A Terrifying, Deadly Storm Struck Massachusetts In 1978… And No One Saw It Coming

The Blizzard of 1978. It was the most catastrophic storm to hit Massachusetts in over 200 years. For those who lived through it, no blizzard before or since has come close to surpassing the Blizzard of ’78’s sheer brutality. Massachusetts was not prepared for the force with which the storm struck, which resulted in unfathomable property damage and tragic loss of life.

First, the vital statistics. The storm formed on the evening of February 5, 1978. It officially ended a whole two days later, on February 7. Record snowfall and terrifying wind speeds were recorded across all of New England, but Massachusetts was particularly brutalized.

Just how much snow fell in Massachusetts? Too much. Boston received 27.1 inches, which was a record at the time. The storm killed approximately 100 people in the Northeast and injured around 4,500.

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Why was this such a deadly storm for Massachusetts? Because people were simply not prepared. The weather stations had forecasted heavy snow on the early morning of February 5, and when people awoke to not even a single flake, most went to work and school as usual. Weather forecasting technology in the 1970s was just beginning to reach today’s level of accuracy, and much of the public was still skeptical of it. When snow began falling heavily later in the day, no one had time to adequately prepare for the wintry onslaught.

Due to the sudden nature of the storm and the poor alert systems in place, many Massachusetts employees were actually stuck at their workplaces for several days. Hundreds of people were trapped in their cars on major highways and roads. Fourteen people actually died in their cars on 1-95 as snow piled high enough that exhaust fumes from their cars could not escape. I-95 was eventually overrun with cross-country skiers and snowmobiles searching for buried motorists. Over 3,500 cars were found abandoned on major highways.

In many places, car travel was banned for a week following the storm. Thousands of people throughout eastern Massachusetts were snowed into their homes. About 10,000 people were forced to move into emergency shelters and over 2,500 homes were effectively destroyed. In Massachusetts, 54 people were killed by conditions related to the blizzard. Many were electrocuted by falling wires, while some, including ten-year-old Peter Gosselin of Uxbridge, simply disappeared into snow banks and were not found until weeks later.

Because the storm hit during a new moon when the tides were unusually high, damage along the Massachusetts coast was severe. Sea walls crumbled and roads were flooded. The picture above was taken just before the storm began raging across Massachusetts. Minot Light is about one mile from the shores of Cohasset and Scituate. The lighthouse is 114 feet high, which means that the waves are crashing against it at heights of at least 100 feet.

Do you have any memories of this colossal storm? How did it affect you and your family?