Saturday, February 9, 2013
Reflections on the Blizzard of '78
Winter Storm NEMO, the blizzard of the century, just devasted the Northeast. The Northeast was paralyzed 35 years and three days ago with the Blizzard of ’78, the epic blizzard of the 20th century. The Blizzard of ’78 was the worst since the Blizzard of 1888. Forecasting was not as accurate 35 years ago and viewers paid less attention than today to the dire forecasts. The forecast was for a major storm arriving Monday morning, February 6, 1978, but it arrived late giving residents a false sense of security. A Canadian low trapped the nor’easter over the Northeast for 33 hours instead of the normal 6-12 hours for a nor’easter. Snow was falling at rates up to 4”/hour. The major snowfall occurred between Monday morning and Tuesday evening. New England, New Jersey, and New York were hammered. Lincoln, Smithfield, North Smithfield, and Woonsocket, Rhode Island received over 40 inches of snow, Boston 27.1 inches, Providence 27.6 inches, and Atlantic City 20.1 inches. Roads were closed in Connecticut for three days while drifts reached up to 18 feet. It took 6 days to clear the roads in Boston. Plowing was difficult throughout the Northeast because of the high drifts and frozen cars on the roads. Boston’s Mayor Kevin White escaped the blizzard. He was in Palm Beach when it hit. The Cape and coastal areas were hit with hurricane force winds. Sustained winds of 86mph with gusts up to 111mph were recorded. New York City did the unthinkable. It closed schools. Emergency responders had to use Jeeps and snowmobiles. Communities could not implement their mutual aid pacts because they were all in similar straits. Over 100 died with some deaths occurring from carbon monoxide when residents sought to stay warm by turning in their cars. The blizzard had blocked tail pipes with snow. Over $520 million in damages was recorded. Roofs caved in throughout the region because of the heavy snow load on roofs. The one exception was the Hartford Civic Center, whose roof collapsed three weeks earlier in another storm. Here I am in the OC. The temperature is cool, but sunny. Why do I care about the Blizzard of ‘78? Why do I even know about it? I was there. My professorship at the University of Puget Sound was in trouble. President Phil Phibbs of UPS spelt my name “Benedict Arnold.” It was tome for Plan B. The plan was to quickly, and quietly, fly to Springfield, Massachusetts for an interview with Western New England College. That was the plan. On Monday morning I was told the interview schedule was changing since Dean Howard Kalodner needed to get out ahead of the nor’easter because he lived in the Berkshires 45 miles west of Springfield. I had lived in Ann Arbor for two years and Ohio for three, but had never heard of “nor’easters” before. I knew enough in the interview not to ask what a “nor’easter” or the Berkshires were. The faculty got me to the Hospitality Motor Inn in Enfield, Connecticut, across the state line from Springfield, as the snow started to fall. I had been through blizzards in the Midwest. On one occasion the Ohio snowplow operators refused to go out until after the snow stopped falling. The nor’easter was different. I spent the next three days and nights watching a Jeep with a snowplow digging out the motel. Fortunately the Hospitality Motor Inn did not lose power or run out of food. Unfortunately the only music I could find on the radio was a DJ calling himself “Red Beard.” I thought I had left him behind when I left Ohio three years earlier. I was on the first shuttle to Bradley Airport and one of the first flights out. I needed the job and quickly accepted WNEC’s offer. Several nor’easters, lesser storms, the Winter from Hell in 1994, and the winter of 1996, we moved to The OC. I feel for the Northeast tonight. Professor Don Dunn, WNEC’s great law librarian, said I owed him because he got me two teaching positions: Chapman where I am today, and WNEC because he was away during the Blizzard of ’78, and thus never met me. I miss Don, Dean Kalodner, my other colleagues at WNEC, but not the winters.