The Blizzard of ’78 was a unique storm that battered New England for 36 hours. Its duration, combined with its monster intensity, is really what makes the storm so rare.
The storm took shape on February 5th as very cold air remained locked up to our north in Canada under unusually high pressure. High pressure remained nearly stationary over Greenland at the same time. That cold air to our north is a prerequisite for any snow storm to become major around Greater Boston, and is part of the reason why we haven’t had any biggies lately.
The contrast between the cold air over land, and a relatively warm ocean, fueled the intensification of a surface low pressure system diving out of the Great Lakes towards the Mid-Atlantic.
By the February 6, the storm roared in.
From 2-6 PM Boston logged blizzard conditions, meaning winds were sustained at 35+ MPH and visibilities were reduced to a quarter of a mile or less. It is the only time since 1961 that blizzard conditions have verified in the city of Boston. Peak gusts in the city hit 79 MPH, while a 93 MPH gust was clocked in Chatham.
The blizzard caught many commuters off guard, trapping at least 3,500 cars on Route 128. In just 24 hours Boston had measured 23.6″ of snow, a record that still stands today. The final snowfall total reached 27.1″ in town, but some places like Rockport (32.5″) notched nearly 3 feet of snow.
The 36 hour storm was most menacing along the coast, where four astronomically high tide cycles inundated neighborhoods from the North to South Shore. Tides were driven nearly 4 feet higher than normal thanks to a new moon, with waves adding nearly another 12 feet! A staggering 2,000 homes were destroyed in the storm, with Hull, Scituate, and Revere taking the biggest battering. Damages topped $1 billion dollars according to the National Weather Service, and the death toll hit 73 in the Bay State.
Interestingly enough the National Weather Service issued Winter Storm Watches 30 hours before the storm hit, and warned of near-blizzard conditions 15 hours before the storm struck. Prior botched snowfall forecasts, including during a storm in January of 1978 that produced nearly 2 feet of snow, left the public and many on-air meteorologists skeptical. Only at the last minute did many buy into the storm, and even then, no one expected such mass devastation.
With today’s modern technology it’s hard to imagine being so severely blind-sided by a storm in the future. At the same time, however, coastal development has progressed at break neck speeds since the blizzard, leaving even more people and property vulnerable to the next big storm.
Did you live through the blizzard? Leave your story below to relive the storm.