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The 2014 Farmers Almanac
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35 Years Later: The Blizzard of ’78

35 Years Later: The Blizzard of ’78

As the storm popularly known as “Nemo” pounded the East Coast this weekend, meteorologists across the country kept making reference to the fact that the storm fell on the 35th anniversary of the “Blizzard of ’78,” a three-day storm that brought New England to its knees.

Between February 5th and February 7th, 1978, Boston received a record 27” of snow, while Providence, R.I., did Beantown half an inch better, at 27.6”. Atlantic City, N.J. also broke an all-time record with 20” of snow. Some areas reported drifts of up to 15 feet.

The storm was created when an extra-tropical cyclone off the coast of South Carolina collided with an arctic cold front. Conditions were worsened by the fact that the storm developed during a new moon, resulting in unusually large high tides. The combination of high tides and extreme weather resulted in broken sea walls and extensive coastal flooding.

Hurricane force winds of 86 mph, with gusts up to 111 mph, and heavy precipitation, dropping at rates of up to 4” per hour, combined to create zero visibility conditions, making travel impossible and knocking out power in many areas.

The poor visibility and the depth of the snowfall stranded many motorists, who, due to inaccurate forecasting, were not prepared for a blizzard. In Boston alone, more than 3,500 cars were found abandoned, buried in the snow on city streets and highways. Many of their owners did not make it home for several days, while others died from the cold.

Roads throughout the Northeast were impassable for several days after the storm, and it wasn’t unusual to see people getting around on snowshoes or cross country skis. Downed power lines left many without heat or electricity for a week or more, and forced some to move into temporary shelters.

In three days, the storm claimed 100 lives and was responsible for another 4,500 injuries. In addition, the blizzard caused more $520 million in property damage (roughly $1.85 billion in today’s dollars).

It may be a while before we know the full extent of the damage Nemo left behind. What do you think? Did you live through the Blizzard of ’78? If so, share your stories below.

41 comments

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6 ivytex { 02.19.14 at 12:52 pm }

I remember the Blizzard of ’78 very well. We lived in South Bend, Indiana at the time, and I had a 6 y/o and a 1 y/o. I BEGGED my husband to not go to work that morning, but he would be on OT and we needed the money. He got snowed in at the plant, and it was 4 days before he could get home…and he had to walk most of that way back home because our car was covered in snow and it had blown up under the hood and surrounded the motor. Snow had blown over half-way up the front door. My brother-in-law brought us extra milk for the kids on his snowmobile. We moved to Texas that summer….had ENOUGH! :)

7 J Richard Hunt { 02.13.14 at 3:54 pm }

During the blizzard of ’78, we lived in Ft Wayne,IN which got the storm before it reached New England (where we had lived 10 years before in West Boylston,MA.) In Ft Wayne we had 80 mile per hour winds and drifts 12′ high around our house in the backyard. The snow was still around, where it was piled when they plowed the streets, until after Easter that year.

8 Rebecca bishop { 02.12.14 at 4:16 pm }

What I remember most about the 78 blizzard, is I kept having to go outside to shovel around my car to keep it, clear of snow. I worked for New Englane Tel. Co. By the next morning there was no way I could even think about getting out of the driveway, and the Gov. declared a state of emergency, no one could drive, unless you were considered emergency people, which I was, because I was a repaire operator. I was picked up by my boss who lived one town over and I had to walk a half mile to meet up with him. Some of the other people were picked up in the big line trucks. It was quite something to see most of Ma bell closed for business, never thought that would ever happen. It was Erie no one on the roads for days.

9 JAN { 11.07.13 at 12:03 am }

It was my first year driving a truck and I was up in Ontario, Canada. I had stopped at a truck stop because I was sleepy. if you parked at the fuel pumps they would fuel your truck for you and then wake you up. when I woke up it was snowing so hard you couldn’t see. the restaurant was across the street and they were serving sandwiches. it took 2 or 3 drivers holding on to each other to get across the street. it snowed for 3 days and nights and on the 4th day it was clear. you could look across the fields and see people trying to shovel out their driveways and all you could see was the top of their heads. I was pulling a 48 foot van that had a tarp over the top. when the storm was done I found out that the tarp had blown off and the van was half full of snow. never did find that tarp. I had never seen snow like that before. the next time I did I was living in Indiana in 2003 or 2004 and we had over 3 feet of snow at Christmas time. luckily my truck was in the shop and I was able to sit that one out at home.

10 Karen Heaton { 11.06.13 at 10:46 am }

What I remember the most is the night when it first hit. I picked up my mom from work around 11:00 p.m.; we decided not to take the freeway because the wind was starting to blow, although it was still mild enough I did not have on a coat. On the drive back home it seemed like it was getting colder and colder in the car and I turned on the heat. We reached the turn into the subdivision and sat at the red light where the bank sign was flashing the time/temp. At that red light we watched the temperature drop almost 40 degrees before the light turned green; the roads were VERY wet from the 24 hour rain we had before this so everything turned to ice almost immediately; it took us almost an hour to go the remaining five blocks to our home. By the time we arrived home and walked to the door, we kept hearing loud pops (almost like gunfire) and emergency vehicles sirens everywhere. The next day we found out that the pressure had dropped so fast and to an all time low, large windows (like stores and high rises) were blowing out. This was in Columbus, Ohio.

11 Kathy Jacobitz { 02.20.13 at 8:12 pm }

I was 11 years old during the blizzard of 78. My dad was stuck on 128 outside of Boston and my mom was home with 6 kids. Ah what an adventure! Us kids went around to all the neighbors to check on them and Mom kept the wood stove going to heat the house and cook food. When my dad finally managed to get home the snow banks were easily 15 feet high but the driveway was clear.

12 Ken Cottrill { 02.17.13 at 12:45 pm }

Oh yes we remember! We lived east of Akron, Ohio out in the country. I was 16 years old and was out of school for a week as school was cancelled! The National Guard had to plow our roads because the drifting snow was so deep that the county plow trucks didn’t have a chance. I watched that county truck hit the drift and his rear wheels came off the ground! The Guard didn’t even slow down! They went right thru it. The winds blew like 70 mph for 3 days straight. We talk of that storm every winter wondering if it could happen again. We’re still waiting!

13 Tom Easton { 02.14.13 at 9:36 pm }

I have a special DVD put out by the History Channel. It covers the Blizzard of 1977 that Hit the Buffalo, New York area. I have seen pictures of people standing on snow banks and touching the telepnone wires . I lived through it as a 20 year old’. If you ever get a chance to purchase it from the History Channel you willl see for you self it was a Historical event that will go down in History as one of the biggest and baddest winter snow storms ever……. I will look forward to seeing your responce friends.

14 Linda S. { 02.14.13 at 8:48 pm }

I really do remember the Blizzard of ’78. I was working as a hairdresser then and had 5 days off because of the storm. Back home we lived on a dead end street and my house is a raised ranch and the snow was plowed to the end of the street and was higher then the roof of my house. the kids in the neighborhood managed to make a path down the mount of snow and were sleding down it for days. We cooked on the gas grill and shared the generator with my in-laws next door for electricity. My husband (at the time) and I both had snowmobiles and went to the nearest Alamac’s market and waited for the trailor trucks to come in the bread and milk and we delivered it to the people in need for 23 hrs straight. I was cold and hard work but I enjoyed helping people and making new friends for we all were in the same predicament at the same time.

15 James { 02.14.13 at 12:42 pm }

I remember it like yesterday!
Was 10 almost 11 years old we lived 4 miles out of town, school out for over a week. No food for days til Sheriffs Dept & a Local 4 wheel club came to help the 15 homes buried on our road. They used snowmobiles & a road grader to clear our road, we had 12-15 ft drifts!
I do have some old pictures of this Historic & Deadly Storm. Oh, we are in South Central Indiana.Happy Valentines Day to All!!
James

16 Ileana Habsburg-Snyder { 02.14.13 at 6:10 am }

I was a college student in Kalamazoo Michigan. Kalamazoo is in a lake effect snow belt so we already had 24 inches of snow on the ground before the Blizzard of 78 hit. When it did hit we got an additional 36 inches of snow. All the cars on the street were completely bured. My boyfriend (now my husband) drove a van. You could see the top three or four inches of his van in the snow. All the rest of the vehicles had vansihed under the snow. School was cancelled for six days, a record. No on was allowed on the streets. My husband and I did go for a walk and I fell into a snow drift and sunk so far that the snow was over my head. I felt panic because I couldn’t get out of the drift. My husband told me to lay down horizontally on the snow and try to roll. That did the trick. I rolled until sideways until he could reach me and pull me out.

17 Jan Walton { 02.13.13 at 10:54 pm }

Seems like storm stories always highlight storms past. What about more current extreme weather conditions? I’m curious whether you take the position we are just going through normal weather cycles and patterns, without what scientists call “climate change”? Just wondering.

18 Christine { 02.13.13 at 3:40 pm }

I was 10 years old. I remember the giant piles of snow, so large that we dug tunnels through them. The show after being shoveled in front of our house made such a pile that we step onto it from the front porch. I remember sledding around the neighborhood because of the giant piles of snow. Brooklyn, NY

19 Kathy { 02.13.13 at 3:04 pm }

I was only a three year newly wed.My husband the time was a letter carrier for the post office.The snow came down so heavy & fast with drifts in my area of 15-20ft.I was a terrible thing.My husband couldn’t drive home from work.He worked about 12 miles away from home.He called and said he was going to walk home.He left the post office around 12pm he got home about 6pm.He looked like a snowman.He had a beard at the time with frost hanging off his face,I thought he had frost bite.His feet & toes were turning blue.We couldn’t even get to the emergency room to check him out.Thank goodness he was ok.We were snow bound for four days.,Even though the plow were trying there best the roads became icy & to combat it they had to deal with the blowing snow from the snow drifts.On the fifth day we were able to start getting around.A friend took us to pick up my husbands car that was plowed in & covered with snow about 10feet high.We all shoveled him out.It was something to live through.This was in New York area,Queens.

20 Nancy Radice-Howell { 02.13.13 at 2:35 pm }

I am surprised you have not mentioned the Blizzard of 1977 in the Buffalo, New York area. We received lake effect snow that held us hostage for four days. The day started out sunny and pleasant which tricked people in the Buffalo area to be lax in bringing extra clothes, etc. with them that day. Around 12:30 p.m. the snow started and never stopped for over 48 hours. The wind caused snow drifts as high as the top porches of some houses. We had to go out on our tenants porch and slide down the drifts to get to the store at the corner. My mom was dropped off at the corner of her street at 1:12 p.m. and at 4:30 my dad was still standing on the porch trying to see her. It was a blessing that she wore a bright red car coat that day. When the wind shifted he saw her huddled in a ball in a snow drift next door. She got so tired trying to walk into the wind, she just told herself she would lay down and rest for a while. She burned her lungs and died in 1978.

21 ann c rosario { 02.13.13 at 12:38 pm }

Remember it well! I was living in NJ and working at a nearby college when I received a call around 5:00 a.m. that there would be no school. I found this very strange until I looked out front and saw my 74 Green VW Beetle completely buried!

22 lanajustis1 { 02.13.13 at 12:01 pm }

Yes i remember the Blizzard of “78 i lived in wv at the time me and my sister had to ride our horses to the store and they had to jump instead of a walk cause the snow was up to their bellys

23 Pat K { 02.13.13 at 11:40 am }

Remember 1978 well! We lived in Northern Indiana at the time, and was hit with the storm before it got to New England! Many cars were stranded! My boys were 6 and 2 at the time…husband had gone 8 miles away to go to work, because he had OT and didn’t want to lose the OT…took him 3 days to get home, National Guard was restricting who could be on the roads–even walking…my brother-in-law brought milk and bread to us on a snowmobile because cars couldn’t start or get out on the roads. Remember it well!!

24 Lisa { 02.13.13 at 11:27 am }

I lived in Providence,RI. I was 5 at the time. As you can imagine, it made quite an impression. I remember not being able to get outside. I guess my parents prepared because I don’t remember it being a bad time. Daddy dug a tunnel out so that we could take a look around.

25 Anita Rutledge { 02.13.13 at 11:22 am }

I will never forget the Blizzard of ’78 here in Ohio! My husband and I had just welcomed our second son 2 weeks prior to the Blizzard. At 3:30 am, our electric went out and by dawn, it was quite cold in our house. I bundled our 3 yr. old son and our newborn in every bit of clothing and blankets I could and we trudged out into the snowstorm to my cousin’s house. They had a woodburning stove and extended warm hospitality to family and neighbors in need . I was thankful that I was nursing my son so we didn’t have to worry about sterlizing bottles and making formula with no electric! After our sons and I were safe, my husband decided he would attempt to go to work which was 8 miles away in another town. Unbelievably he made it –but he was promptly came home because he and one co-worker were the only staff that showed up!

26 Camille67 { 02.13.13 at 9:57 am }

I was a mom with a 22 month old baby boy and was 7 months pregnant! Lived in Glocester, RI (not MA…different spelling!). Snow drifted many feet against the 2 main doors to my home. My husband was stranded in Pawtucket, RI, at least 20+ miles away for 3 days. By day 3 I started to get a little claustrophobic. Called the Volunteer Harmony, RI Fire Department who was more than happy to clear my doorways, AND volunteered to go to the local grocery store for pampers, etc. for my son. They also volunteered to pick my husband up at a particular location and bring him home if he could possibly get to that location. By day 4, having my husband home, I was relieved. We called the farmer down the road to plow our long-hill driveway with a bulldozer. I will be FOREVER grateful to the Harmony Fire Department. Our home was totally snowed in from every angle.

27 Debbie Habberfield { 02.13.13 at 9:39 am }

I lived in Buffalo, New York, during the 1978 blizzard and worked in a downtown department store. It was around 1:30 p.m. that the employees were summoned to leave for home as it was predicted that a large snow storm was coming in with winds in excess of 70 miles an hour. As I headed towards the front hallway of the store, I noted it to be crowded with many employees. I wondered why they were all standing there instead of heading for home and thought I’d get a lead on them. As I hurridly exited the building, in my youth, I heard cries of “be carefull out there–it is VERY windy!” and soon found out after a few seconds that I needed to run back in the vestibule for shelter. When conditions finally calmed down enough to leave; one by one we exited the building. I boarded the first bus that travelled straight down Main Street to my stop at West Utica Street. A usual 15 minute ride turned into 2-1/2 hours, and as myself and another woman got off on the corner of West Utica, we immediately fell into a couple feet of snow. Arm in arm we trudged across the street watching the street light whipping around like a leaf while we ourselves struggled to keep walking through the snow and the high winds. I finally made it home after a couple blocks. Many people were stranded on highways and many did not make it home and had to stay the weekend at their places of employment, including my twin sister. No, I will not forget my memory of the blizzard of 1978.

28 Valerie Stroh { 02.13.13 at 9:37 am }

I remember 78 as well – Indiana was hit prior to the east coast. My daughter and I were stuck inside our apartment as the snow drifts at both front & back doors were to the top of the door. We both had strep throat and could not get out for 3 days – sad thing is we lived 4 blocks from the hospital. A small giggle – my sister, who was very pregnant, got her body stuck in a drift trying to walk to the street – her husband had to pull her out:-)

29 Pat { 02.13.13 at 9:37 am }

Yes, I vividly remember the blizzard of ’78. I nearly made it home — within 2 miles of my door where, due to a large hill (the first of many) and several stranded cars, all travel came to a halt. Several neighbors with snowmobiles were ferrying people from the bottom of that hill to their homes 2 (and further) miles away. Once it was over, finding the car was another adventure….luckily it had been towed and not plowed over with snow as the snow deposited at the foot of the hill was probably 15-20′ or more!!

30 Jerry Marano { 02.13.13 at 9:33 am }

Yep I also remember the blizzard of 78.We got 24 inches of snow then Beinging a foreman at work,I went in and right at the apron of entering the parking lot another foreman was stuck there.So naturely I had to help push him in,and in the precess I twisted my back,but got him out of the way and i preceeded to drive in,hurt back nd all.We were the only two formen to arrive,swo we decided to return return to our own homes.I live in Binghamton N.Y.

31 Rick { 02.13.13 at 9:25 am }

PS… As I walked into the bar, there were 7 other customers in there. Seven beautiful women that I had never seen before, in that bar. I was single and we had a great time in there that night. We shared the stories of what brought us there that night and I won a free beer for my story. The one lady and I sat and talked a bit to long because when we were ready to leave, nobodys car would start. I tried to get the lady’s car going but it needed a battery. We went back inside the bar and continued our conversation. I didn’t even try to start my car because I knew it would start. We still talk about that storm when weather threatens similar to “The storm of ’78″. That lady I met that night… She honored me, 2 years later, by becoming my wife and we have never been apart since we met, in that bar, that wonderful night!

32 NANCY { 02.13.13 at 9:25 am }

yes i remember the blizzard of “78″ my son was only 6 months old and i remember going to the store that morning before it got worse outside.

33 Pat Chace { 02.13.13 at 9:24 am }

I also remember the 1978 Blizzard. We at that time lived in a town called Rehoboth,Ma. 40 miles South of Boston. Owned and operated 100 acre Dairy Farm, all equiped electrically, milking 50 animals, trying to keep the 750 gallon milk tank running on generator, also some for the house after milking. We had 2 50 foot blue spruce trees in the front of the house, our youngest daughter was 6 years, I took a picture of her standing on a 20 foot bank which was up against one of those trees, so all in all briefly, that was in 1978. our saving grace was that we were home and did not have to battle coming home which hundreds that were at work in Providence were stuck for hours, until people with snowmobiles started bringing them home.

34 Pat Chace { 02.13.13 at 9:21 am }

I also remember the 1978 Blizzard. We at that time lived in a town called Rehoboth,Ma. 40 miles South of Boston. Owned and operated 100 acre Dairy Farm, all equiped electrically, milking 50 animals, trying to keep the 750 gallon milk tank running on generator, also some for the house after milking. We had 2 50 foot blue spruce trees in the front of the house, our youngest daughter was 6 years, I took a picture of her standing on a 20 foot bank which was up against one of those trees, so all in all briefly, that was in 1978. our saving gr

35 Rick { 02.13.13 at 9:03 am }

Oh, yes… I remember! My dad called me and said Uncle “J” was out of firewood. He had just put his last stick in the heater! He heated his house with firewood and he was disabled so there wasn’t an option as far as what to do. A normal 25 minute drive turned into a 2 1/2 hour drive. On the way to Uncle “J’s”, my radio just stopped working which mad efor a long drive If I remember right, the wind chill factor was -35 or -40 degrees. As soon as the chain saw blade hit the wood, sparks went flying. The wood was frozen all the way through! I had never seen that before! We cut him half a load, threw it down the chute and headed to work which took another 2 hours. When I got to work, nobody was there except a security guard, two other tirebuilders and a foreman. Work was cancelled and it was announced on the radio and tv. We were given the option to stay or go home so we left for the bar! What a memory!!

36 Constance M Hard { 02.13.13 at 8:58 am }

Yes, I remember the Blizzard of “78 because just two weeks prior I have my 4th Daughter and it also snowed the day she was born, January 20th, the called her the “Snow Queen”….I will never forget those storms….

37 ellen { 02.13.13 at 8:47 am }

the reporting neglected to mention that this same storm blew huge and unprecedented amounts of snow through northern VA, Washington DC, and Maryland, where I lived at the time. Hundreds of cars stranded along M street, Pennsylvania Avenue, Key Bridge.

It wasn’t only New England affected. Wish your story were a little more detailed and inclusive.

38 Sharon O'Riley { 02.13.13 at 8:36 am }

I live in Warsaw, NY I have heard the townspeople talk about how bad it was, but having grown up in Watertown, New York, I can remember one winter in particular 1963, when we got over 100 inches of snow in a very short time, snow to the top of the stop signs, and red flags were placed on them so people were able to see as they were driving down the road, and the tv station I worked at snow to the top of the building, was like walking into a tunnel when we got there.

39 GMcG { 02.12.13 at 3:26 pm }

Ah, yes! The winter of ’78 – snow piled up as high as the trees in Northwestern Connecticut. No passable roads so we walked. And of course, that’s when the toilet paper ran out and the store was so far away it took all day to climb through the snow to get there and back home again. How could one forget? No wonder I moved to California.

40 Billy Endress { 02.11.13 at 3:16 pm }

Remember it well. Was living on 7th Street Plainfield, NJ at the time. Also had to pull a VW engine to replace a bad Throw Out Bearing fork in that snow. Actually once the engine was lowered out of the car the ice/snow made it easier to slide it out from under the car and then make the repair. Did Freeze my butt off though.

41 Annie McLeod { 02.11.13 at 2:54 pm }

Yes !! I was there !! It was actually fun !! I remember when all the people were out shoveling and walking the streets that is was odd because we were all talking and visiting and this was not done much in Cambridge. haha… it strangely made people come together more !! :)

42 thomas hawthorne { 02.11.13 at 1:36 pm }

yes i remember that was when the roads got plowed in back to back storms , and we had a competent highway dept supt, now for get it.

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