45th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78

The bitter cold we endured this weekend brought to mind other weather extremes. For me, the Blizzard of ’78, which struck on February 5, 1978, has always been tops in that category. I lived through it as a 19-year-old student at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. As bad as the conditions were here in Lowell, Providence got hit harder by the storm. Here’s something I wrote in 1993 about my experience in that great 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 all only a short walk from our dorm rooms, snow had never been a problem. Until February of 1978, that is.

The snow, which started falling by mid-morning, was a welcome sight to 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 though 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 still hadn’t been plowed, but there was a packed-down path formed by snowmobiles that was suitable for warmly-dressed pedestrians. Almost 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.