Remembering the Blizzard of 1978

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By Erica Campbell on January 24, 2013, 3:22pm Last modified: February 7, 2014, 6:16pm

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For those of us around and/or old enough to remember, the Blizzard of ’78 was one of the greatest weather events in Connecticut history.  The picture above, taken by my Dad, is one of me outside my parent’s house in New Haven.  I was three.  Of course the snow always looks higher when you are so small, but I still remember the National Guard had to plow my street and Governor Ella T. Grasso closed the state.  Even our own Dr. Mel, in his book Dr. Mel’s Connecticut Climate Book, states that, “…heavy snow made this storm one to remember” (pg. 49). 

Going back to examine this storm, the winter of 1977-78 had started off fairly mild.  However, around the second week of January, the weather took a turn for the worst.  Connecticut was hit with three snowstorms in a row, leaving heavy snow piled on the roofs of many houses (hmmm…sounds a lot like the winter of 2011).  In any case, Connecticut was already storm weary by the first week of February and a blizzard was the last thing anyone wanted.  Mother Nature had other plans.

The storm began of the coast of South Carolina on Sunday, February 5. At the same time, an Arctic cold front and a cold air mass merged with the storm, creating the perfect ingredients for a very intense low pressure system.  As this storm system made its way up the coast, it became a nor’easter, approaching Connecticut in the early morning hours of Monday, February 6. An unusual high tide accompanied the storm and the huge storm surge resulted in a great deal of coastal flooding and property loss.

The storm's power was made apparent by its sustained hurricane force winds of up to 86 mph in some places, with gusts around 111 mph.  While a typical nor’easter might bring steady snow for six to twelve hours, the Blizzard of ’78 brought heavy snow for an unprecedented 33 hours straight.  In some places, the blizzard even brought unusual “thundersnow,” with snowfall of up to 4 inches an hour, accompanied by lightning and thunder.

However, because the storm moved so slowly at first and with the snow taking its time “getting started,” Connecticut (along with Massachusetts and Rhode Island), were caught off guard.  Thousands of people were trapped in their vehicles, trying to get home (they had gone to work thinking this storm was “no big deal.”).  Eventually, with snow too high to drive in, they abandoned their cars on the highways...unable to move them.  Over 3,500 cars were abandoned on Connecticut’s highways during the blizzard.  I remember even Governor Ella T. Grasso had to abandon her car on the highway and walk to the armory in Hartford.  With forecasting not being what it is today, meteorologists could not accurately predict the storm’s intensity or duration and most people didn’t believe it would actually hit. 

When the blizzard did finally subside on Tuesday, February 7, Connecticut was buried under over two feet of snow.  Some places even received an astonishing three feet of snow, with drifts over five feet tall!!  For years to come, the Blizzard of ’78 would be the snowstorm, too which every other snowstorm would be measured.

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Erica Campbell

Town: North Haven, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since March 2012.

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