I Survived The Blizzard Of '78

Chip GreeneStarred Page By Chip Greene, 26th Jan 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Personal Experiences

The Blizzard of '78 was touted as the storm of the last century. I was there and survived.

February 6th, 1978

I've seen my share of extreme weather events. I've been through three hurricanes which hit Eastern Massachusetts. I deliberately hopped in my car and drove around in a massive dust storm in Mesa, Arizona. To this New Englander it looked like a brown blizzard. I had my home in Mesa, Arizona damaged by floodwaters in an unusually heavy rainstorm. Leave it to me to move to the desert to experience a flood. But, far and away my most memorable weather encounter was with the blizzard of ' 78. The blizzard struck Eastern Massachusetts on the morning of Monday, February 6 and lasted through the evening of Tuesday, February 7.

It began to snow and blow

I got up that morning in Needham, Massachusetts, a suburb a few miles west of Boston. We'd been warned by the local weather forecasters that this would be a major blizzard. Major blizzard turned out to be an understatement. I left for work at 7 AM and drove to the bank branch in Brighton Center where I was the bank guard. It was a 6 mile drive which took me into the city of Boston. We opened the bank at 8 AM and it began to snow. It started with those small light flakes and no wind. Then the snowflakes got bigger, more numerous and the wind began to blow. Before long we and the main office knew that this was going to be bad. So, they elected to close the bank at 11 AM. It got worse fast!

Driving in the blizzard

By the time I drove away from the bank about 8 inches of snow had already fallen. The wind was the worst part. It was howling at a gale force and blowing the snow horizontally. My only obstacle was a long hill which I had to go up to reach what was after that a mostly level drive home. The street was about three quarters of a mile long. It was level for the first half-mile then steeply ascended to Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton. My full-size Plymouth station wagon was handling the snow just fine when about a quarter-mile ahead I spotted a Volkswagen sliding backwards down the hill in my direction. I knew that if I stopped on that hill I'd never get home. So, Boston driver that I was I floored it. There was no other traffic as I passed the Volkswagen doing 40. I just missed it. But, I made it to the top of the hill. The rest of the drive home was uneventful though it was slow going. By the time I got to my street snow was up to the bottom of my car's doors. I went as fast as I could and took a sliding right turn into my driveway. My car barely made it across the sidewalk and got stuck at the end of the driveway. That's where it sat for a week until I could shovel enough snow to pull it all the way into the driveway which widened into a small parking lot.

How we entertained ourselves

In the house I was greeted by my father, a Boston police Lieutenant and five of my seven younger siblings. They ranged in age from 15 down to nine years old. They loved this! School had already canceled. All we could do was hunker down and watch the snow fall and listen to the wind blow. We did this for two whole days. We handled the situation well. By that night everyone knew that this was the storm of the century! We had food aplenty. Having seven hungry mouths to feed we were always well stocked. Being cooped up for a week we managed to handle the situation without killing each other. We watched a lot of TV, especially the weather reports and the stories about what effect the storm was having. The only time anyone ever went outside was to shovel the accumulating, blowing snow away from the front and back doors. We made sure that at least we could get out in the event of a fire in the house. This was something that had to be done frequently by my father and I for two straight days. We entertained ourselves with TV, home movies, games of all sorts and the pool table in the cellar.

The shocking aftermath

After two days the snow and wind ceased and the sun came out. The aftermath of the blizzard of '78 was shocking! All the roadways in Eastern Massachusetts were closed to vehicular traffic except for emergency vehicles. Hundreds had been stranded in their vehicles and had to be rescued. The power was out in a lot of places. We got lucky and never lost our power for a minute. Most businesses were closed. In Needham, Route 128/Interstate 95 saw hundreds of abandoned vehicles buried on the highway. Their occupants were rescued and given shelter at St. Bartholomew's Catholic Church which was just off of the nearest exit ramp from the highway. Those people spent most of the week there. Similar scenarios were unfolding in other cities and towns. Slowly, the great dig out commenced. By Friday some businesses were again open but, you couldn't drive to them. Stop & Shop Supermarket, about a mile and a half from my home, opened. By then we were out of those little things that you always run out of first in a disaster. Milk, eggs, bread etc. So, myself and my two brothers Bobby, 15 and Brian, 14 walked there. We found most of the shelves empty but were able to purchase other items that would get us through until the delivery trucks could roll again. The walk there was surrealistic. The streets were still covered but, the snow was packed down solid. On Highland Avenue hundreds of people were out on foot. The atmosphere was actually festive.

Where do you put it all?

Back home the shoveling began in earnest as soon as the sun showed its welcome face. We had one two-car wide driveway, one long driveway, a small parking lot, a patio, front walk, two walks leading to the house we owned and rented out behind us and 12 foot wide cement staircase which led from our back patio to our front driveway to shovel. But, the most important shoveling took place on the back patio. We began their because under all that snow was a 20' x 40' skating rink. The snow cover was as thin as an inch in one place and 10 feet deep in others because of the intense winds. The shoveling was difficult but not impossible. The biggest problem was where put all the snow. We like everyone else found a way. One way the town found to dispose of the snow was to dump it over the cliff which led down to the local swimming hole, Rosemary Lake. Some of that snow was still there late into the Spring.

The phone call

We by and large shoveled ourselves out by late Friday but, still weren't allowed to drive on the streets. One snowdrift was so large and compacted that I was able to walk up the side of it and onto the roof of the freestanding garage on our back property on Pinegrove Street. We experienced one casualty. We had a 4 foot high picket fence running across our backyard. You couldn't see the pickets for all of the snow. Between two of these pickets at the top of the fence I found a little bird dead and frozen wedged between two of the pickets. That night the bank called and asked if there was any way that I could get to the branch office to open it on Saturday morning at 8 AM. I knew I'd have to walk 6 miles so of course, I said that I would find a way. It wasn't so much that I was the guard that made the bank ask. It was because I held half of combinations to the money vault.. The customers would be wanting access to their dough. This was before the advent of ATMs and debit cards. Other bank personnel for that branch lived locally. The tellers and the assistant branch manager, ( who held the other half of the vault combinations), were among them. They at worst only had to walk a mile to get there.

The long walk

At 3 AM on Saturday I got up and got ready for my little stroll. I only made one mistake which I would pay for later. I wore a pair of running shoes. Otherwise, I dressed pretty warmly. A mile and a half into my journey I crossed the town line into the town of Newton. In front of Callahan's restaurant, my favorite, on Needham Street, I thumbed a ride from a passing DPW truck. He took me all the way through Newton center and up to the Heights of Boston College. It was a ride of about 3 miles. I got out and walked the last 2 miles to the bank which was thankfully all downhill. I was at the bank by 7:30 AM. I grabbed a cup of coffee and a cheese Danish at the bakery in Brighton center and met the assistant branch manager and reopened the bank. It was soon mobbed but, everyone got their cash. We closed at the usual time for Saturday, at noon. I hadn't given much thought about where to stay after that. This was my old neighborhood and I knew plenty of people and relatives who would be happy to put me up. The problem solved itself as I stood there on duty in the bank staring at the other assistant branch manager. She was Barbara whom I had been dating for about a month. She invited me to stay with her and her two roommates in their apartment in the next town over in Brookline. It was only two miles away but we didn't have to walk because by then the trolleys were running again. It was five days to remember. I stayed till Wednesday and we commuted by trolley together to work until I was picked up Wednesday evening to return home.

You're giving me a parking ticket for what?!

I saw one thing that was unmistakable evidence of how bad storm had been. On a Boston street I saw one car parked on top of another. Some overenthusiastic, or could it be intelligent front end loader operator had obviously picked it up and stacked it like that to make more room on the street. What kind of parking ticket would that be? The region slowly recovered with help from the National Guard and those titanic snowplows which were brought in from upstate New York where they're used to having that much snow. The mistake I had to pay for? I got a cold in my feet from all that walking on hard packed snow with just sneakers on my feet. My feet ached for a week and it hurt like hell.

The ice is melting in my drink!

Today I have my memories and all of the pictures and videotapes from the news programs to remember the blizzard of '78 by. Also, today as I sit here in Central Florida in January enjoying 75° weather the blizzard of '15 is approaching my old home in New England. By all reports,(the weather forecasting today is more sophisticated), the blizzard of '15 will equal and may even surpass that of '78 in intensity. In 1978 we got 28 inches of snow over two days. The wind back then was the factor that determined the severity of the storm. The blizzard of '15 promises 2 to 3 feet of snow with 55 to 65 mile-per-hour winds from 1 PM Monday through Wednesday morning.
Pardon me but I have to run. The ice in my drink is melting outside and I have to turn the stakes over on the barbecue.

Photo credits

Blizzard headline

The victims
blizzard of 78.org

Blizzard driving

Kids watching TV

Blizzard of '78, Needham

Shoveling snow

Snowbound home

Plow truck

National Guard

BBQ cartoon


Blizzard, Blizzard Of 78, Disaster, Snow, Survivors, Wind

Meet the author

author avatar Chip Greene
I am a retired police officer, baseball enthusiast, political junkie, and published writer.
My articles will focus on crime, politics, and baseball.

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author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
26th Jan 2015 (#)

I loved this article! Thanks for sharing it. I remember the winter of 78 and 79 in Cleveland. What a winter that was. The only other one that I remember to equally as bad was 94. That was a very bad winter. Now it's 2015 and I'm still in Cleveland awaiting another really big storm.

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