This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78, the momentous storm that wreaked havoc and devastation across Eastern Massachusetts during a 32-hour period on February 6-7.
There have been many remembrances of that catastrophic event in the media this week, but photos and archival film can only tell so much. Those of us who were around at that time never will forget our personal experiences, and those of our family members and friends, that are etched in our memories as if they were yesterday
Ironically, just two weeks earlier our region had been struck by a major snowstorm that dumped 20 inches of snow and that people at that time were calling the Blizzard of ’78. However, that storm was just a minor prelude to the real thing.
The Blizzard of ’78 literally paralyzed Massachusetts. The snow fell so hard and so fast that major highways across the state were littered with abandoned motor vehicles that were almost entirely covered in snow by the time the storm had passed.
Revere, Winthrop, and other coastal communities were inundated by the storm surge and waves that were driven by hurricane-force winds and that pounded the area for a succession of three high tides, leaving entire areas submerged in waters filled with floating chunks of ice that created an other-wordly scene.
Unlike the recent flooding we endured, which stemmed from a record high-tide and flooded mainly bayside areas, the ferocious waves from the Blizzard of ’78 crashed over coastal homes directly along the shoreline.
For days afterwards, the only motor vehicles that were able to navigate the coastal areas were amphibious DUKS and military half-tracks, which eventually were able either to rescue, or bring food to, those who had been left stranded by the combination of flooding and snow.
Area high schools became shelters for thousands of residents who were forced from their homes and were turned into make-shift emergency rooms where babies were delivered.
Even those who did not live near the coast became isolated in their homes, often without heat and power, by the wind-driven snowdrifts that in some cases piled higher than their front doors, creating scenes akin to the ice and snow-covered house in the movie Dr. Zhivago.
Massachusetts was declared a federal disaster zone, with food stamps made available to all residents, and President Jimmy Carter came to Rhode Island for a press conference afterwards, at which a reporter from our newspaper group was recognized by the President and got to ask a question.
All in all, the Blizzard of ’78 was the winter Storm of the Century in our area, an epic event that, though memorable, is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence that hopefully we will never have to live through again.