Some Images Echo Blizzard of ’78
By Natalie Covate
BU News Service
Images of cars buried in snow over the weekend echoed some of the famous photographs of cars trapped on Boston-area highways after the blizzard of 1978, 35 years ago last week.
The storm stranded thousands of motorists, caused $3.2 billion in damage, killed 54 people and destroyed 2,000 homes.
Peter Southwick, associate professor of photojournalism at Boston University, remembers flying into Logan airport on one of the first flights able to land in Boston after the storm.
He had been vacationing in the Virgin Islands when the 1978 storm hit. As a freelance photojournalist, missing the beginning of the storm was costly.
“If I would have known that it would be a major storm, I wouldn’t have gone,” he said over the phone Friday evening. “I lost a tremendous amount of work by not being there.”
Flying into the airport, Southwick remembers seeing Boston as a desolate landscape with lights still out and major interstate highways closed down to one lane.
“I’m imagining what it would look like in a warzone,” he said. “Everything had stopped. The streets were still completely covered.”
He took a cab as far as he could into the city after deplaning, but still had to walk the last half-mile through the snow because the streets had not been cleared enough for cars to drive down.
Anne Donohue, associate professor of journalism at Boston University, remembers her childhood grammar school taking in stranded drivers when the storm hit in 1978. The school is adjacent to Route 128. Drivers were welcome to stay for a few days until the roads had been cleared enough for them to drive away.
“A picture of the school made it to TIME Magazine,” she said in an email Friday night. “My little town of Needham had never made the national news in my memory, so that was a big deal.”
This time around, the city of Boston was much more prepared for a major storm.
Newer meteorology technologies have allowed for more accurate prediction of the storm to come. With this knowledge, the city had 600 pieces of snow-clearing equipment, such as plows and snow blowers, ready to go on Friday when the storm hit. Additionally, the city had 34,000 tons of salt on hand to help keep vital roadways clear of ice.
Logan Airport recorded 24.9 inches of snowfall, less than the 27.1 inches recorded at Logan in 1978.
Many residents hit the streets with shovels and snow blowers early Saturday morning. Roads had already been plowed, but T tracks above ground remained hidden beneath banks of snow. The MBTA restored partial service on Sunday and expects to be fully operational on Monday.
Seth Jones, 10, was helping his mom shovel their front yard around 11 a.m. on Saturday. They had already been shoveling for about an hour and were planning on shoveling the car out of a snow bank once they finished. As a reward, he was planning on going sledding or cross-country skiing with his mother later in the afternoon.
Southwick remembers going out to photograph the storm of 1978 the day after he landed. While in Cambridge, he saw people out on their skis enjoying the time off in the snow.
“It’s a disaster,” he said, “but people find a way to enjoy it.”
Jones got his wish that school would be cancelled on Monday so he can continue to enjoy the snow.
Related: Boston’s Channel 7 Covers of the Blizzard of ’78