They say your memory of events is skewed by age. This is somewhat true. Your whole life is only 10 years long when you’re 10 years old. When you’re 50, it’s half a century. That makes a difference. “It used to snow all the time like this when I was young.” or “There was always so much snow on the ground when I was a little kid.” Go back in history if you can. Look it up. You’ll find that both of those statements are not really true. We remember things differently when we are younger, and we perceive them with a bit of this remaining skew as we get older. This holds true for any event, not just a weather-related one. But there are some things that you just really do remember quite well, and the winter of 1977-1978 was one that I remember quite well. This is a look back to how I experienced it through my 10-year-old senses.
My interest in weather goes way back. I remember being fascinated by snow, and thunderstorms (though a bit scared by these), and windy days, and roads flooded by heavy rains, and on and on. Some of this interest, and maybe a good part of it, was fueled by one of my brothers and his own interest in weather. I remember his finger flipping pages of books he’d checked out of the local library and pointing out black and white photos of tornadoes in the Plains and other fascinating captures. The quality was not great in these already-worn book pages, but the picture they painted in my head was very clear. I wanted to learn more about all of these things. Someday I’d go to school to become a “weather man”. Well, I grew up and did that, and have been one ever since. But that is not where the magic lies. Although I enjoy the challenge day to day of trying to predict what this vast ocean of air, interacting with water and earth, is going to do, the real beauty and excitement is just seeing and experiencing the results of these interactions, whether I predicted them correctly or not. Ever since I can remember, this has been endlessly fascinating to me, and it never gets old. I get this excitement from viewing a tuft of cirrus clouds moving across the sky above the distant horizon on a hot, sunny summer day, knowing that beyond that horizon lies an icy tundra already preparing to make the cold air that will bring us our winter blasts and threats of snow in the months that lie ahead. Anticipation of events is often as fun as the event itself. Those cirrus clouds are as exciting to me as the weather I’m about to describe, because it’s all connected. For me, it all leads to the same thing – the amazing atmosphere and its constant battle to make itself the same temperature, pressure, moisture content, and stubbornly, persistently, and powerfully thwarted by the sun that the world the atmosphere covers revolves around. And as if adding frosting to an already perfectly-baked cake, we have the tilt of the planet giving us our seasons. It’s such a perfect recipe for inconsistency… change… weather. We’re lucky and I’m lucky to be here to witness it at this time in celestial history.
It is this fascination with every day weather that drove me to want to start a weather diary to record what went on day to day. By chance, the first day of this diary was January 1, 1978, in a small pocket calendar in which I tried (and often times failed) as neatly as possible to describe the weather of each day in the little box. This would change in years to come, but this is how it started out. But I don’t need to go to my weather keepsake box in the attic and dig out that diary to remember the weather pretty much day-to-day for the entire month of January 1978, the month BEFORE the big one came. That was an exciting month, for sure, as the dynamic weather pattern in place that I had pretty much no understanding of would deliver several events that would loudly remind me of how much I loved observing it. So from memory, this is my account of my view of things from Woburn, Massachusetts, during the first month of 1978.
Back in December 1977, before Christmas, though I don’t remember the date, we had some kind of ocean-effect snow event that had delivered several inches of snow to my area and had me very excited for a white Christmas and I had already decided at that point that I was going to start a weather diary on New Year’s Day. I remember that the year started on a Sunday and sometime that night a weather system moved in and after it cleared the region early on Monday January 2 it had left behind about 5 inches of snow in the region. I was not measuring snowfall myself at age 10, but I was getting the information from my weather-loving older brother who would take the measurements in the yard, and was quite a stickler for accuracy, so though many of my snow amounts in my diary are to the nearest inch, he probably had more detailed recordings somewhere. I still remember him telling me that it was 101 degrees on a sizzling summer day in 1975. But back to 1978. After that early snowfall, it got quiet for the better part of a week with no events of significant note through Sunday January 8. But late that week, the weather pattern was charging itself up and ready to unleash a tirade of storms on this area, 6 in all, from the period of January 9 through January 26…
The January 9 event, a Monday, was similar to the warm storm we had about 10 days after our January 4 2018 snowstorm. It was due to low pressure tracking northwest of the region, putting us on the warm side, with an influx of tropical air pushing temperatures into the 50s and 60s. The 1978 event was one that carried quite a bit of wind with it. I remember people, including us, getting water in basements from the combination of heavy rain and partly frozen ground. By the end of that day the sky had cleared and the temperature had fallen to far below freezing. Tuesday January 10 was a breather day, but that breath was short, because on the morning of Wednesday January 11 we were in the midst of a sleet storm which had been preceded by a few inches of snow. The sleet itself piled up, and then was replaced by heavy rain. I remember being in my very waterproof rubber boots and walking through 5 or 6 inches of waterlogged snow/sleet while being completely ignorant as I did’t realize until later, my family’s efforts to clear this tremendously weighted mass of winter glob from the walkways and driveway before the freeze came the following day. They got it done, and I just had fun sloshing around in it and probably finding a way to get the inside of my “waterproof” boots wet. If social media existed back then, I can only imagine the posts about weather that would have surfaced after that event, but oh, we were not done… I awoke on Friday January 13 to that extra bright white glow you get through your closed window shades that can only mean one thing: snow. There was snow, and quite a bit of it, enough to cancel school for the day. There are 2 distinctive memories I have from this event. One is my brother’s super-excited reaction every time he heard “Woburn” mentioned among the school cancellations and me saying something like “you already heard it 3 times, how many more times do you need to hear it?”. I also remember the song “Sentimental Lady” by Bob Welch (formerly of Fleetwood Mac) coming on the radio and that song has since been a “snow song” for me. The “Friday the 13th” storm produced a solid foot of snow here and provided plenty of outside play opportunity for that day and the weekend.
I suppose after 3 significant storms in 7 days, we needed a break, and we got one through January 19. But when break time was over, it was over. On Friday January 20 came the “forgotten blizzard”. Oh it was certainly not initially forgotten, given that it produced 20 inches of snow in 12 hours at Logan Airport in Boston setting a new record, with the final storm total at Boston of just over 21 inches. Needless to say it was another no-school day, as would be the following Monday, as crews already strained from the recent storminess had all they could do to clear the wind-drifted almost 2 feet of snow that fell in Woburn and nearby areas. That was a pretty epic storm by the standards we use here. One clear yet somewhat sad memory I have from that storm is my best friend at the time and his family driving away in a car and moving truck during the height of the storm and disappearing into the white curtain of blowing snow on the first leg of their cross-country move to the desert of Nevada. But the kid mind is easily distracted, and just 6 days later there would come another big distraction of the weather variety…
Thursday January 26 1978 was the day of the Blizzard of ’78. “Wait! The blizzard of ’78 was in February! You’re wrong!” Very true. Our Blizzard of ’78 was indeed in February, but Chicago’s was on this date, January 26, as a massive storm system cranked its way through the Midwest and Great Lakes, giving the epic blizzard to areas just northwest of the track of the storm’s center. But this track to New England’s west put us here in the warm side, and oh was it warm. Into the 60s we went with heavy rain and southeasterly gales. It was another day of water in the basement and one of the only days I remember school being cancelled due to a rain event. But with so much snow on the ground from six days earlier, the water had limited options of draining and the flooding was pretty significant. But those tropical temperatures, rain, and wind, took pretty much the entirety of the snow from the major storms before it and wiped it out. Official snowcover was reduced to 0 to 3 inches across much of eastern Massachusetts by the time the January 26 storm was done. But when that storm was done, it was not exiting without drama. By the end of the day the sun was out brightly, the wind had switched direction, coming from the northwest, and bitterly cold air that had once helped create the blizzard in the Midwest was now dropping the temperatures here in my home city from the 60s during that morning to the teens that night, with wind chills below zero. Amazing.
As the month drew to a close, its final days were on the quiet side but arctic cold had taken hold and you just knew that winter was not done playing with us like a cat batting a new toy around. It was just taking a little snooze, storm-wise, and leaving us with a very cold reminder that it wasn’t going anywhere soon…
I’ll be posting another special blog about the Blizzard of 1978 on the anniversary of that storm in early February. I hope you enjoyed this look back at January 1978!