. Wind chills reached - 60 degrees F across much of Ohio.

My Family's Recollection:

I was alive during the great blizzard of 1978, but I was too young to remember it. I can only imagine what it would seem like to a baby. But as I grew up, I remember hearing stories about it. It seemed like every time we had a lot of snow, it was compared to that year.

We lived in Virginia at the time, so it wasn't as intense, but my parents remember that day. My mom drove my father to work, and I was in my car seat in the back. The car barely made it up the hill at the apartment complex we lived in. We made it, but then my Mom got stuck in the parking lot of my father's work place. She says she remembers that there was a lot of snow.

I remember seeing pictures. One that stands out in all our minds is the one of my Grandpa's car (an ugly AMC Pacer) covered in snow. I have seen many photos like that online, too.

Northeastern U.S. Blizzard of 1978

  • An extra-tropical storm off the coast of South Carolina merged with an Arctic cold front and a cold air mass, forming a catastrophic nor'easter that brought blizzard conditions to the northeastern states. Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts were the hardest hit. It formed on February 5, and broke up on February 7, after bringing heavy snow for a full 33 hours.
  • Since it started during a New Moon, there was an abnormally high tide, resulting in a huge storm surge that caused a lot of coastal erosion, damage, and property loss.
  • Making the harsh storm more intriguing was an unusual thundersnow in southern New England and Long Island. Lightning and thunder accompanied 4 inches of snowfall per hour at times.
  • At its worst, there were sustained hurricane force winds of approximately 86 mph with gusts to 111 mph.
  • Nobody was prepared for a storm of this magnitude. When it didn't start as early as the experts thought it would, many people went to work and school. At some point, many employees were sent home early. With zero visibility for travelers caught in the storm due to the strong winds and heavy precipitation, many were stranded, and some even died in their cars or in the process of trying to find shelter.
  • During the cleanup, over 3,500 cars were found abandoned and buried in the middle of the roads. That doesn't include those that were buried on the side of the road, in parking lots, or in driveways.
  • Most of the interstate had to be shut down for days, as well as air and rail..
  • Plows had a hard time keeping up with snow removal.
  • Many people were trapped in their homes or offices, with some exits blocked by snow drifts of up to 15 feet.
  • Around 10,000 people had to move into emergency housing temporarily.
  • Many states declared a state of emergency.
  • Schools were closed, even in New York City, where they barely ever close school due to the convenient transportation system that rarely stops.
  • 2,500 houses were reportedly damaged or destroyed.
  • The storm killed approximately 100 people in the Northeast, and injured around 4,500.
  • It caused $520 million in damage (or in 2010 terms, the equivalent of about $1.85 billion).

Northeastern Blizzard of 1978 Snow Totals:

  • Boston, MA: A record of 27.1 inches
  • Providence, RI: A record of 27.6 inches
  • Atlantic City, NJ: An all-time storm accumulation record of 20.1 inches
  • New York City: 17.7 inches
  • Philadelphia, PA: 14.1 inches
  • Baltimore, MD: 9.1 inches
  • Washington DC: 2.2 inches

Blizzard of 1978

Do you remember the blizzard of 1978?

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Blizzards since 1977:

  • 2011 Halloween Nor'easter: Storm Alfred. Affected Northeastern US & Canada
  • 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard. Affected the majority of North America
  • December 2010 North American Blizzard. Affected Deep South, Mid-Atlantic, New England and Eastern Canada.
  • February 25-27, 2010 "Snowicane". Affected Mid-Atlantic and New England regions.
  • February 9-10, 2010 North American Blizzard. It's a category 3 ("major") Winter Storm, affecting some of the same areas that had been hit by a huge Nor'easter only 3 days prior. Affected the Mid-West, Mid-Atlantic and New England regions of the US.
  • February 5-6, 2010: "Snowmageddon". Affected the Midwest and East Coast of the US, as well as New Mexico, Mexico and Eastern Canada.
  • February 2007 North American Winter Storm, a.k.a "Valentine's Day Blizzard". Affected Midwestern and Eastern North America, and Gulf states.
  • Saskatchewan Blizzard of 2007. Affected British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
  • Blizzard of 1999. Affected the Midwest.
  • April Fools Day Blizzard of 1997. Affected New England and the Mid-Atlantic.
  • Blizzard of 1996. Severe Nor'easter that paralyzed the East Coast.
  • March 1993 Superstorm, or "Storm of the Century", or "'93 Superstorm" or "Great Blizzard of 1993". It was a largely cyclonic storm that affected Canada, the US, and Cuba.
  • Halloween Blizzard of 1991. Affected the upper Midwest.
  • Chicago Blizzard of 1979. Affected northern Illinois and northwest Indiana.
  • Northeastern US Blizzard of 1978. Affected Northeastern US.
  • Great Blizzard of 1978. Affected the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region.
  • Blizzard of 1977. Affected upstate New York and Southern Ontario.

Share Your Stories with Me

Feel free to share your stories with me. I would love to hear stories and recollections of the blizzard of 1978, or any other snow storm.


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