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Blizzard of 1978

From Academic Kids

The Blizzard of 1978 was a severe Nor'easter that affected the New England area of the United States, and to a lesser but significant extent the New York metropolitan area. A storm that occurred in the Great Lakes region during 1978 is called the Great Blizzard of 1978, though the two are not the same.

The Blizzard of 1978 formed on February 5, 1978, and broke up on February 8, 1978. The snowfall occurred primarily between the morning of 6th and the evening of 7th. Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts were particularly hard hit by this storm. In all, up to 55" of snow fell in some areas.

At the time, there was no comparable storm in the memory of the people of New England, though the Blizzard of 1888 and the Great Snow of 1717 were named as storms that were similar in their magnitude.

Contents

Storm formation

The Blizzard of 1978 formed after three air masses merged into one. One air mass had formed over western Pennsylvania, another over northern Georgia, and the third over the Atlantic off the coast of North Carolina.

These three air masses combined and intensified primarily off the coast of New Jersey. Unlike most storms that hit New England after forming off the New Jersey shore and moving northward, the blizzard did not lose strength after passing over Long Island, causing it to hit New England at full strength.

The storm occurred at the same time a high pressure area was stationary over eastern Canada. Because of this high pressure area, the blizzard was effectively trapped over New England. Over 3,000 people were killed.

The storm's strength

The storm's incredible strength was made apparent by the sustained near-hurricane level winds of approximately 65 mph and the formation of an eye-like structure located in the middle of the storm. While a typical Nor'easter brings steady snow for six to twelve hours, this storm brought snow for a full 36 hours while it was blocked from the North Atlantic by the Canadian high pressure area.

An atypical vertical development of the storm clouds brought unusual "snow thunderstorms" to southern New England. These storms resulted in lightning and thunder accompanying the snowfall as it fell at a rate of 4 inches an hour at times.

Conditions

One of the major problems with the Blizzard of 1978 was that it was not widely forecasted. In areas where the storm had been well reported in advance, some people chose to ignore the reports, since New England meteorologists were notoriously inaccurate with many of their reports regarding snow storms. Because of this, people did not have enough time or will to prepare properly for the blizzard.

Many people were stranded in their cars along roads and highways throughout the New England region. Several people perished on Route 128 as snow piled high enough to prevent the exhaust from escaping from their idling vehicles. Over 3,500 cars were found abandoned and buried in the middle of roads during the clean-up effort. This figure does not include the countless other vehicles buried in driveways, on the sides of streets, and in parking lots.

In New York City, it was one of the rare times that a snowstorm closed the schools; in fact, the New York City school district would not close again due to snow for another 18 years.

While many people had been caught in the storm while driving, most others were trapped in their homes or offices with snow drifts of up to 15 feet in some places blocking the exits. In many cases, those who had become ill or had been injured during the storm had to be taken to hospitals via snowmobile. Other people were able to leave their homes and travel for assistance via cross-country skis and sleds. One unofficial report stated that 4% of the students, staff, and faculty at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, incurred some sort of injury requiring medical attention as a result of the blizzard.

There was also the issue of flooding along coastal areas. The fierce winds from the storm combined with the precipitation forced the water up over the land along the Atlantic, Long Island Sound, Cape Cod Bay, and other bodies of water.

Aftermath and recovery

Many people were left without heat, water, food, and electricity for over a week after it finished. Approximately 10,000 people were forced to temporarily move into emergency shelters. 2,500 houses were reported seriously damaged or destroyed, and 17 people were killed. The majority of the interstate system had to be shut down, with some stretches not reopening to traffic until the next week. Air and rail traffic also had to be shut down until the situation cleared up.

Because the snowfall rates were so high, plows could not keep up with removal as fresh amounts fell, causing it to pile up too high to be plowed easily. Plows were further hampered by the amount of cars stuck on the roads because of the heavy snow. In Boston, much of the snow had to be hauled and dumped in the harbor.

A state of emergency was declared and the United States National Guard was called out to help clear the roads. It took almost a week to fully clear the roads as buried cars and trucks needed to be removed before the roads could be cleaned.

Extensive beach erosion occurred on the east coast of Massachusetts. Especially hard hit were Cape Cod and Cape Ann, both located on the eastern shore of Massachusetts. Many homes along the New England and Long Island coastlines were destroyed or washed into the ocean.

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