From the ABC 7 Weather team

Blizzard of '78: Being There

February 8, 2013 - 04:00 AM
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The Blizzard of '78 was likened to a winter hurricane.

The monster storm that will be hitting New England Friday and Saturday (Blizzard Warnings up) is being compared to be possibly as great a storm as the famous "Blizzard of 78".  I was in Boston in the early years of my broadcast meteorology career and did have some "period" sport coats. 

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The "Blizzard of 78"  was (and still is)  the greatest, most powerful, most devastating winter storm I have ever seen, forecast or experienced!!  The storm was likened to a winter hurricane and indeed a satellite picture (early GOES) of the storm does show similar structure to a hurricane and even had an eye.

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One of my great on air bloopers of all time happened only a few weeks before the blizzard.  What many forget is Boston was hit by a huge snow storm in January, 1978 - 22".

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After that storm ended, big mouth Ryan told folks in Boston, "Remember this storm well, we won't see a storm this big for a long time".  A "long time" turned out to be 3 weeks.  This was what the Boston beltway -Rt 128 looked like days later. 

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Compared to today's very accurate and detailed weather "models" or simulations of the atmosphere based on physics and mathematics, the weather models in 1978 were fairly crude.  There was no Internet, no Doppler radar and much of the critical weather information came through old facsimile machines, paper maps and teletypes. 

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I was working with legendary Boston meteorologist Bob Copeland 

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We and the local National Weather Service office in Boston were very confident that the February 78 storm would be a big storm, "Heavy Snow Warnings" and "Near Blizzard Conditions".  But it was a real blizzard.  The evening and night before the storm hit, I forecast snow of 18" which I thought was pretty bold at the time.   A foot and a half of snow.  I missed by about 18".  Here is the snow fall from that historic storm.

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Bob and I did have radar.  But it was a radar image that came from an old NWS radar south of Boston as a small scanned image. We  could barely make out the image,  we sure could not show  that on local TV news.  We could see what looked like a wall approaching and watched the teletype weather observations and reports from New York and Long Island and could see what was coming. Indeed  It turned out to be a wall of snow.  We watched out the window on the afternoon of February 5, 1978 as the visibility went from a few miles to 1/4 mile in minutes.  The snow would not end for 36 hours!  Look at the weather map 36 hours after the snow started. 

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Bob and I were working together 24 hours (several hours off each) and shared a motel room just across from Channel 5.  At the first height of the storm, about 2AM, I headed off to the motel, which was also near many TV and radio transmitter towers west of Boston.  The lightning and thunder was continuous. . . .and scary.  Snow was horizontal, falling at 2-3" per hour and lightning and  thunder!  I have never experienced or seen anything like that late night since.  The storm not only crippled any traffic but the high tides and storm surge devastated many towns facing Massachusetts Bay.

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We worked for 3-4 days straight.   Neither of us got home for days.  There were 3-5000 cars abandoned in the area in impassable snows.   

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The storm reduced neighborhoods along the Massachusetts Bay to ruble with the combination of hurricane winds, high tides and what would have been a storm surge for a hurricane.  Almost 300 lives were lost including many people who died of carbon monoxide poisoning or cold and were lost on the Boston Beltway Rt 128 with no emergency workers able to reach and rescue people .  The storm was indeed a monster.  I finally got home to my safe family 3 days later and measured 48" of snow in my yard.  I was lucky.  Everyone was fine.  It was the greatest and worst snowstorm I have every seen, experienced and forecast.  I love snow but not storms that destroy like this "Blizzard of 78" and I sure hope not like this coming "Blizzard of 13" for New England. 

For much more and all the credits here is a terrific resource from the NWS Boston office.

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