THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

National Weather Service's history of the Blizzard of 1978

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February 8, 2008

The following is the text of a public information statement tracing the meteorological history of the Blizzard of 1978 which was posted Feb. 6 on the website of the National Weather Service in Taunton.

...REMEMBERING THE BLIZZARD OF 1978 ON THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY...

THOSE OF US THAT ARE A CERTAIN AGE AND LIVING IN SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND 30 YEARS AGO CAN ONLY REMEMBER ONE THING ON THIS DATE ... WHERE WE WERE WHEN THE SNOW STARTED TO FALL DURING THE MID MORNING HOURS OF MONDAY FEBRUARY 6 1978. THIS WAS THE BEGINNING OF AN EPIC STORM THAT STILL LIVES IN THE HEARTS OF MANY SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND RESIDENTS AS ONE OF...IF NOT THE GREATEST WINTER STORM TO HIT THE REGION. THIS STORM IS KNOWN AS THE GREAT NORTHEAST BLIZZARD OF 1978.

THE LOW PRESSURE AREA THAT WOULD BECOME THE BLIZZARD OF 78 FORMED FROM A DIVING ALBERTA CLIPPER SYSTEM OUT OF THE GREAT LAKES ASSOCIATED WITH A STRONG UPPER LEVEL DISTURBANCE. ANOTHER WEAK LOW DEVELOPED OFF THE SOUTH CAROLINA COAST. THESE SYSTEMS JOINED FORCES OFF THE VIRGINIA CAPES ON THE NIGHT OF MONDAY FEBRUARY 5 TO INTENSIFY RAPIDLY...AS AN AREA OF HEAVY SNOW MARCHED ITS WAY UP THE EAST COAST EARLY MONDAY MORNING.

FORECASTERS AT THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE AT LOGAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT IN BOSTON HAD ALREADY SEEN THIS POTENTIAL ON THEIR COMPUTER FORECAST MODELS...OF WHICH THERE WERE ONLY TWO AT THE TIME. THEY ISSUED A WINTER STORM WATCH FOR THE ENTIRE SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND AREA EARLY SUNDAY MORNING...NEARLY 30 HOURS PRIOR TO THE FIRST FLAKES FALLING. HEAVY SNOW WARNINGS WERE ISSUED BY EARLY MONDAY MORNING...WITH BLIZZARD CONDITIONS MENTIONED ABOUT 15 HOURS IN ADVANCE. FOR 1978...THIS WAS A REMARKABLY GOOD FORECAST.

THERE WAS A PROBLEM THOUGH. SEVERAL OTHER STORMS WERE FORECAST DURING THE WINTER OF 1977-78...BUT DID NOT MATERIALIZE. THEN...JUST TWO WEEKS PRIOR TO THE BLIZZARD...ANOTHER STORM DEVELOPED THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE RAIN. HOWEVER...THE WINTER STORM OF JANUARY 20-21 DUMPED 1 TO 2 FEET OF SNOW ACROSS THE REGION. SO...WHEN FORECASTERS STATED THAT THE SNOW WAS TO BEGIN DURING THE PRE DAWN HOURS OF FEBRUARY 6 AND HAD NOT ARRIVED...MANY PEOPLE FELT THAT IT WAS ANOTHER FAILED FORECAST. RESIDENTS HEADED TO WORK AND SCHOOL NONE THE WISER.

THE SNOW MOVED INTO THE REGION BY MID MORNING ON MONDAY...AND ACCUMULATED QUICKLY. SNOWFALL RATES WERE UP TO 2 INCHES AN HOUR BY MIDDAY. HENCE...THE CALAMITY BEGAN. PEOPLE WERE RELEASED EARLY FROM WORK AND SCHOOL...ONLY TO BECOME STUCK ON SNOW CLOGGED ROADWAYS. LITERALLY THOUSANDS OF CARS WERE STRANDED ON MAJOR THOROUGHFARES ACROSS SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND...ESPECIALLY IN THE GREATER BOSTON AND PROVIDENCE AREAS. THIS QUICKLY BECAME A LIFE THREATENING SITUATION...AS STRONG NORTHEAST WINDS COMBINED WITH THE HEAVY SNOW TO CREATE WHITEOUT CONDITIONS.

BY THE EARLY MORNING OF TUESDAY FEBRUARY 7...THE LOW PRESSURE CENTER ACTUALLY BECAME STALLED SOUTH OF MARTHAS VINEYARD. SATELLITE PHOTOGRAPHS...RATHER GRAINY AS COMPARED TO TODAYS STANDARDS...SHOWED A CLEAR CENTER SIMILAR TO AN EYE OF A HURRICANE HAD FORMED. SOME LOCATIONS CLOSE TO THE STORM CENTER ALONG THE SOUTH COAST OF MASSACHUSETTS ACTUALLY REPORTED EITHER A MIX WITH OR CHANGE OVER TO RAIN AS RELATIVELY WARM AIR WORKED IN OFF THE OCEAN. LESS THAN A FOOT OF SNOW FELL ON OUTER CAPE COD...WITH LITTLE IF ANY SNOW ON NANTUCKET.

BY THE TIME THE STORM ENDED OVER 32 HOURS LATER...THE DAMAGE HAD BEEN DONE. REPORTS OF 2 TO 3 FEET OF SNOW WERE COMMON...WITH SNOW DRIFTS MUCH HIGHER THAN THAT. SOME PEOPLE STUCK IN THEIR CARS ON THE HIGHWAYS BECAME VICTIMS OF THE STORM. THE HUGE AMOUNTS OF SNOW WERE MADE WORSE BY THE DISASTROUS FLOODING THAT OCCURRED ALONG THE EAST COAST OF MASSACHUSETTS FROM REVERE TO SCITUATE AND...MOST ESPECIALLY...HULL. WITH THE STORM STALLED OFF THE COAST...THIS ALLOWED THE VERY STRONG NORTHEAST WINDS TO BUILD VERY HIGH SEAS WHICH CRASHED ASHORE. THIS COMBINED WITH ASTRONOMICAL HIGH TIDES TO CAUSE SOME OF THE WORST COASTAL FLOODING EVER REPORTED. THE FLOODING CONTINUED THROUGH TWO DAYS OF TIDE CYCLES...A TOTAL OF FOUR SUCCESSIVE HIGH TIDES. MANY HOMES WERE DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.

HURRICANE FORCE WIND GUSTS WERE ALSO REPORTED. GUSTS OF 93 MPH WERE REPORTED IN CHATHAM AND 79 MPH IN BOSTON. LIFE AS SOUTHERN NEW ENGLANDERS KNEW IT AFTER FEBRUARY 6 1978 STOOD STILL FOR A WEEK OR MORE. THE NATIONAL GUARD WAS CALLED IN TO HELP CLEAR THE MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF SNOW AND ABANDONED CARS FROM THE HIGHWAYS. SCHOOL WAS CANCELLED UNTIL MID FEBRUARY. PORTIONS OF RHODE ISLAND AND COASTAL MASSACHUSETTS WERE DECLARED FEDERAL DISASTER AREAS BY THEN PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER.

SNOW AMOUNTS WERE RECORD SETTING FOR THE TIME. BOTH BOSTON AND PROVIDENCE SET ALL TIME 24 HOUR AND STORM SNOWFALL RECORDS WITH THIS BLIZZARD.

FOR MORE DETAILS ABOUT THE BLIZZARD OF 1978...ALONG WITH PHOTOGRAPHS AND MAPS OF THE STORMS EVOLUTION AND COMPARISONS TO RECENT HEAVY SNOW EVENTS...VISIT THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TAUNTON WEBSITE AT WWW.WEATHER.GOV/BOSTON AND CLICK ON THE REMEMBERING THE BLIZZARD OF 78...30 YEARS LATER LINK.

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