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Friday, February 8, 2013

Along with snow, memories fly about blizzard of ‘78 (35 years ago this week)

Along with preparation for our first big snowstorm in years, memories are flying about 35 years ago, when the Blizzard of ‘78 became part of New England lore.

That epic storm arrived almost exactly 35 years ago, starting on the evening of Feb. 5 and lasting through early Feb. 7, 1978. And while it wasn’t as damaging or dangerous in Nashua as it was on the Seacoast and throughout the Boston region, it was still a storm to remember. ...

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Along with preparation for our first big snowstorm in years, memories are flying about 35 years ago, when the Blizzard of ‘78 became part of New England lore.

That epic storm arrived almost exactly 35 years ago, starting on the evening of Feb. 5 and lasting through early Feb. 7, 1978. And while it wasn’t as damaging or dangerous in Nashua as it was on the Seacoast and throughout the Boston region, it was still a storm to remember.

“I rolled on my side over the snowbank and walked to the post office ... I couldn’t move the car,” said Frank Mooney, 82, a third-generation Nashua native who was a city postman when the storm hit the region on Monday, Feb. 6, 1978. “There were four of us that showed up - out of about 150, at least.”

The city had no mail delivery for two days while the streets were cleared.

“We weren’t even allowed to leave the post office with our vehicles.”

Barbara Comer, who appropriately enough was reached at the Nashua Historical Society, remembers waiting out the storm in Merrimack.

“We had four little kids, and we had a wood stove, so pretty much we just hunkered down. The kids were outside; they had a ball,” she said.

The city was hit by somewhere around two feet of snow – the official figure in Concord was 27 inches – and power outages swept the region.

“It wasn’t any great big deal that I recall,” said Comer. “We lost power, but that’s the nature of the beast.”

The situation was much worse to the east and south, of course. Photos of the hundreds of cars abandoned on snow-filled Route 128 are part of the New England historical record, as are memories of the way that some public roads were closed for five days. Along the coast, 60 mph winds and high tides caused devastation throughout New England.

Margaret Garneau, administrative assistant at the Nashua Historical Society, was living in Florida at the time but still saw the storm’s impact up close.

“We were visiting parents in Massachusetts,” she recalled. “They prohibited anybody from driving unless you had a four-wheel drive or a truck.”

As it turns out, this wasn’t a problem for her husband, who was a volunteer firefighter.

“He and I ended up doing Wheels on Meals (deliveries) in Methuen, because we had a big truck,” she said.

Part of the impact came from surprise. Weather forecasting was much less advanced, but even beyond that the storm was unexpected.

“We had no warning; nobody expected it,” said Comer.

And while interior New Hampshire didn’t get devastated, it was still a storm for the ages.

“We’ve had a lot of storms here ... but it was the worst I can remember,” said Mooney.

Comments on Facebook

The Telegraph’s Facebook fans shared their memories of the storm, which covered portions of New England with more than 2 feet of snow.

Paul Yankowskas, who was a student at UMass Lowell remembers school being cancelled for the first time in “almost 10 years.”

I “remember calling home Thursday night and talking some smack at my brother, who was attending Holy Cross at the time, because Mass. Gov. (Michael) Dukakis lifted the emergency travel ban in Worcester County for Friday which meant he had to go to school,” Yankowskas wrote. We “mostly hung out in the dorm, practiced bassoon, played cards, and drank beer (drinking age in Mass. was still 18 at the time).”

Yankowskas also recalled that several nearby package stores started running low on alcohol later in the week.

Sandy Hunt recalled that Massachusetts shut down for three days and drivers were ordered to stay off Route 3.

Others noted that Nashua wasn’t as hard hit as Massachusetts.

“Nashua got 24 inches out of that storm so it fared better than it did down in the Boston area,” Lawrence Artz wrote. “I do however remember how everyone was complaining about the lack of the Nashua DPW being able to clear the streets in a timely fashion, but school was cancelled for several days due to not being plowed out completely. I still think that we received more snow in 1977 (the year prior) because school was cancelled so much that Spring vacation got cut short in order to make up missed days.”

One responder even commented on being stuck in the house literally.

“Our front door use to swing open outdoors and we couldn’t open the door because the snow is so high,” Mishel Mercier wrote.

To join the conversation, like The Telegraph on Facebook, www.facebook.com/thetelegraph.

– Telegraph staff