As I sit here by the fire this evening, a major, possibly historic storm is revving up across the country. According to Weather.com, two dozen states and a third of the population of the United States may be impacted. There are tornado watches and blizzard warnings up lots of places. Where I live, we’ve upgraded to a winter storm watch. The snow will start early tomorrow morning. We’re expecting 10-14 inches over Tuesday and Wednesday. There may also be up to a 1/4 inch of ice on Wednesday afternoon. Snow, sleet, freezing rain, sleet, snow – to connect the dots. Having watched the record for snowiest January get buried last week, the biggest storm of the season (so far) is about to hit. Everyone’s been busy preparing. Trying to clear as much snow and ice away from roofs as possible. Buying supplies in case we lose power. We picked up four canisters of propane for the camp stove and a bag of charcoal for the grill.
It all has me searching my memory for another winter in my life experience to compare it to. All I come up with is 1978. I was eight years old, the same age as my older son. I was living in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. And anyone old enough to remember that winter remembers the Blizzard of ’78, which arrived almost exactly 33 years ago.
In the warm and fuzzy memories of my childhood, the blizzard was a big adventure. A strange and wondrous time. It snowed and snowed and snowed and snowed. We lost power and had to “camp” in our house for a while. I think it was just for a couple of days, but it was long enough for the ice cream to melt. I remember eating “chocolate soup” for dessert by battery powered lantern light.
School was closed for I’m not sure how long. There was so much snow in the yard that there are pictures of my Dad standing in snowshoes on it and patting the roof of our house. And the drifts were much, much bigger. But the main thing I remember was the sledding. I lived most of the way to the top of a hill and there was another street that dropped off the side of the hill and ended in a cul-du-sac. Several older boys lived on that street and they dug actual bobsled runs into the snow beside the street. It was the only time I’ve ever gone sledding where you pushed off and dropped into the sledding run, which you then went down banking up on the walls through the curves. Crazy, wonderful stuff. One of the highlights of my elementary school years.
I had some sense that it was serious business too, this blizzard. I remember seeing grainy TV images of cars stranded on highways. But I was too young to appreciate the severity of what was happening and things were not so bad in Chelmsford and the world was less connected in those days so we didn’t all immediately learn of the impact elsewhere.
The reality is that the Blizzard of 1978 was a winter hurricane with sustained winds of 86 miles-an-hour. It snowed for 33 hours straight. Snow fell at rates of up to 4 inches-per-hour, which is why thousands of motorists wound up abandoning their vehicles on freeways. There was a storm surge that devastated coastal communities. Roughly 100 people died and the region sustained $1.75 billion in damages (in adjusted dollars). Here are a few images I found from the monster storm that I, as a kid, just got to enjoy:
The above shots closely mirror my own memories. It is the shots from the coast that I find startling now. I don’t think I had any idea it was this bad.
These are from The Boston Globe with descriptions quoted beneath each:
“The Peter Stuyvesant — once a famed Hudson River riverboat that was restored and made part of the Pier 4 restaurant on Boston’s harbor front — was flooded by surging tide waters and left leaning and partially submerged. The vessel later was demolished and her remains removed from the pier area.”
“Motif Number 1, a fisherman’s shack in Rockport, was to students of art and art history one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. The relic was dumped into the harbor by the flood tides and towering waves.”
“Revere was the North Shore community that was hardest hit by the waves and flood tides. This scene of submerged cars was recorded Feb. 8 on Winthrop Shore drive.”
Just mind boggling, all of it. And all of it is a good reminder that, as hard as we sometimes feel like we have it this winter in New England, we’ve had it far, far worse.