Impact of the Blizzard of 1978 on the Northeastern U.S.: Background information when reading The Blizzard Party

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The Blizzard Party

by Jack Livings

The Blizzard Party by Jack Livings X
The Blizzard Party by Jack Livings
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2021, 416 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2022, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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About this Book

Impact of the Blizzard of 1978 on the Northeastern U.S.

This article relates to The Blizzard Party

Print Review

Cars stopped on highway near Boston covered in snowJack Livings' debut novel The Blizzard Party revolves around an incident that occurs during the historic "Blizzard of '78," a massive storm that hit the northeastern United States February 5-7, 1978, burying New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the New York metropolitan area under feet of snow. (This was a particularly harsh winter, as a blizzard had also hit the Midwest about two weeks earlier.) Besides the historic snow totals, it was an extremely memorable storm both for its severity and for how ill-prepared area residents were for the impact.

From a meteorological perspective, the strength of the storm was unprecedented. The nor'easter registered hurricane-force 86 mph winds, with gusts up to 111 mph. In addition to the high winds, the duration of the event far exceeded that of a "normal" nor'easter, which generally delivers a steady snow for 6-12 hours. The storm that caused the Blizzard of '78 stalled in place due to a Canadian high-pressure area that prevented it from moving off into the North Atlantic. The result? Heavy snow pummeled some areas for up to 33 hours straight, averaging around four inches per hour.

The storm's impact was made worse by a combination of the tricky task of weather forecasting in New England and the cavalier attitude of travelers who did not trust the accuracy of the forecast. Forecasting models were not as advanced in the 1970s, so weather reports were often wrong. Just two weeks prior, for example, New England was hit by over 20 inches of snow after forecasters had predicted rain. Thus many residents ignored warnings about the coming storm and headed off to work or school on February 6.

However, over the course of the morning, snow began to increase in intensity so that by early afternoon commuters were faced with up to two inches falling per hour, snarling roads to a near standstill. Many were faced with being trapped in their vehicles until help could arrive or chancing the howling blizzard to find some type of shelter to wait out the storm. Some never made it home. In total, the storm brought 27 inches of snow to Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, and 20 inches to Staten Island and other suburban areas in and around New York City. The storm also caused high tides and flooding in the coastal areas of Massachusetts, destroying 2,000 homes and damaging another 10,000. More lives were lost at sea. A Greek oil tanker called the Good Hope sent out a distress call and five members of the Coast Guard set sail to respond, but the blizzard had severely damaged their radar and communications systems and the rescuers never made it to the tanker or back to shore. In the aftermath of the storm, President Jimmy Carter declared parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island disaster areas.

In the end, the three-day historic event killed about 100 people and injured 4,500 more, with a damage total of more than $500 million. For those who lived in the affected areas, the Blizzard of 1978 is one that others are measured by; indeed, for many, it was the storm of the century.

Highway near Needham, Massachusetts during the 1978 blizzard, photo by Jim McDevitt

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Peggy Kurkowski

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Blizzard Party. It originally ran in April 2021 and has been updated for the February 2022 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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