35th Anniversary of Blizzard of 1978

In 1978 I was a sophomore at Providence College and on February 6th of that year I trudged to morning class oblivious to the historic weather event that was about to unfold. Back then in our dorm room we had a portable TV with a rabbit ear antenna that pulled in a dozen fuzzy channels on a good day. I don’t think we had a radio unless there was one built into the stereo but that only played “records”. No internet, computer, iPad, smart phones, nothing like that. As someone who lived on campus, ate on campus and went to class on campus, I never much worried about the weather other than what it was doing when I looked out the window just before leaving the dorm room.

My memory is the snow began to fall in Providence at about 10 am. Once class was done, we wandered to the cafeteria for lunch. By early afternoon, there was a lot of snow on the ground and commuters and employees were exiting the campus with haste. They didn’t get far. Soon the streets around the campus were plugged with stuck vehicles: cars, trucks and buses. We wandered around, pushing cars out of snowbanks and enjoying being outside in the snow with no responsibilities or worries.

The snow continued throughout that night and into the next day. The campus was quiet and the snow had fallen in amounts I never recall seeing before or since. On day two, we hung around the room playing cards but without today’s electronic distractions, that soon grew boring so we headed outside to survey the area. The only vehicle we found in motion was a Providence Fire engine and that was stuck. We pitched in and helped the crew get it moving. Soon we were hiring ourselves out to shovel the driveways of neighbors who were happy to have the willing workforce.

A few days into the recovery, motor vehicles still had not reached the campus and the menu selection at the cafeteria was narrowing. Soon UH-1 helicopters from the Rhode Island Army National Guard were ferrying food to the campus. That Sunday, the NBC college game of the week was to be broadcast from the Providence Civic Center (now the Dunkin Donuts Arena) where the number one ranked Tar Heels of North Carolina were to play the Providence College Friars. North Carolina’s plane made it in as did the NBC crew. With motor vehicle travel still banned, the word went out that anyone who could make it to the Civic Center could get into the game for free. We walked to downtown Providence and watched the Friars upset the number one team in the nation on national TV. Things slowly got back to normal after that.

Looking back, besides the enormous amount of snow and the total lack of information about what was going on, I’m struck by the fact that I don’t have a single photograph from the Blizzard of ’78. Not having a camera handy is almost unthinkable today when there’s one on every cell phone and several other more specialized ones always laying around. But not back then.

Hopefully, the dire forecasts for the coming days of deep snow are just an crude attempt to remind people of what happened 35 years ago today. Please share your memories of the Blizzard of ’78.

9 Responses to 35th Anniversary of Blizzard of 1978

  1. Sarah Correia says:

    Being a little older than Dick I had graduated from college & living in a Brighton apartment with my then boyfriend. Went to work on the day of the storm & we all left at around 11 as they were shutting the MBTA down – fortunately my stop was at the bottom of the Warren St stop hill as the T couldn’t make it up the hill and if you lived further out you got to walk through the storm to get home.

    We got a week off paid courtesy of either one’s employer or via special unemployment from FEMA – if you were 22 like me it was fun with people cross country skiiing up and down the transit line right of way and just hanging out outside with everyone hitchhiking as no one was allowed to drive except for the police, fire department and the National Guard, did get a few rides on snow plows. If you were young it was lots of fun other than having to eat corned beef hash for 3 days running as the food trucks couldn’t get into the city didn’t eat it again for years.

  2. Susan Gates says:

    We lived in Washington D.C. In a two room flat in a row house a block from Dupont Circle. The bedroom was at the back and had a door to the alley where everyone parked. Our house was in the middle of the block (I think you see where this is going.). The snow fell during the night. In the morning I opened the door to get the paper and the snow was drifted filling the doorway. I completely panicked. Do you remember the I Love Lucy episode in the Alps? Derick and a couple of other neighbors literally did the work of a snow plow and dug out the whole alley for the block. Being a Californian, I had never seen anything like that amount of snow. People were cross country skiing in the middle of the street. Once the sidewalks were clear, it was like walking through snow tunnels. Few people in DC know how to drive in the snow and the snow plows have much smaller blades, so it was probably a week before things were back to normal. Because I didn’t drive then, walked everywhere, and we had a market around the corner, I don’t remember being trapped for long.

  3. David Dionne says:

    Like Dick, I was a college sophomore in ’78 as well, only at Boston College. We had heard news of an impending storm, but had no idea what was coming. I recall exiting a classroom building around noon and seeing a few flakes swirling at the bottom of the steps. I made my way back to my room and relaxed a bit before later getting on the T to head to the “Gahden” for the first round of the Beanpot Hockey Tourney. I don’t recall much of game one (NU vs Harvard) but I did get down by the glass near the corner for the BC-BU game and took some pix. BU pasted us, 12-5, and our goalies were pretty banged up as well. The crowd had thinned considerably through the game, but I stuck it out. Being on the JV team, I was able to get to the BC locker room afterwards, and then snagged a ride back to campus on the bus, a large, luxury-style vehicle. Maneuvering the deserted streets of Boston was a sight to behold. We finally made it back to campus near midnight. I still had to get from the rink to my dorm at the Newton campus, about 1.5 miles away. Out into the snow and gale-force winds I trudged. Oddly, Comm Ave was rather clear of snow, and I shuffled cross-country-skiing-like right down the middle of the street back to my dorm. Classes were canceled from that Tuesday to the following Monday. Food became scarce in the cafeteria as the week progressed, but some hardy souls procured a toboggan and made a few food (and beer) runs to Newton Centre. Everyone was partying at night in the dorms, though many actually tired of that rather quickly. Later seeing newspapers and TV coverage of what we went through, we were quite amazed at the immense storm we had just witnessed up close and personal.

  4. David Dionne says:

    I’d like to also add to my above remarks that I was lucky to be able to get the team bus back to BC. One of my floormates, a BC football player, also worked as a security guard at the Garden. He ended up being stuck there for a few days!

  5. Marty Lorrey says:

    I was working at the Lowell city hall for the CETA program. It was actually my last week of work as I was leaving on Friday to begin a new job with the postal service in Andover Ma. on Saturday. I left work around 1030 and arrived home off Douglas Road around 1130.l If I remember right the much maligned weather man Don Kent was the only one who predicted the storm correctly. It took the better part of 2 days to shovel out the driveway due to drifting snow,it probably could have been done quicker but no one was going anywhere anyway. I had recently got engaged to my wife who lived in south Lowell on Roper st. and I remember walking over everyday to visit. Actually the worst part of the whole event for me was the long cleanup period afterword.

  6. Joe S says:

    I had an early afternoon flight out of Logan to National Airport in DC, just as the storm intensity was picking up. I met Jim Sullivan in the waiting area, as he was also on his way to DC. He bragged about the hat he had, one that his son had purchased for him in Ireland. He was ahead of me in the gangway as we were boarding, but as he entered the plane there was a slight gap between the plane and the gangway, just enough for the wind to remove his hat and squeeze it out into the storm. Luckily for him, someone loading luggage was able to retrieve the valuable hat and return it to him before we departed.

    On that flight it was interesting to see the cloud formation, as we passed south of Cape Cod the clouds dropped off abruptly, much like you would expect in the eyewall of a hurricane. It was about that time the pilot came on the intercom to announce that the storm would be a blizzard, with 18-24 inches of snow likely. (prior to that the forecast was for 6-12 inches, and no mention of a blizzard).

    That was a Monday, and I was supposed to return the following afternoon. But I had to wait until Thursday to get a flight to Hartford, then a bus to Springfield, another to Worcester, and then onto Boston. In Boston I was able to get the Green Line to the North Station, and then a train to Lowell. It was quite an odessey.

    But the best thing about that return trip, is that I was able to get home a day before Jim Sullivan, who certainly had more connections than I in arranging travel. He was not happy that I beat him home.

  7. Nancy P says:

    I was in St. Margaret’s Hospital in Boston – our first son was born on Feb.1 and then you were able to stay in the hospital after the birth.. It was strange when all the flights at Logan stopped because we were under the flight path and there was no noise from the planes and the streets were silent also. One woman came in in a front end loader to give birth and she was from South Boston.. The nurses and the doctors and all the staff were stuck also. I was ready to go home but there was a driving ban. Shift change for the emergency personal was 6:00 am and pm. So we took a chance and I was discharged at 7:00 am and we rode home in a vw bug. The snow piles were so high it was like driving in a tunnel and luckily we did not get stopped. The hospital was using the new mother take-home packages in the nursery, so I didn’t get one. Our neighbor shared her baby stuff with me, because we couldn’t get to any stores.

  8. John Heine says:

    You guys may have helped push my roommates car out of a snowbank DickH. We were playing an intense game of caps at our apt on Ventura just off Huxley. Our roommate lost so he had to go get more beer at the liquor store by Brads. Was it Haxton’s Liquors I think? On the way back he couldn’t make it up the hill on Huxley so he went around Admiral to Douglas to Eaton and down Huxley when he rode into a snowbank near where the silver truck parked. He came and got us from the apt but we couldn’t get the car out and a bunch of guys showed up and we all got it unstuck, laughing our butts off the whole time. Good memories. The basketball game was a lot of fun too, especially the walk back to campus; celebrating the whole way. There is a good Youtube Video of the highlights of the game that can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J07iz4ZwwoU

  9. Jeanne M says:

    I, too, was a sophomore at PC that year! Just yesterday I posted a similar comment on Jane G’s Facebook page! Walking to that game was great fun and I remembered that sign too! Happy shoveling!