40 years ago today marks the Blizzard of 1978, a storm that will always be remembered in infamy. In its wake, it left 20 to even 40 (!!!) inches of the white stuff across parts of the Mid-Atlantic and especially New England. Although we aren’t strangers to big snowstorms (we've seen a few big powerhouses in the last decade like the Boxing Day Blizzard of 2010 and the Blizzard of 2016), this storm was a very special one.
The meteorology behind this event wasn’t anything new to the community. Ahead of the storm, it was a very dynamic weather pattern for the early month of February. An extra tropical cyclone developed along the South Carolina coast on the 5th of February. From there, the storm headed north and went through a rapid intensification of pressure known as bombogenesis. The snow then crept up and made its way along the eastern seaboard during the evening, continuing to move into New England by the late morning of the 6th.
Now, this storm wasn’t only remembered for its large snowfall but also for its ability to bring the entire Northeast to a standstill. This was mostly due to a lack of trust between the public and the weather community. After a few busted forecasts that year, it seemed that forecasters would never nail a storm. To their credibility, computer modeling and satellite imagery was only in its infancy during the late 1970s. With what they had at their disposal, meteorologists were again predicting a pretty big storm, bringing a decent plowable snowfall. However, when no snow fell during the predawn hours on the 6th, most of the public in New England took that as a sign of once again, another busted forecast.
Above: Satellite image showing the extra tropical cyclone just south of Cape Cod on February 6th, 1978. Image Courtesy of NOAA
What they did not know was that a very powerful storm was still working its way north and would bring snow by the late morning and early afternoon. Most people didn’t prepare in time, and even state governments fell behind. This lead to total chaos as the snow picked up in the afternoon, bringing intense snowfall rates as the powerful storm made its approach. Soon businesses and schools started to close, which led to an influx of people trying to get home. Because of the intense snowfall rates, along with gridlock from everyone trying to escape the storm, many snow plows were not able to get out in time and couldn't keep up. Some even got stuck and had to be plowed out. For many commuters, they too got stuck in the snow as several roadways and major highways turned into parking lots.
By February 7th, when all was said and done, this powerful Nor’Easter left tons of damage in its wake. Because of its intensity, the storm brought fierce hurricane force gusts as high as 80-90 mph. This allowed for blizzard conditions, bringing down many trees and powerlines. There was also a good amount of storm surge, which was influenced by the storm coinciding with a full moon. With all of this being said, the storm left more than 5,000 cars abandoned on I-95 and Route 128 and more than 2,000 homes destroyed. More than 10,000 people had to spend time in shelters to ride it out and unfortunately 100 people lost their lives from this devastating storm. Total damages were over $1 Billion dollars (in 2017 terms) in the Northeast. The Blizzard of 1978 was one of the worst on record and is surely remembered by anyone who was there to witness it.