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Where were you in the Blizzard of ‘78?

           By MLBaron westislandweather.com

 

 
     Some called it a “Winter Hurricane”. when  the region was buried under more than 2 feet of snow from one of the most intense blizzards in 90 years. On Monday February 6 ,1978 most of New England was put at a stand still. Up to 10,000 cars ,school buses and trucks were stranded in their tracks by mid afternoon. Many vehicles disappeared under the heavy wet snow.

 

Enter above: The Blizzard of '78 New Bedford Standard-Times Album    

    Hurricane force winds gusted 92 up to 115 MPH and created severe blizzard conditions. Thousands were evacuated from their homes along the exposed eastern shores of Massachusetts. Many returned to find their homes washed away or badly damaged.

 

     Locally Fairhaven already had at least 12 inches of snow on the ground prior to the blizzard, but now it had an additional 26 inches on top of that along with huge drifts. Snow mobiles and four wheel drive trucks were the only vehicles able to navigate the streets along with the snow plows. A State of Emergency and Disaster Area was declared over most of the Northeast. The National Guard was deployed with over 5,000 troops to assist in rescue and recovery operations.

 

     Regionally 54 people were killed with Massachusetts taking the heaviest toll at 29. Some died in their stranded cars from carbon monoxide fumes as they kept the engine running to stay warm. Because the cars were under so much snow the fumes from the exhaust had no where to go but back inside the vehicle.


 I had the second shift at Merit Gas on Acushnet Avenue in New Bedford’s North End that day.

(photo left) By the time I arrived at 2:30 PM there was already 6 inches of snow on the ground and conditions were deteriorating rapidly. Cars and trucks were already lined up into the street to gas up. I was wondering how much fuel the gas station had left to handle the demand. All 12 pumps went non stop dispensing up to 4,000 gallons an hour into the evening as things went from bad to worse. Keep in mind most cars back then were thirsty gas guzzlers. Gasoline was 64 cents a gallon at the time.

 

    By 8 PM the snow accumulated to about 18". Only trucks were pulling in for gas as cars were either buried or couldn’t handle the streets anymore. I received a call from the manager and was told to shut the station down and “get the hell out of there” and to go home while it was still safe to do so. I refused to leave. Merit was one of the few gas stations left open.  I told my boss that numerous emergency vehicles from ambulances to National Guard trucks were coming in to fuel up and I wasn’t about to turn them away as long as I had fuel on hand. The wind and snow was so intense that the inside of my cashiers booth had snow drifts up against the cash register. Aside of gas, the most sought after commodity were cigarettes. I actually had people approach my booth on foot braving the hostile elements to buy the 58 cent packs. Macarthur Park with Donna Summer was playing on the radio as all hell was breaking loose. (as if the song wasn't bad enough)

 

     I grew concerned that the gas stations canopy wobbling in the wind and burdened by the heavy snow was going to collapse.             It never did. I was authorized to select one of the many private snow plow operators fueling up to plow our lot. I found one and paid him $150.00 to plow the lot with the stipulation to bring me home at the end of my shift at about 11PM. We almost got stuck on Route 18 at the Fairhaven exit but we made it to my Bridge St. Home in Fairhaven.

This free hand drawing was done a few days after the blizzard by then-20 year old M.L.Baron. 4 wheel drive vehicles were in high demand after the great blizzard. The 1978 Chevy Blazer was the most popular. Many were determined never to get stuck in their cars again by a blizzard in the Northeast. 

 

     For more on historic weather events in the Northeast, I recommend “New England’s Disastrous Weather” by Yankee Books. ISBN# 0-89909-364-7

 

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