Thursday, February 8, 2018

Throwback Thursday - The Blizzard of '78

This week, 6. February - 8. February marks the 40th anniversary of the Blizzard of '78. This is the snowstorm that became the New England bench mark for all storms after.

My parents home. This photo from 1962
And yes, that's a Lark Studebaker in the driveway
Back yard. Photo not from 1978 but to show perspective.
A row of arbor vitae provides privacy from the neighbor's back yard
6. February 1978, a Monday, was just another dreary, Winter Monday. I was a year out of college and was working in the laboratory at the local hospital. I had worked at the hospital since I was a Junior in high school. I had started out as a receptionist and by this time, I was a float. An extra pair of hands for whatever department needed help. Most of the time, the extra work was clerical. Recording by hand and filing test results. In Microbiology, I was the bench technician plating specimens on agar plates to see what kind of bugs would grow.

Most of the time, I walked to work or rode my 10-speed bike. I only lived a couple of miles from the hospital. If the weather was bad, I'd get a ride from my dad in the morning and someone from the lab would usually give me a ride home in the afternoon. My shift began at 7 AM and ended at 3 PM.

I seem to recall the day as rather unremarkable. We had a big storm a week or two earlier, and a couple of inches of snow was expected. No biggie. This was New England, after all, and it snowed in New England through the Winter.

The laboratory waiting area had glass windows that looked out to a glass corridor. Through the glass was a wooded area and beyond the main parking lot. That Monday was like any other Monday in the hospital. Busy. We had a steady stream of patients through most of the morning. By 1 PM, looking out through the windows, it was snowing to beat the band.  As the snow picked up in intensity, it became obvious that we were in for more than a couple of inches of snow.

The lab manager started letting a few people from the day shift, the ones who lived a town or two away from the hospital, go home early. Some of the 3 to 11 shift began calling in that the roads were bad and they wouldn't be in. The lab manager had a brand new 4-wheel drive Subaru. So he decided he would go pick up some of the 3 to 11 techs that lived close to the hospital. He asked a couple of the day techs and phlebotomists if they would work a double shift, and he asked me to stay and man the phones. He told me he would be back to take me home as I only lived  a 1/2 mile from his house.

The snow started coming down harder and harder. The phones stopped ringing as most of the test work had already been done. The floors had their test results, and doctors' offices were now closed. It got dark, but I could see the snow whipping and blowing by the parking lot lights. 3 o'clock came and went. 3:30. No lab manager. 4 o'clock. 5 o'clock Still no lab manager or 3 to 11 people. By 6 pm, the skeleton crew was hanging out in reception with me. Not much was happening. Things were eerily quiet. And that's when I figured I'd better go home. I did not want to spend the night in the hospital. There were people to answer the phone.

The wind was fierce and the snow was blowing as I left the hospital and walked down the Emergency entrance hill towards the center of town. It was hard plowing through the drifts on the sidewalk, so I was walking in the street. I was walking bent over, trying not to be blown by the wind. Head down as I could barely see in front of me. I was about halfway home. Near the lab manager's house.

Suddenly, I could see a light passing over my head. I turned around and saw a snow plow bearing down on me. The wind was so loud, I couldn't hear the plow engine.  I leaped for the snow bank as the plow roared past not even slowing as the driver couldn't see me. My heart was thudding in my chest and ears and I was breathing hard. And then I heard a faint "toot, toot" of a car horn. The lab manager's car pulled up along side me, and he was screaming at me "Get in!". Both of us shaken by my close call.

"I told you I'd be back to take you home!!"

"It was after 6 and you still hadn't come back. I thought you couldn't get through."

"I'll pick you up at quarter to 7 tomorrow morning."


I don't remember much of the evening. Both my parents worked in Boston, but they must have been home. News reports were coming in of people being stranded on the highways. Since workers were let go in the early afternoon, and everyone trying to get home at the same time, plows and equipment to clear the roads couldn't get through. Highways turned into parking lots and the snow kept on falling.

Weather prediction equipment wasn't as sophisticated back then. Weather maps were printed on chalkboards, and the weathermen drew isobars and highs and lows with chalk. We also had several storms that were going to be whoppers that turned out to be duds. Everyone thought this storm was going to be another dud. What no one expected was for the storm to stall and to keep churning. Blizzard conditions ( a storm with large amounts of snow, wind gusts of 35 mph or more for 3 hours or more) for those who lived inland (me) and a hurricane for those who lived along the coast. Seawalls were breached, streets and basements were flooded, some homes were washed out to see by this furious storm. Some motorists that were stranded tried to keep warm in their vehicle, but weren't able to clear the snow from exhaust pipes, and for them the storm turned deadly.

Not from the '78 Blizzard (not sure), but again to show perspective of a lot of snow

The next morning, I woke up, went downstairs, and from the windows all we could see was snow. Snow piled up to the windows. Dad opened the front door and the storm door was covered from snow that had drifted up the front stairs and against the door. Dad drove a huge, tomato red, land yacht of a car. From the front window, we could see a faint hump where the car was parked in the driveway.

This could be a '78 Blizzard photo. or not. But look at how  high
the snow drifted in the patio and bent over the arbor vitae
The phone rang, and it was the lab manager.

"I'll pick you up in 5 minutes."

"Have you looked out your window, yet?"

He put the phone down and then I could hear a faint, "Shit!" and then "Be at work, tomorrow."

The Governor declared a state of emergency and the state was shut down for a week as residents began the long task of digging out. No one except police, firemen, doctors, and nurses were allowed to drive.

It was hard to tell how much snow we actually got as snow had drifted 10 or more feet. Boston's official total at the airport was 27 inches. higher totals reported inland. After the storm, our neighbor across the street, and his two sons, dug a tunnel from their house across the street to ours and shoveled out the front steps and front door so Dad and I could get outside to shovel. He had a snowblower, but the snow was so deep the snowblower was useless.

During the week of no driving, people walked, snow-shoed, cross-country skied, around town. Friendly hellos and neighbors helping neighbors.

Some interesting links with photos of the storm:

The Blizzard of '78 - The Blizzard of '78

The Boston Globe 40th Anniversary of the Blizzard of '78

Where were you 6. - 8. February 1978?


  1. I was living in Paxton and a senior in high school. We got dismissed from school early on that Monday and were home all week. I am not tall but the snow drifts were well over my head, and I just remember being inside until it finally stopped snowing what my memory thinks was several days later. I remember the cars stuck all over the roads too. What a storm it was. Worcester had no school until after Feb. vacation but we were only for a week at Wachusett. Thanks for the stories and the memories. Hugs-Erika

    1. It sure was some storm, and now I know I'm older than you. =^,.^=

  2. Wow, what a fascinating read. I even read the links, too. I have no idea where I was in Feb, 1978, but I know I wasn't anywhere near a blizzard. Thanks for sharing this look back at the blizzard of the century through your father's eyes.

    1. It's still astonishing to look back at the blizzard pics. The look back wasn't my dad's experience in the blizzard, it was mine. (-:

  3. My apologies. Now the lab technician job makes sense. DUH!

    You asked about using watercolors or acrylic ink with shaving cream. I have NO idea what acrylic ink is, but I have tried to use PIGMENT ink reinkers and it gums up the shaving cream. Not sure if watercolors would work or not, because I only have ONE that is in a tube. Mine are in little pots you add water to, which would probably break down the shaving cream once you added it (and the water) to the mix. I've used distress inks which work well with fabric, but have not tried it with solvent inks (Staz-on reinkers). Sorry I can't help with your question, because I have no good answer for you.

    BTW, what IS acrylic ink?

    1. Acrylic ink is made with very, finely ground pigments suspended in a fluid, acrylic medium. The ink is thin enough to flow through a metal nib. The inks are generally, lightfast and waterproof.

    2. I suspect as long as you don't add water, the acrylic ink might work in the shaving cream. Since I've never heard of acrylic ink until now, I've never used it in this technique.

  4. I remember this storm as it was this bad in the midwest too-except haha I had moved to Colorado and the weather was so warm I grilled outdoors

  5. CJ; it was a slow moving storm ~ it started here on the 25th of january and hung around til the 27th. a good friend and I were in the shopping mall; came out 2 hours later to find a MESS... I got stuck at her house; she and her husband're not driving across town in this $hiT. the one thing that sticks in my mind and probably everyone else's that lives here; some guy got his VW beetle stuck in the middle of the street; one of the side streets downtown. by the time it had stopped snowing, the car was covered and neighborhood kids; unknowingly; thought the "car" was a drift and they were using it as a the time the snow cleared....the car had..."no top " it was crushed into the seats...the owner laughed it off and didn't blame anyone.. ☺☺♥♥

    1. We had that Jan. storm, too, which is what made the blizzard totals even more impressive. The poor guy with the VW though he ended up with a great blizzard, war story

  6. I don't specifically remember if this was the storm where I lost my car in a whiteout/snowdrift...but I was rescued by the town snow plow was a doozie! :-/

    1. That's some story! Future blog post, perhaps?

  7. Oh wow, what an experience! I am so happy, the snow plow didn't hit you!! It's nice to know, that all the neighbours helped each other out. The state was shut down for entire week! Truly a great winter story! Thanks CJ!

    1. I'm happy the plow didn't hit me, too. I think in times of emergency, people come together. We've had big storms since, but nothing like this one. Hope never to haven another.

  8. Wow! this is so scary..glad your close call didn't end up being worse.
    I've only ever actually witnessed snow twice in my lifetime!

    1. I've had enough snow in my lifetime, my children's liftetimes, and grandchildren! Anymore snow, I'll send your way =^,.^=