Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Blizzard of ‘78

 

It was the most catastrophic storm to hit Massachusetts in over 200 years. And I was caught smack-dab in the middle of it.

To provide a little background, my husband and I moved to MA in 1977. I grew up in California, so although I could visit snow in the mountains, I’d never lived in a snowy locale.

On this particular day, February 5, 1978, I headed to work down Route 9 from Framingham, the sun shining, expecting a routine day at the savings bank I worked at in Chestnut Hill. Except for a couple of turns early in my journey, it was a straight shot to work. That would be a great benefit to me on my drive home.

The snow began falling in the afternoon. We had no idea what was coming. By the time I left work, the snow had coated everything. I had never driven in a blizzard; you could say that my naivete nearly killed me.

As I turned onto Route 9, there were still cars on the road. But the visibility was nearly down to zero. I figured, hey, I’ll just take my time and follow the lane lines. It wasn’t too long until I realized that the lane lines had disappeared and so had my visibility. I was afraid to pull over because I couldn’t see cars behind me or locate the side of the road. Now and then I’d see car brake lights which told me I was still on the correct side of the road. So I just kept going.

Two hours and one flat tire later (the ride normally took 35 minutes) I miraculously found my driveway. I have no idea how I got there. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

My husband’s company let employees go home early. He took the bus from Boston to a shopping center near our home where he picked up his car. I had no way to tell him I was on my way, although it would have made no difference. I was on my own.

We went to bed early assuming from the news that everything would be shut down the next day. The authorities hadn’t yet declared a bank holiday but the decision was imminent. So we slept in. Imagine my surprise when the bank president called early in the morning to ask if I could open up our branch because the branch manager hadn’t made it home. It’s a good thing I was half asleep because I don’t remember my response but I doubt that our Code of Conduct would allow me to include it here. The bank holiday was declared shortly thereafter.

Highlights of the week ahead:

Everything was shut down for a week, including driving on local roads.

We decided to walk to the local mini-mart, knowing the shelves would probably be empty. They were.

We saw a front-end loader from the city clearing our own street. My husband and our neighbor bribed, er, paid him to clear out our driveways. We had no snow thrower at the time, so we would have needed weeks to move the snow.

How bad was it? Boston received 27.1 inches, which was a record at the time. (We had at least 5-8” more in the suburbs.) The storm killed approximately 100 people in the Northeast and injured around 4,500.

Did I mention that we had forest fires in Orange County when we left CA for MA? And when we left MA, we moved to Parker, CO, in 1980. In 1982, we had the Denver blizzard:

The official tally by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was 23.8 inches. Some areas received a good deal more, closer to 29 inches. Does it really matter how much? Life in the city was seriously disrupted. Roads were impassable. No one could get to work. Those who were at work didn’t make it home.

Fortunately, we were at home that day. No sweat.

Now we live in central Florida. We only get hurricanes and tornadoes here.

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There are 81 comments.

  1. JennaStocker Member

    What a story! I’m glad you were able to adapt from CA sun mindset to MA snow survivor so well. Here in MN just about everyone has a good blizzard tale. Most of my generation remember the Halloween blizzard of 1991 that dropped a little over 28 inches all told. Parents were concerned about roads, work, and freezing pipes, kids were disappointed in ruined trick-or-treating (naturally). Thanks for the great piece.

    • #1
    • January 9, 2020, at 7:35 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    JennaStocker (View Comment):

    What a story! I’m glad you were able to adapt from CA sun mindset to MA snow survivor so well. Here in MN just about everyone has a good blizzard tale. Most of my generation remember the Halloween blizzard of 1991 that dropped a little over 28 inches all told. Parents were concerned about roads, work, and freezing pipes, kids were disappointed in ruined trick-or-treating (naturally). Thanks for the great piece.

    Thanks, @jennastocker! I hope others will post their nightmare blizzard stories here. It’s just a reminder that we can’t get too cocky about our own technical progress; nothing stops an angry snowstorm!

    • #2
    • January 9, 2020, at 7:39 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  3. Pony Convertible Member

    I was in high school in Indiana. When the storm was just starting I headed over to a friends house for the evening. I was there for 5 days. The snow drift on the driveway was taller than the garage. The snow on the road, where it hadn’t drifted, was over the height of my belt. When my friend’s dad ran out of cigarettes, we finally dug narrow path about a 1/4 mile long, that allowed us to push and pry a VW beetle to the highway.

    • #3
    • January 9, 2020, at 7:45 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  4. Jon1979 Lincoln

    The winters in the late 1970s and into the early 80s in the Northeast and Midwest were particularly severe — in February ’79, there was a two-week period of temperatures barely above zero, let alone freezing, and the same thing would happen in ’82, while the year prior to the Massachusetts storm, Buffalo had it’s all-time epic snowfall.

    • #4
    • January 9, 2020, at 7:47 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  5. Arahant Member

    Susan Quinn: And when we left MA, we moved to Parker, CO in 1980. In 1982, we had the Denver blizzard:

    You do know how to pick where to move to, doncha?

    • #5
    • January 9, 2020, at 7:50 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  6. Rodin Member

    My most dramatic experience with snow was one May in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This would have been 1980, probably. I was in the Air Force at the time. I was standing in the foyer of the base theatre at the time watching the snow start to fall. I was there to lecture the troops on the Laws of War. The snow fell all day and by quitting time it had accumulated a great deal. I was providing a ride for someone so I recall driving over a tall rail bridge on the route I needed to take. At the peak of the bridge I could see that cars were sliding on ice on the way down — many opting to steer (when they could) to the side of the bridge. Many were then rear-ended by vehicle applying the same strategy. At the base of the bridge was a stop light and busy cross street. See the sure pile up on the bridge’s edge I opted to go down the center and hope that I caught a break with a gap in a line of cars on the cross street. I did and slid through without a collision.

    Of course having had this bit of good luck, the Universe would exact a balancing cost a few years later when I slid my big 4×4 on black ice in the New Mexico mountains and tumbled into a ravine. Fortunately that event either was or seemed to be a slow motion event and I undid my seat belt and put myself into a fetal tuck as the vehicle went over the edge. Vehicle was totaled but I was OK. I did have to climb back up to the road and hike a ways to find a phone, but I was good to go.

    • #6
    • January 9, 2020, at 7:53 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Pony Convertible (View Comment):
    When my friend’s dad ran out of cigarettes,

    Yep–that provides ample motivation!

    • #7
    • January 9, 2020, at 7:55 AM PST
    • 1 like
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: And when we left MA, we moved to Parker, CO in 1980. In 1982, we had the Denver blizzard:

    You do know how to pick where to move to, doncha?

    Some people begged me not to move to Florida–they felt I was bringing the disasters with me!

    • #8
    • January 9, 2020, at 7:57 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Rodin (View Comment):
    Of course having had this bit of good luck, the Universe would exact a balancing cost a few years later when I slid my big 4×4 on black ice in the New Mexico mountains and tumbled into a ravine.

    Driving in CO could be terrifying. The black ice is so dangerous. Glad you’re still with us, @rodin!

    • #9
    • January 9, 2020, at 7:59 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  10. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Rodin (View Comment):
    Of course having had this bit of good luck, the Universe would exact a balancing cost a few years later when I slid my big 4×4 on black ice in the New Mexico mountains and tumbled into a ravine.

    Driving in CO could be terrifying. The black ice is so dangerous. Glad you’re still with us, @rodin!

    Almost did that about a decade ago, driving up to Crestline in the San Bernadino Mountains. Front wheel left the pavement after hitting the black ice, but not over the edge and the other three stayed on the road. I took the rest of the drive up Highway 138 from there really, really carefully.

    • #10
    • January 9, 2020, at 8:06 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  11. danok1 Member

    I was in high school on Long Island during that storm. IIRC, we had 2 major winter storms withing a couple of weeks. School was shut down for days, and we also had to go to a convenience store for milk and cigarettes (my parents smoked 1-2 packs/day each).

    One of my more memorable storms was when I was stationed at Loring AFB in the mid-80s. At the peak, it was coming down 2-3 inches/hour. Wing Command made the decision to only plow the runways, alert taxiways, and the road from the Alert Crew barracks to the alert aircraft. We actually puled all LE patrols off the road, and I went to the west gate to keep the airman there company.

    A bit later, the order went out for all bomber/tanker pilots and crew to report to the Alert Crew barracks (Command was worried we couldn’t keep the runways/taxiways clear, and was considering moving the wing to another AFB temporarily). In the midst of the storm, a Captain rode up to the gate on a motorcycle. (He was wearing a parka over his flight suit.) After saluting/checking his ID/etc., I commented on the motorcycle and his bravery in riding in such conditions. He said he really wasn’t that brave: his wife would kill him if he didn’t leave her the car. 

    • #11
    • January 9, 2020, at 8:16 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    danok1 (View Comment):

    I was in high school on Long Island during that storm. IIRC, we had 2 major winter storms withing a couple of weeks. School was shut down for days, and we also had to go to a convenience store for milk and cigarettes (my parents smoked 1-2 packs/day each).

    One of my more memorable storms was when I was stationed at Loring AFB in the mid-80s. At the peak, it was coming down 2-3 inches/hour. Wing Command made the decision to only plow the runways, alert taxiways, and the road from the Alert Crew barracks to the alert aircraft. We actually puled all LE patrols off the road, and I went to the west gate to keep the airman there company.

    A bit later, the order went out for all bomber/tanker pilots and crew to report to the Alert Crew barracks (Command was worried we couldn’t keep the runways/taxiways clear, and was considering moving the wing to another AFB temporarily). In the midst of the storm, a Captain rode up to the gate on a motorcycle. (He was wearing a parka over his flight suit.) After saluting/checking his ID/etc., I commented on the motorcycle and his bravery in riding in such conditions. He said he really wasn’t that brave: his wife would kill him if he didn’t leave her the car.

    Ha!

    • #12
    • January 9, 2020, at 8:26 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  13. Dr. Bastiat Member

    Susan Quinn: my husband and I moved to MA

    I’m so sorry…

    • #13
    • January 9, 2020, at 8:28 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: my husband and I moved to MA

    I’m so sorry…

    His having a good job there and wonderful relatives made it bearable–barely!

    • #14
    • January 9, 2020, at 8:31 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    A local casualty of the Big Snow. (Tim’s fault.)

    I remember it well. It was my senior year in high school and we had an English final scheduled for the day it hit NE Ohio. A friend of mine, a brilliant young man named Tim who would go on to get a degree in nuclear engineering, was ill prepared and was up at 3am studying. When he was done cramming what he could into his mind he looked outside.

    Rain was streaking down the glass and lightning lit up the skies. It was 55° F out. He saw no reprieve as he turned out the light and slipped into bed.

    By 5am the temperature had dropped into the low 30s. The rain had turned to snow as the cold front had overtaken it and by 7, as I was contemplating the drive to the school, there was 13″ of snow on the ground.

    I blamed Tim and the power of prayer.

    • #15
    • January 9, 2020, at 8:32 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  16. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Susan, it turns out we were neighbors at the time – I lived in Maynard, and before that, in Sudbury. On Saturday night when the driving ban was lifted my housemates and I went to the movies at the Natick or Framingham Mall. It turns out that everyone else was as stir crazy as we were and everyone in the western Boston suburbs was going to the movies that night!

    What I remember most was going out walking on Monday night at the height of the blizzard when the winds were creating the biggest drifts I’d ever seen.

    • #16
    • January 9, 2020, at 8:46 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  17. Full Size Tabby Member

    JennaStocker (View Comment):

    What a story! I’m glad you were able to adapt from CA sun mindset to MA snow survivor so well. Here in MN just about everyone has a good blizzard tale. Most of my generation remember the Halloween blizzard of 1991 that dropped a little over 28 inches all told. Parents were concerned about roads, work, and freezing pipes, kids were disappointed in ruined trick-or-treating (naturally). Thanks for the great piece.

    When we moved from southern California to Rochester NY in 2000, we were actually somewhat comforted that people were still talking of the ice storm of 1991: That meant that such an ice storm was not a frequent occurrence! 

    [We did adjust to the snow – people in Rochester NY know how to deal with snow. In 19 years there, I failed due to weather to be able to drive to work only about 4 times, and only two of those were snow. One was another ice storm, and one was because an overnight windstorm had dropped so many trees and other debris on the roads.]

    • #17
    • January 9, 2020, at 8:50 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  18. cdor Member
    cdor Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn: So we slept in. Imagine my surprise when the bank president called early in the morning to ask if I could open up our branch because the branch manager hadn’t made it home. It’s a good thing I was half asleep, because I don’t remember my response but I doubt that our CoC would allow me to include it here.

    FUNNY! My response would have been, “Call me when you get there sir, and I’ll come help.” I’ve driven in some terrible weather conditions, and it is horrifying.

    • #18
    • January 9, 2020, at 8:55 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  19. Full Size Tabby Member

    Our favorite “blizzard” story was visiting my mother near Columbus, Ohio. Don’t remember the year, but must have been somewhere between 2008-2010, based on the car I was driving.

    The TV weather people were obviously very eager to be able to refer to the then-ongoing storm as a “blizzard” (which required having a certain minimum snowfall rate combined with a certain minimum wind speed). But the snowfall was not quite heavy enough to meet the official definition of “blizzard.” It was apparent the TV weather people were disappointed that they couldn’t officially call the storm a “blizzard.” 

    • #19
    • January 9, 2020, at 8:56 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    Susan, it turns out we were neighbors at the time – I lived in Maynard, and before that, in Sudbury. On Saturday night when the driving ban was lifted my housemates and I went to the movies at the Natick or Framingham Mall. It turns out that everyone else was as stir crazy as we were and everyone in the western Boston suburbs was going to the movies that night!

    What I remember most was going out walking on Monday night at the height of the blizzard when the winds were creating the biggest drifts I’d ever seen.

    Small world! My favorite aunt and uncle (who also moved to FL before we did) lived in Leominster. They became our best friends during out 1.5 yrs there and we would often drive out to visit them. Coming from CA, driving long distances to go anywhere was no big deal. To them, it was driving to the other side of the world.

    The drifts during the storm were awesome!

    • #20
    • January 9, 2020, at 8:58 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    The TV weather people were obviously very eager to be able to refer to the then-ongoing storm as a “blizzard” (which required having a certain minimum snowfall rate combined with a certain minimum wind speed). But the snowfall was not quite heavy enough to meet the official definition of “blizzard.” It was apparent the TV weather people were disappointed that they couldn’t officially call the storm a “blizzard.” 

    And then there were the false alarms (especially in CO) where they predicted a blizzard overnight and the next day was clear and sunny!

    • #21
    • January 9, 2020, at 9:00 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  22. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    Susan, it turns out we were neighbors at the time – I lived in Maynard, and before that, in Sudbury. On Saturday night when the driving ban was lifted my housemates and I went to the movies at the Natick or Framingham Mall. It turns out that everyone else was as stir crazy as we were and everyone in the western Boston suburbs was going to the movies that night!

    What I remember most was going out walking on Monday night at the height of the blizzard when the winds were creating the biggest drifts I’d ever seen.

    Small world! My favorite aunt and uncle (who also moved to FL before we did) lived in Leominster. They became our best friends during out 1.5 yrs there and we would often drive out to visit them. Coming from CA, driving long distances to go anywhere was no big deal. To them, it was driving to the other side of the world.

    The drifts during the storm were awesome!

    We have storm doors on our front and side doors, the drifts covered them (as well as most of the windows on the first floor) so we could not open from inside. Fortunately, we had one sliding door, got out thru that, and shoveled out the other doors from the outside. The other thing I remember watching on TV was the terrible flooding in the coastal towns.

    • #22
    • January 9, 2020, at 9:14 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  23. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Here in Atlanta, that I as the year we talke d about the next ice age being on the way.

    • #23
    • January 9, 2020, at 9:50 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  24. EODmom Coolidge

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    The winters in the late 1970s and into the early 80s in the Northeast and Midwest were particularly severe — in February ’79, there was a two-week period of temperatures barely above zero, let alone freezing, and the same thing would happen in ’82, while the year prior to the Massachusetts storm, Buffalo had it’s all-time epic snowfall.

    It was one of those Buffalo snowstorms that made my mother-in-law (to be) wake up one morning and say to her husband “Bernie, we’re leaving.” The night before they had to abandon their car 2 miles from home and walk home. The next year he had a job as Dean of Business at (another) private Jesuit college in a no-snow state starting (another) business program. Family legend – there were adult children still living at home who were left behind (and had to find places to live where they paid rent) and high schoolers who were really cranky being taken along. 

    • #24
    • January 9, 2020, at 9:55 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  25. MarciN Member

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: my husband and I moved to MA

    I’m so sorry…

    Massachusetts is a beautiful state. :-) 

    I went up to Tanglewood this summer and explored the Berkshires a little bit. Beautiful mountains. :-) 

    Then there’s Route 2 and the Shelburne Falls Bridge of Flowers. Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum. :-) 

     

    • #25
    • January 9, 2020, at 10:01 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  26. MarciN Member

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    Susan, it turns out we were neighbors at the time – I lived in Maynard, and before that, in Sudbury. On Saturday night when the driving ban was lifted my housemates and I went to the movies at the Natick or Framingham Mall. It turns out that everyone else was as stir crazy as we were and everyone in the western Boston suburbs was going to the movies that night!

    What I remember most was going out walking on Monday night at the height of the blizzard when the winds were creating the biggest drifts I’d ever seen.

    We had just bought a big old farmhouse in West Newbury. My husband had bought a new little Kubota tractor for just such snow occasions, but he hadn’t put the plow attachment on yet. So there we were, with me holding the flashlight and the instruction manual pages wrapped in Baggies, him trying to attach A to B. Oh my goodness. We still laugh about it. :-) The neighbors thought we were nuts.

    • #26
    • January 9, 2020, at 10:09 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  27. Doctor Robert Member

    Who remembers the collapse of the Hartford Civic Center in that storm?

    • #27
    • January 9, 2020, at 10:13 AM PST
    • 1 like
  28. danok1 Member

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    Who remembers the collapse of the Hartford Civic Center in that storm?

    I do. We moved to East Windsor, CT that summer, and it came up all the time.

    • #28
    • January 9, 2020, at 10:19 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  29. Stad Thatcher

    I reported to Navy OCS (Newport, Rhode Island) in early January of ’78. It was snowing heavily when I parked my car in the lot. After two weeks, I was finally able to go on liberty. The problem was, all the cars in the parking lot were buried in deep snow drifts. You should have seen all the OCs (Officer Candidates) desperately removing snow any way they could, only to find someone else’s car! Even freed, the cars couldn’t move, so we had to wait two or three more weeks before we could drive off base.

    • #29
    • January 9, 2020, at 12:17 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  30. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn: It was the most catastrophic storm to hit Massachusetts in over 200 years. And I was caught smack-dab in the middle of it.

    What about the Blizzard of ’88? 1888. It knocked out the telegraph lines between Boston and New York. The only means of communication was to forward messages to England via the transatlantic cables. When I moved to Connecticut 100 years later, it was still the worst blizzard that they had ever seen.

    • #30
    • January 9, 2020, at 3:09 PM PST
    • 6 likes