A classic “Nor’easter” storm that brought a severe blizzard to New England finally subsides on February 8, 1978, and the region begins to dig out from under several feet of snow. Over the previous 72 hours, some areas of Rhode Island and Massachusetts had received as many as 55 inches of snow.
Three major weather systems all converged near the Atlantic Coast on February 5, and New York City was the first to be hit with a snowstorm. As the storm moved northeast, it stalled over Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, catching many of the region’s residents by surprise. It is estimated that 3,500 cars were abandoned on Massachusetts streets and highways and several people died in their vehicles on Interstate 93 when they became trapped. A college hockey playoff was played at the Boston Garden despite the weather, and many of the spectators were unable to return home.
On February 6, the blizzard whipped up powerful sustained winds of up to 50 miles per hour with gusts of nearly 100 mph. Fifty-foot waves on the Massachusetts coast wiped out seaside homes, while further north, in Maine, waves destroyed three lighthouses and an amusement pier.
One of the hardest-hit communities in New England was Providence, Rhode Island, where travel became nearly impossible and Governor Joseph Garrahy ordered all businesses except grocery stores closed. Few of these stores had any food in stock, and eventually, supplies had to be airlifted in to Providence College. Similar conditions were found in areas of Boston, and looting broke out in some spots. Governor Michael Dukakis banned all cars from the roads because stuck vehicles were making it impossible for snow plows to clear the streets.
In the end, 56 deaths between February 5 and February 8 were attributed to the blizzard. Thousands more people were left homeless. In one tragic incident, a young child died after becoming lost in the snow–although he was only yards from his home, he could not be located. This was the worst blizzard to hit New England since 1888.