The Blizzard of ’78

I don’t want to jinx us, but I realized yesterday that the only time I’ve started my snow blower this winter was in early October when I was making sure that it would start OK. Perhaps I was contemplating snow yesterday because it was the anniversary of the great blizzard of 1978. I was a sophomore at Providence College back then and for all the snow that fell in Lowell from that storm, Rhode Island received quite a bit more. Here’s something I wrote many years ago about my experience during that storm.

As dormitory residents at Providence College, none of us paid much attention to weather forecasts. Since the classrooms, the gym, and the cafeteria were only a few yards away, snow had never been a problem. Until February of 1978, that is. The snow started falling by mid-morning. It was a welcome sight for most. Six weeks earlier a tragic dormitory fire had killed ten of our classmates and the heavy flakes falling outside the classrooms seemed to lighten the somber mood of those on campus.

By noon, however, we were in the middle of a major storm. My roommates and I walked off campus and soon were pushing cars through the drifts, helping commuters make their way home. It snowed all that day, through the night, and for most of the next day. By the time it stopped, nearly 4 feet of snow had fallen on the city of Providence. Nothing – not even snowplows – could move for days. We spent our time trudging through the neighborhoods adjacent to the college, offering snow shoveling services. There were many takers. Soon we had plenty of money but nowhere to spend it. The shelves of the local stores were all empty. Unfortunately, so was our cafeteria. Friday, lunch consisted of baked beans, canned peaches, crackers and water. Later that afternoon, Rhode Island National Guard helicopters loaded with food were landing in the parking lot, resupplying the college as if it were an isolated military outpost.

Sunday afternoon, the exciting yet erratic Providence College basketball team was scheduled to play North Carolina, the number one team in the country. Green Airport finally opened, allowing the visitor’s plane to land, and word went out that admission was free for anyone who could make it to the downtown Civic Center. Even then, days after the storm, the main road to downtown Providence was open only to snowmobiles and pedestrians. Everyone on campus walked the three miles to see the game, and what a game it was. Amidst signs reading Hi Mom, Send Shovels, the unranked Friars beat the best team in the country in the final seconds of a nationally televised game. It was a fitting conclusion to an unforgettable week.