Monday, January 08, 2018

Memory Bank: The Blizzard of 1978

Here in Charlotte, N.C., we have spent the last week enduring the coldest winter in 22 years. My college canceled a work day last Wednesday, and schools throughout the area have had delayed openings and early releases, on and off, for days.

But the seasonal weather got me thinking about a winter storm from my own youth: the much storied Blizzard of 1978

Now, this blizzard was serious business, and I don't want to minimize that fact, or romanticize the damage caused by the storm. 

The blizzard struck the North East U.S. on February 6 and February 7th, 1978, and did more than 500 million dollars worth of property damage. There were over one hundred fatalities, too, and nearly 5,000 injuries. 

Make no mistake: the  Blizzard of  '78 was a big deal.  The headline at the top of this post describes "winter's fury."

In my neck of the woods -- Glen Ridge, NJ -- however, the blizzard was a cause for joy for eight year olds like me.

Our front yard, on Clinton Road, was covered in snow several feet high. I remember my father shoveling snow from the front walk, into our yard, so that the snow accumulation would be even higher.  

And then he dug out several holes and tunnels, so that my sister and I had a multi-room igloo right beyond our front porch.  

The igloo was big too. I remember that you could crawl from a main room to a network of tunnels with at least three other rooms. Our next door neighbor and friend, Jeannie, had a room to herself. My sister had a room. And I had a room. Our beloved family cat, Penny -- a long-haired calico -- would even spend time inside the igloo with us too.

As a kid, I was utterly oblivious to the fact that such weather could be destructive. For me, these snow days were merely a unique occasion to play. 

I saw some slides my father took of the Blizzard of '78 recently (alas, I don't have a photo to post at this point.) and the huge snow pile/igloo actually made our house's lower roof accessible to us. You could stand on the top of the snow hill, and jump, basically, onto the roof in front of my bedroom window.

I can't say for sure that I remember how many days of school we missed, but it seemed like a lot. 

I still recall the amazing routine of those snow days: We'd get kitted up in winter gear -- which took about an hour, it felt like -- and then head out, as early as possible, to get into our igloo.  

We'd stay there until we were frozen, or soaking, or both.

I've regaled Joel for years with stories about the Blizzard of 1978, and my childhood experience with my first really big snow.  It's the snowstorm, obviously, that I remember most, forty years later.

Happy Days.


  1. John, like you, the Blizzard of 1978 is a memorable part of my boyhood too.


  2. Ahhh...the Blizzard of 1978. I was 14 (soon to be 15). I remember being in school when the snow started and we didn't emerge from our home for a day. When the storm was over, Woonsocket, RI (where I'm from) unofficially had over 3.5 feet of snow on the ground with snow drifts reaching second story windows of many homes. In truth, I believe the actual accumulation was much higher (closer to 4.5 feet) but that official accumulation total is what I can find online.

    Take a look at this Wikipedia page:

    The photo on the upper left is of Maple Street, Woonsocket, RI and the house on the extreme left of the photo is the house I grew up in. We opened our front door and found a drift of snow so high that we literally had to dig ourselves out of our home. The roads were closed for a week and we had to walk a couple of miles with a sled to the nearest grocery store to replenish our food supplies.

    Thankfully, there was no major damage to anyone's homes and life returned to normal after a week (though we lived with the snow piles will into the spring). It was quite an amazing adventure!