Remembering ‘The Blizzard of ’78’ in Connecticut
We thought the onslaught of disco was catastrophic enough. Then came "The Blizzard of 1978".
Forty one years ago this week a historic nor'easter struck New England, New Jersey, and the New York metropolitan area. From the moment the snow fell on Monday, February 5th 1978 to the time the very last snow flake landed two days later the devastation was felt across the board particularly in the Massachusetts area. Up to a whopping 27 inches of snow in some areas with winds gusting over 110 miles-per hour during its peak.
Mother Nature couldn't possibly have done something this terrible. She had to have stepped aside for this one. Scratch that, she must have been swatted away by the giant hand of something much bigger, something much more sinister. A monster of nature took over this little section of the earth and wouldn't let go for two days. It's pretty much safe to say that anyone who is old enough to remember simply cannot forget what it was like to live through that week.
I was just five years old at the time so even if I somehow managed to climb up the furniture and poke my eyes out the bottom of the window of my house in Southington, CT I don't remember any of what I saw. I suppose it's better that way, especially when I hear my parents tell me what it was like.
I asked my mother to recall the events of that crazy week. It turns out she and my dad were in the place that got hit the worst - Boston. My dad was the sports editor of the town newspaper The Observer and they were at a news writers conference held in Boston. Our neighbor Mrs. Frain stayed with my brothers Chad (7), Marty (12), my sister Diana (14) and myself here in good ole Connecticut. The rest of the story I'll leave for my mom to tell:
"We set out for Boston, arrived at what I think was a Ramada Inn Hotel, went to our room on the 18th floor, attended the open house, then went back to our room after dinner. We were awakened by a fire alarm and were told NOT to use the elevators, just the staircases, due to a horrendous storm that hit Boston overnight shutting down the power," she said. "Thankfully we were safe inside and went ahead with our plans to attend the full day conferences, with a lunch break in between classes. Since we had both been college graduates from Boston, we thought we knew our way around, but with the blinding snow and winds, we detoured down an unfamiliar street. When we finally found our way back to the hotel room, Jim [my dad] looked out the window and said, 'We may have to jump out this window to get out safely and it's 18 floors down!' That wasn't what I wanted to hear, but shortly after everything calmed down and the hotel was accommodating. They allowed us to stay another day until we could finally drive home."
Getting from Boston to Southington in the wake of the blizzard was daunting enough yet the adventure was far from over for my parents. Forget trying to actually get in our house, they still had to figure out a way to actually get in the driveway as mounds of snow had piled up at the entrance.
"Once we returned to Southington there was NO WAY to enter either door or driveway of our home and we finally somehow got help," she continued. "Since Mrs. Frain was elderly, one or two of the adults available carried her to her house next door, only a driveway away. It was a weekend I will NEVER FORGET, especially because no weather report was given to alert us of any storms, because they simply never knew that the snow would come, at least not in that way. I think you could say, 'We had a writers conference with a higher power that saved our lives and returned us home safely.'"
My parents weren't alone in not knowing what kind of storm would come and boy did it ever come. While a typical nor'easter brings steady snow for six to twelve hours, "The Blizzard of '78" aka "Storm Larry" brought heavy snow for an unprecedented full 33 hours. The storm sadly took 100 lives in the Northeast and injured about 4,500. It caused more than $520 million in damage. That equates to about $2 billion today.
Reading up on this blizzard I hadn't realized that there was actually a moment when residents breathed a sigh of relief thinking this predicted blizzard was much ado about nothing. Snow failed to arrive in Monday's pre-dawn hours as local weathermen predicted. Many locals felt it was just another failed forecast so they went to work while their kids went off to school as normal. That state of "normal" didn't last long and by the end of the day they found themselves scrambling to react to a storm that had finally begun and was getting worse by the minute. It would be several days before things got back to normal.
Here in my hometown of Southington there was barely a snow flake to be seen in the early morning hours of that Monday but by 10 a.m. it was coming down fast and furiously. The schools finally announced they were closing down and sending students home around 12:45 p.m. that day. It would be a full week before they re-opened. My dad was the sports editor of the weekly town newspaper The Observer at that time. I did a search through The Observer's archives to see what I could find and, sure enough, there's a missing week. It was my mom who told me that was because they were unable to publish the next issue. I don't recall if it's happened before or since but they had to cancel the publication of the upcoming edition due to the fact that none of the employees could get to the home offices and printing factory.
I searched but unfortunately couldn't find any Connecticut or New York radio clips from that blizzard on YouTube but here is one from Boston radio station WBZ radio that gives you an idea of what was being reported on the second day of the storm:
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