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Smithfield, RI Weather

The GREAT Blizzard of ’78

By John J. Tassoni, Jr.

February 6th marked the 41st anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978, one of the worst winter storms to sweep the region. It all started so innocently. Snow started falling in the morning and continued through the next day and evening, at a rate of one to two inches an hour. Accumulations ranged from 30 to 40 inches, depending on location within the state. The storm also brought near-hurricane strength, 60 mph wind gusts, that piled the snow in enormous drifts, some reaching up to 25 feet high. Visibility was zero.

Hundreds of commuters were trapped in their cars on the interstates and had to be rescued. The state was paralyzed. No one expected that a forecast of “snow, heavy at times,” would yield such massive amounts in such a short timeframe.

Schools and businesses were forced to close for a week or more so that state officials could figure out a snow removal plan, and how to keep people safe. Heat, water, food and electricity were at a premium for a few days.

As devastating as the impact had on travel and sustenance, the Blizzard of ’78 had a uniquely unifying affect. People came out of their houses to survey the damage and check on neighbors. They shared food, blankets, and shovels with each other. And they talked and socialized. The internet or digital technology had not yet been invented, so communication was mainly word of mouth.

Driving was banned, so everyone walked, or skied, to the closest grocery, convenience or drug store. Children played outside in the snow. They built snowmen or forts with each other, and went sledding on roads and hills that would normally be off-limits.

They had fun!

And when shoveling was possible, everyone in the neighborhood pitched in to help dig out. It was camaraderie in its finest hour. That kind of camaraderie of 41 years ago is all but gone these days, losing its way in an aloof world of advanced technology and social media that has served to isolate as much as connect.

Storm warnings today call for a panic run of milk and bread, instead of opportunities to gather and share. Wouldn’t it be nice to put the phones down, shut off the computers, pull the plug on video games, and go back to the fellowship and sociability of 1978?

Twenty foot snow drifts optional, of course.