SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

February 7, 2013

Salem weatherman remembers the Blizzard of ’78

SALEM — Remember 35 years ago? On Feb. 6 and 7, we had the big storm, the granddaddy of them all.

Tides and winds were reminiscent of the great New England hurricane of 1938, and the snowfall on those two February days was record-breaking. There have been many accounts written concerning that storm and pictures galore. However, they cannot capture the violence of that disastrous nor’easter; you had to live through it to experience the powerful forces it produced.

On the 6th, the snow commenced and raised havoc with the evening commute, as the massive storm system kept pumping warm, moisture-ladened air into the highest reaches of the atmosphere, where it condensed and fell as snow.

There was an explosive intensification of the surface low. The barometric pressure fell rapidly and the northeast winds increased to gale force, and later to hurricane force. In addition to the low deepening, there was an area of strong high pressure to our north that made the winds even stronger.

Once the snow began, its intensity increased markedly. The hourly snowfall amounts were excessive, as much as 3 inches per hour in some locations. The intense, buffeting northeast winds continually swirled the snow into massive drifts. Thus, the snow plows were not able to cope with the serious rapid accumulations.

In Ipswich, winds raced in from the ocean with gusts as high as 85 miles per hour. Many North Shore coastal locations experienced higher gusts. Just to our south, at Cape Cod, the winds buffeted the region with gusts in excess of 90 miles per hour.

In Salem we measured 26 inches of snow that fell in a time period of 26 hours. Regular traffic came to a complete halt. Transportation was by snowmobile or cross-country skis. Only emergency vehicles were allowed on our streets and highways. Our landscape was completely transformed into a fantasy land of wind-driven snow.

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