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Remembering The Blizzard Of 1978 – 40 Years Later

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Carla Manzi (Webster Times)

THE LAKE 940 AUDIO:  Meteorologist Mark Rosenthal chats with Mike Roberts on the 40th Anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978.


This week, residents of Webster (who are old enough) will remember exactly where they were 40 years ago.  February 6th and 7th, 1978 when the “Great Blizzard of ’78” hit New England.  It paralyzed the area for days, some places for weeks.  Cars were stranded on Routes 395 and 290.  Since then, it is the storm that all other snowstorms have been measured up to, and one of the main reasons we still go to the store to buy bread and milk if we hear the “S” word in the forecast to this very day.

The official numbers at Worcester Airport measured 20.2 inches of snow, but there were other reports from nearby cities and towns of as much as 38 inches in Woonsocket, RI and as much as 55 inches in Lincoln, RI.  Some drifts were reported to be as high as 27 feet!

Boston received a record-breaking 27.1 inches and Providence also broke a record, with 27.6 inches of snow from a single storm.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t all fun, the storm killed 100 people in the northeast and injured about 4,500.  At the time, it caused more than $500 million in damage (almost $2 billion when adjusted for inflation.)

The winds from the storm were also some of the strongest, hurricane force in some areas.  Boston reported peak wind gusts of 79 mph while Chatham on the Cape measured 93 mph!

The Blizzard of ’78 came at a time when weather forecasting was more difficult than it is today.  Computer technology was rather new at that time, and not even all TV stations had them.

Meteorologist Mark Rosenthal, from WeatherBlast.com, remembers working at WCVB-TV Channel 5 at the time.  He tells us the weather forecast models were retrieved from a teletype machine that only gave details for a day or 2.  Now, the computer models can help predict as much as 10 days in advance.

Back to 1978, Mark says, “one of the models was going for this super storm, and I remember talking to Harvey Leonard, then who I think was at Channel 7, doing weekends, and we’re talking about the fact that we were just going to get annihilated.”

Sure, New England has seen many blizzards since 1978, but Mark tells The Lake 940 there were a lot of factors that made this storm so memorable.  “The storm was really large in size, but it stalled south of Nantucket for about 24 hours.”  We also had a major high pressure front to the north of us, and the tides were astronomically high due to the new moon.  “That was the reason for the very strong northeast winds and devastating coastal flooding.”

Even though Mark isn’t on television anymore, you can still keep track of his daily video forecast on his website.

Mark Rosenthal (center) at the Blue Hill 40th Anniversary discussion of the Blizzard of 1978 with Meteorologists Harvey Leonard, Bob Copeland, Barry Burbank and Bruce Schwoegler.

Now, some local memories from 40 years ago:

Lee Ann Majercik a member of OldeWebster.com on Facebook shared:

I worked in Worcester. And yes, it took me a really long, white-knuckle drive to get from my office in the Lincoln Square area to where I lived on West Main St Dudley in the area where Rite Aid is now.  I made the decision to avoid 290 feeling that if I got stuck, I’d rather be on Route 12 where I might get help rather than on the highway. It took an hour just to get through Main St, Worcester to Southbridge St.   Arriving near home I pulled in behind Bayer Motors with my car just barely under my control.  That’s where it stayed for the next couple of days.  I set my alarm clock and clock radio for extra early in the morning thinking I’d have to plan for extra time to shovel myself out. Ha ha! When I woke, I pulled back the shade and saw a blizzard/hurricane outside the window. I was in despair wondering how I would ever drive to work in that….when I heard on the radio that even my company, which never closed for anything, was on the list of the hundreds of places where there would be no work today.  No…and no work tomorrow either!”

Joe Lindley shared,

We were activated to clear roads.  To give you an idea of how deep some of the drifts were, look at the fence at the highest point of the roadside fence at Chubbick’s farm, Pomfret, CT (Hospital Hill).  The snow drifted above the tops of the posts straight across the road. It was higher than the duck bill on our Army 5-ton dump trucks.

Cyndi Holbrook lived in Webster at the time.

“I remember playing in the backyard with my little girl… the snow was up over the fist floor porch railing and we could jump off and slide all the way to the end of the yard. I also remember cutting the laces off my boyfriend’s boots.  He had been caught out in the storm 2 days earlier and had to walk home.  Nearly got pushed off the road by a plow!  Wicked Storm”

Maureen Cody was in college in New York, but heard stories from her family:

“My twin brothers were seniors at Nichols College and they told me how they were jumping out of their dorm windows into the snow drifts. My older sister had graduated from college so she and younger sister who was in high school had to do all the shoveling for my parents – they never let us forget it!”

Jackie McGeary Morello, another member of OldeWebster.com on Facebook shared,

“I remember the snow came up to our second story windows.  We could not open the doors except for the garage doors. Scary! We had a snowmobile and drove in the roads”

Lois Lada Foley shared:

“I was working as a visiting nurse in Southbridge. Was sent home when it started snowing as they knew it was going to be bad. Local Southbridge nurses made visits the next 3 days to those who had to be seen via police cruiser or skis.”

Don Wayman remembers:

“Mail deliveries were cancelled for several days”

Do you have a memory of The Blizzard of 1978 to share?  Join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Special Thanks to Carla Manzi, keeper of The Webster Times archives and owner of Webster Lake Gifts (right behind The Wind Tiki) for the great photos, and to Mark Rosenthal for helping us remember the storm of the century.

Carla Manzi (Webster Times)