The Blizzard of ’78: What are your memories?

by susan on February 6, 2013

Thirty five years ago today, the snow began to fall, and it didn’t stop until more than two feet was on the ground. Commuters were stranded, cars were abandoned, snowmobiles and cross country skis were the only means of transportation, and school was canceled for a week.

It was the Blizzard of ’78, and anyone who lived in New England when the storm hit, has a story to tell about the historic nor’easter. In the definitive history of Southborough, Fences of Stone, author and historian Richard Noble recounts the events in Southborough.

The snow began falling at mid-day on February 6, 1978, and by late afternoon it was a genuine blizzard. High winds and swirling snows made visibility almost impossible, and the drifts piled deeper as the day progressed. People got off work early in order to have time to get home, and they ended up stranded on highways blocked by the snow. On Route 9 through Southborough hundreds of motorists were stuck, and traffic was halted, backing up for miles.

Southborough police and fire crews were working almost twenty-four hours straight out, setting up shelters at the Commonwealth Gas facilities, and at Woodward, Neary, Fay, and St. Mark’s Schools. A single lane was plowed alongside the stranded cars on Route 9, burying some even deeper, but a commandeered bus was able to get through and pick up the last of the unfortunate motorists unable to reach home, taking them to one of the shelter locations in Southborough.

By the morning of February 7, everyone was safe and out of harm’s way, but nothing was able to move. So people walked downtown, stopping at Dick Curran’s Spa. Through it all he managed to stay open, serving coffee to those stiff and frozen by a long night’s work guiding wayward travelers through the storm. He got eggs from St. Mark’s, milk from Waveny Farm, and bread came in from the Cumberland Farms bakery by snowmobile.

The Blizzard of ’78 was a rallying point for the people of Southborough, the catalyst which inspired a sense of shared purpose, with people helping other people working together through a difficult time. For the rest of the year, stories about the blizzard would be told again and again, overshadowing all other events of the next several years.

Did you live in Southborough (or elsewhere in the area) during the Blizzard of ’78? Do you remember the cars abandoned on Route 9? Did you get around on cross country skis? Share your memories in the comments below.

1 Joe Mercadante February 6, 2013 at 7:27 PM

My sister was born the day before the storm. My parents dropped my brother and I at my grandparents house with absolutely no winter gear (as the storm was not predicted). My grandmother covered our sneakers with trash bags so we could go out and play in the snow (the banks way over our heads).

After the storm, my father walked from our home in Medfield to the hospital in Boston. My mother and sister were stranded and my grandfather, a retired Boston police office had to pull favors just to get them home.

2 Dick Snyder February 6, 2013 at 7:32 PM

I will never forget the big one of ’78. I was working at DEC in Marlborough and managed to make it home. A neighbor worked at Waters in Milford and he ate from the vending machines for 3 days. We lived on Parkerville Rd a mile south of Rt 9. I can remember my wife and I pulling the kids down on our toboggan to look at the unbelievable sight on Rt 9. I remember having to call the police in Framingham to get permission to drive to a convenience store there as car traffic was still forbidden. A few years ago I got out my old Lionel trains for our grandsons. They were still wrapped in the February 1978 Boston Globe papers! All of us neighbors got to spend a lot of time together that week. We still speak fondly of that time which usually doesn’t happen in the middle of winter.

3 Jerry C February 6, 2013 at 9:52 PM

I had a job interview in Canton on the day of the storm. I went into the interview around 11:00 AM , and it ended around noon. When I went out to the parking lot to find my car, I couldn’t find it. The cars were covered with about 10 inches of snow, and it was snowing hard. I spent about an hour brushing off license plates before I found my car.

This is when it got interesing. I had a front wheel drive SAAB (one of the only front wheel drive cars at the time) and had no problem on 128. The Buicks and Chevys were spun out everywhere… most of the cars back then were real wheel drive and they handled the snow badly. Finally made it to the Pike and headed back to Westborough. I exited in Natick and I couldn’t believe my eyes… Rte 9 was gone… it looked like a snow covered pasture….. it hadn’t been plowed….but the front wheel drive SAAB plowed through about a foot of snow for the next 10 miles or so until I got home.

Finally I arrived at home about 4:30 , walked into the house, and my father asked ” what took you so long”. I said “Dad, it’s really snowing out there” and he replied “no it’s not… the weatherman says everything is fine, and there’s not much snow”. I walked into the living room and heard the weather report myself…..the weatherman said “it’s not that bad of a storm, and the snow accumulation was over”.

Really, he said that….. we got about 50 inches of snow….30 of those inches came after the weatherman said it was over.

4 Pat Q. February 7, 2013 at 8:47 AM

I lived in Hull, MA at the time….about 1 block from the bay and a 8-10 blocks from the ocean; Nantasket Beach. I remember very clearly watching the water from the beach (NOT the bay!) come down our street. The tide had come so high that it had
come up over the main throughway (Nantasket Ave) and down the other side to
pretty much almost meet the bay. For the next several days the only way to
leave the house was in my brothers canoe he had stored in our basement. We had a working fireplace and ended up housing our neighbors whose house was a little lower
and took the biggest hit from the flood waters. By the end of the first week we were burning our wooden yard furniture!

Will also never forget that we couldn’t locate my teenage brother for a few days. We were told he made it to a school gym being used as a safe, dry spot for people flooded out of their homes. We later found out he was hanging with a friend that day in their 1st floor apartment (of 3 story apt. house). They were closer to the beach and were driven from the 1st floor apartment all the way to the 3rd by the rising flood waters and were eventually rescued by the coastguard. In the days of only land lines it was pretty scary not to be able to be in touch.

After more than a week we had had enough and were able to leave to take refuge at my Grandmothers house in Quincy. Ran into a poor guy who was trying to thumb
his way to his wedding! I remember the National Guard all over the place trying to
keep people out from “sight seeing” along the beach.

5 Sandypo February 7, 2013 at 2:21 PM

I was a student at BU, living in an apt in Brookline. I spent the entire storm in the apartment, I had an old b&w TV that only got two channels so I watched what I could and embroidered an entire tablecloth to keep busy!

I remember people cross country skiing on Comm Ave in Brighton and everyone walking in the street because no cars could get through. The only area on the sidewalk that was plowed was a small spot in front of our building that led straight to the street. A car parked in front of it and the snow was so high all around it that my friends opened the unlocked driver’s side car door and slid through the car and out the passenger door so they could get to our building!

6 Steve Wamback February 7, 2013 at 7:00 PM

I was teaching at Woodward at that time and they were waiting to see if it was really going to be bad. We didn’t have a wise, intelligent superintendent like Charles. When they finally decided that they should let school out early (about !:00 or so) the snow was piled 2ft. in front of the doors. The wise men (not Magi) said maybe we would have to stay at school overnight. You never saw teachers move so fast to clear the doors. Pete langelair had his plow and he cleared way for many of the teachers and made a good path for the buses. I just plowed my way (8 cylinder Country Squire) to Rte 9 and headed to Worcester.

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