Throwback Thursday: When No One Saw the Blizzard Coming

The Blizzard of '78 came during a time when weather reports weren't as well-heeded.

Photo via Associated Press

Photo via Associated Press

With the series of snowstorms assailing us this month, maybe it’s appropriate to throw it back to February 5, 1978, when the storm to which all other storms in New England are compared began to form off the coast of the Carolinas.

A lot of factors came together to make the Blizzard of 1978 a particularly brutal one. One of the issues that made it particularly tricky is that on February 5, 1978, a lot of people didn’t heed the weather report. The storm formed during an era when weather forecasting was less reliable. Meteorologists saw this blizzard coming, but a bunch of inaccurate forecasts earlier that winter had made people skeptical. Plus, Boston had already experienced a storm that the Globe called the “worst snow in years.” We’d paid our dues already, right?


Boston Globe archives

On February 5, meteorologists predicted snow would begin to fall before the morning commute the next day. When it hadn’t, some people thought the forecast had once again been wrong and went to work or school. The snow did start to fall later that morning, and it didn’t stop for 36 hours, leaving a lot of people stranded for days. (Among the more iconic images of the storm are the cars buried in snow on Route 128.)

Perhaps that’s why, even today, public officials worry when people are underwhelmed by storm forecasts. Though last week’s blizzard hit Massachusetts hard, it largely missed New York City, leading some there to grumble. As Gawker worried, “New York City’s Great Blizzard simply wasn’t, and people in the city (as well as New Jersey and Philly) will lose trust in weather forecasts for months because of this painful bust.” That’s just what happened in Massachusetts in ’78, and for some, it turned into a days-long lesson in “better safe than sorry.”