Ironic that on the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78, we’re preparing for another big snowstorm. I stopped at Market Basket on the way home from work and bought all the essentials needed to make French Toast which, as all of you who are recent arrivals should know, is how New Englanders traditionally prepare for blizzards. Once I got home, I topped off the fuel tank on my snow blower and started it up. Normally doing that would ensure the storm goes out to sea but I don’t think that will be the case. One weather map I’ve seen has us in the 18+ zone and another had us at 28+ but that was Fox and they tend to blow everything out of proportion. In related news, the predictions of pre-emptive school cancellations on Friday will probably be true; and the strained jokes about Winterfest being cancelled because of winter weather were funnier three years ago when the same thing happened. Unlike in 1978 when the only thing I had to record images of the storm was my mind, I have all cameras charged up and ready to record so the snow, however much there is, will be fully documented.
In 1978 I was a sophomore at Providence College and on February 6th of that year I trudged to morning class oblivious to the historic weather event that was about to unfold. Back then in our dorm room we had a portable TV with a rabbit ear antenna that pulled in a dozen fuzzy channels on a good day. I don’t think we had a radio unless there was one built into the stereo but that only played “records”. No internet, computer, iPad, smart phones, nothing like that. As someone who lived on campus, ate on campus and went to class on campus, I never much worried about the weather other than what it was doing when I looked out the window just before leaving the dorm room.
My memory is the snow began to fall in Providence at about 10 am. Once class was done, we wandered to the cafeteria for lunch. By early afternoon, there was a lot of snow on the ground and commuters and employees were exiting the campus with haste. They didn’t get far. Soon the streets around the campus were plugged with stuck vehicles: cars, trucks and buses. We wandered around, pushing cars out of snowbanks and enjoying being outside in the snow with no responsibilities or worries.
The snow continued throughout that night and into the next day. The campus was quiet and the snow had fallen in amounts I never recall seeing before or since. On day two, we hung around the room playing cards but without today’s electronic distractions, that soon grew boring so we headed outside to survey the area. The only vehicle we found in motion was a Providence Fire engine and that was stuck. We pitched in and helped the crew get it moving. Soon we were hiring ourselves out to shovel the driveways of neighbors who were happy to have the willing workforce.
A few days into the recovery, motor vehicles still had not reached the campus and the menu selection at the cafeteria was narrowing. Soon UH-1 helicopters from the Rhode Island Army National Guard were ferrying food to the campus. That Sunday, the NBC college game of the week was to be broadcast from the Providence Civic Center (now the Dunkin Donuts Arena) where the number one ranked Tar Heels of North Carolina were to play the Providence College Friars. North Carolina’s plane made it in as did the NBC crew. With motor vehicle travel still banned, the word went out that anyone who could make it to the Civic Center could get into the game for free. We walked to downtown Providence and watched the Friars upset the number one team in the nation on national TV. Things slowly got back to normal after that.
Looking back, besides the enormous amount of snow and the total lack of information about what was going on, I’m struck by the fact that I don’t have a single photograph from the Blizzard of ’78. Not having a camera handy is almost unthinkable today when there’s one on every cell phone and several other more specialized ones always laying around. But not back then.
Hopefully, the dire forecasts for the coming days of deep snow are just an crude attempt to remind people of what happened 35 years ago today. Please share your memories of the Blizzard of ’78.