"On This Day" In Engineering History Blog

"On This Day" In Engineering History

Tune in to find out about significant engineering events that took place "on this day".

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February 6, 1978 – The Blizzard of 1978

Posted February 06, 2009 10:18 AM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, the northeastern U.S. was buried by the Blizzard of 1978. The winter storm dumped as much as 55 inches of snow in some areas, battering swaths of New England and New York with hurricane-force winds and eerie blasts of thunder and lightning. Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and the New York City metropolitan area were especially hard hit.

According to the American Red Cross, the 36-hour storm caused over 100 deaths and 4500 injuries in New England alone. Some 3000 cars and 500 trucks were stranded along Massachusetts Route 128, a partial beltway around Boston. Ultimately, damages from the Blizzard of 1978 totaled over $500 million (USD). "It was the worst I've ever seen," 81-year old harbormaster Elmer Pooler told The Boston Globe in 2008, on the storm's thirtieth anniversary. "I hope never to see another one like it".

The Perfect Storm

The Blizzard of 1978 formed when cold Canadian air to the north, low pressure to the south, and relatively warm ocean air converged. On February 5 of that year, an extra-tropical cyclone developed off the South Carolina coast while an upper-air disturbance and Arctic cold front moved across the Appalachians. These weather phenomena then combined off the Virginia coast to form a rapidly intensifying low-pressure system.

As low-pressure edged toward the northeastern United States, a strong high-pressure system parked itself over eastern Canada. Meanwhile, there was nearly stationary high-pressure over Greenland. These two high-pressure systems blocked the developing low-pressure system from moving beyond the New England coast, causing a nor'easter to rage.

As the term "nor'easter" suggests, these storms feature winds from the northeast. The center of rotation remains over the ocean, however, and allows the weather systems to gather additional moisture. Typically, nor'easters bring large amounts of precipitation along with high winds, huge waves, and storm surges in coastal areas. Larger storms, such as the Blizzard of 1978, have a hurricane-like eye and also batter inland regions.

Yankee Skepticism

Armed with primitive computer models, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a Winter Storm Watch for southern New England on Sunday, February 5th. By early Monday morning, meteorologists predicted heavy snow. When the precipitation failed to arrive in the pre-dawn hours, however, many New Englanders and New Yorkers went to work or school as usual. Some of these commuters were later stranded on roadways such as Massachusetts Route 128.







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Re: February 6, 1978 – The Blizzard of 1978

02/07/2009 8:46 AM

During the Blizzard of 78 I remember driving my old 72 Arctic Cat down the road to the liquor store ( the only store open) and buying a case of beer and blasting down through the center of town .

I remember the thrill of doing something that I would probably never get a chance to do again.

Strangely my front end loader a Clark Michigan B55 471 Detroit was purchased specifically for that storm and I still run it today .Hard to believe a piece of equipment could have been so well designed it still functions after 30 years no wonder companies decided to implement planned obsolescence so we could by crap that last 10 years if your lucky .

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Re: February 6, 1978 – The Blizzard of 1978

02/09/2009 9:27 AM

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Re: February 6, 1978 – The Blizzard of 1978

02/09/2009 11:28 AM

What a storm !! I loved it. We received 39 inches at my house. I was barely 15 yrs old at the time and my older brother ran a tree business. He had an old Chevy C-10 dump truck with a blade and he would plow snow on a contract basis for Hingham (my hometown) when bigger storms hit. I rode shotgun with him for two days straight and we plowed 'round the clock. He taught me how to drive that beast with it's five speed manual and split ratio rear end. It didn't matter much that I didn't have a license because no one was on the road anyways. We plowed out in the Land's End part of town.

For a week (the duration of the state of emergency) it was kid heaven. You could play in the streets because there was little to no traffic. If you had a snowmobile, you could ride around the roads freely as the local police would look the other way and in fact they would approach you to provide access to areas with unplowed roads. The police developed an ad hoc network of locals with snowmobiles who were in essence on call to provide assistance if needed.

We were able to ride our 8 foot toboggan down our neighbor's long driveway across the street and down the hill on the other side of the road. What a ride! I will see if I can find some of the photographic slides that my father took back then.

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