The Great Blizzard Of 1978: Remembering Boston’s Most Destructive Snow Storm

On Tuesday, Boston was quiet. Snow blanketed everything from T tracks to the Charles River. The wind blew a constant, cold haze over the city. Images of citizens cross country skiing past the State House and sledding down the streets of Beacon Hill circulated the local press circuit. The city was stagnated in a “state of emergency” that extended until early Wednesday morning.

Winter storm Juno dropped upwards of 26 inches of snow on the greater Boston area this past week, leaving the majority of the city shut down from Monday evening through Tuesday. The blizzard prompted the closure of Boston Public Schools and many of the areas colleges and universities, over eleven thousand power outages in Massachusetts alone, and a 24-hour travel ban. Despite the turmoil caused by Juno, which took about 4,000 snow crews to plow, this blizzard was just the sixth heaviest snowstorm that the city has ever seen, according to The Weather Channel.

Although Juno was originally reported to be a “historic” storm for Boston, the snow accumulation did not amount to nearly as many concerns as in the past. According to a statement by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, there were very few major incidents or injuries as a result of this week’s storm beyond flooding and power outages. The apparent ease by which the city, Mayor Walsh, and Governor Baker seemed to handle Juno differs from the problems caused by many similar storms in the past.

If Juno had dropped only two more inches of snow it would have broken historic accumulation records for Boston, instead of just being the largest January storm that the city has seen. Although it was only an inch-and-a-half away from the record set by the most catastrophic storm in Boston’s history—the Blizzard of 1978—Juno didn’t come close in resulting damages.

In February of 1978, the city was hit with 27.1 inches of snow, caused $529 million in damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The storm enveloped cars and mailboxes, stranded over 3,000 people in snowdrifts along Route 128, and caused destructive tidal waves in towns across the North and South shores. In total, the 100 lives and 4,500 injuries caused at the hand Boston’s Blizzard of ‘78 made it the most devastating storm in city history.

“The Blizzard of ‘78 caught everybody by surprise,” said Charles Famolare, who has lived in the city’s suburbs his entire life and has faced Boston’s fair share of blizzards. In 1978, Famolare was living in Winthrop, Mass. with his family. At 20 years old, and commuting both to college and work, the blizzard impacted Famolare similarly to the rest of the city’s residents.

“My street was blocked for four days,” he said. “A lot of cities had people stranded on roads and highways because it snowed so much that they couldn’t get the roads cleared up in time. That was the difference between 1978 and the other day, that now we were prepared and then we weren’t.”

Per the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, in 1978 there were just 2,800 plows attempting to clear the streets of Boston while on Tuesday the number of crews tending to the snow was about one and a half times that.

The blizzard of ’78 virtually halted all transportation in and out of the city. Instead of simply canceling flights for a few days as Logan International Airport did in response to Juno, the major metropolitan airport had to quite literally be shoveled out. Over 200 National Guard troops were flown in to clear out the immense amounts of snow that blanketed Logan and the remainder of the city.

Despite the disastrous snow accumulation, the city still had to function in 1978 as it did on Tuesday with some essential employees having to brave the blizzard. Famolare’s father was a part of the Boston Police Department, stationed in South Boston, during the time of the storm.

“At the beginning of the storm we put chains on his tires and pushed him down the street, he had to get into the city for work,” Famolare recounted. “He was on the job the entire time—keeping streets clean and directing tow trucks—just helping people however he could.”

For the Blizzard of ’78, necessary city employees and officials had no choice but to be both efficient and tireless in dealing with the storm’s aftermath. Michael Goldman, the former Communications Director for the Metropolitan District Commission, was responsible for managing the area’s coastal beaches, inner city highways, and the Boston police force. He stayed in his office for six days, juggling press conferences and meetings, constantly working on relief of the destruction.

“In the end, few would ever again exhibit the pre-storm hubris that was the norm before the Blizzard of ’78 permanently etched itself on the psyche of all who continue to recall its force and impact,” Goldman said in a Globe article, reflecting on the blizzard after winter storm Nemo hit Boston in 2013. “The truth is the Great Blizzard of ’78 was not just another winter weather event, but rather that rare communal experience that changed forever how modern Bostonians came to view themselves with regards to the power and force of the weather.”

Featured Image by John Wiley / Heights Editor

About Sarah Moore 76 Articles
Sarah Moore is the Assistant Metro Editor for The Heights. She is a Junior, English Major at Boston College. She is proud of her new Brighton address, but not that crazy about her new Brighton landlord. You can follow her on Twitter @SMooreHeights.