OK, it's true we had more snow this past week than we had during the Blizzard of '78, which occurred on Feb. 6-7, 1978.

But the Blizzard of '78 was not just about snow.

In fact, snow was the least of it.
I know, I know, your first thought is that this column is simply going to be one of those diatribes by a curmudgeonly old man who wants you to know that "back then" we had "real" snow, while this week's snow was "wimpy" snow.

Not so.

Nobody is prouder than am I of how far we as a commonwealth have come in our preparation and implementation of snow-emergency responses since we were caught completely flatfooted 37 years ago.

And I say "we" because back in 1978, I was a key player in the Blizzard of '78 response.

On the first night of the storm, I found myself alone on a cot in what we humorously dubbed back then "the MDC Storm Control Center." To put it succinctly, the current Framingham bunker it wasn't.

Serious professionals run the bunker now, and as Gov. Charlie Baker duly acknowledged this past week, the work they and their agencies do in coordinating weather and crisis management is the envy of the country.

That said, while the Blizzard of '15 was indeed a big storm, the Blizzard of '78 it wasn't.

The Blizzard of '78 was about:

  • A hurricane inside a blizzard.
  • A full moon pulling tides to epic heights.
  • Flooded causeways.
  • Homes with families trapped on second floors, in attics and on rooftops.
  • Duck-boat rescues.
  • Thousands of abandoned automobiles on Route 128.
  • Thousands of college students and media stuck in the old Boston Garden after the annual Beanpot tournament.
  • 17,000 people made homeless.
  • Canceled weddings, funerals and burials.
  • Day after day without cars, buses and trains.
  • Stranded hotel guests without food.
  • Meeting and interacting with suburban neighbors you barely knew or recognized.
  • Widespread loss of heat and lights and electricity.
  • Hospitals without available relief staff and veterinarians without assistants to clean filthy cages.
  • National banks being unable to do national business and small "mom and pop" businesses unable to open their doors to their local customers.
  • Thousands of National Guardsmen, with shovels rather than guns on their shoulders, marching to the rescue of their fellow citizens.

And the Blizzard of '78 was about history.

Anyone remember any of that happening this past week?

And, oh yes, the Blizzard of '78 was also about an unprepared citizenry, about 27.1 inches of snow falling on top of 21.4 inches of still unmelted snow deposited on Boston on Jan. 21-22 of that year; and, most important, about post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that continues to haunt those who lived through the Blizzard of '78 to this very day.

And if you think I'm being dramatic about our communal PTSD, consider this.

Before the Blizzard of '78, nobody in Boston would have thought to panic if the weather forecasters reported that there was a storm coming, nor would they have rushed out to buy milk, water and bread, fill up their gas tanks, or thought to make sure they had fresh batteries for their flashlights.

Today, panic sets in at the mere mention of a storm, whether the forecasters predict 3 inches or 33 inches. That's PTSD.

The fact is, during and after the great Blizzard of '78, the entire state was shut down for six days, while during the Blizzard of '15, halfway through the initial storm, Gov. Charlie Baker wisely opened up Western Massachusetts to normal traffic flows.

The Blizzard of '15 was a one-day annoyance, with limited damage and minor inconvenience to residents.

After the great Blizzard of '78 subsided, Gov. Michael Dukakis appeared on TV day after day after day in an array of sweaters, to tell of tales of heroism, to detail the massive damage, to describe the devastating high tides, to relate unbelievable rescues and to report tragic deaths.

The Blizzard of '15 was a memorable storm with a significant snowfall. 

Luckily for us, it wasn't even a shadow of the big, bad Blizzard of '78.

Michael Goldman is a paid political consultant for Democratic candidates and president of Goldman Associates in Boston.

Michael Goldman
Published Date: 
Monday, February 2, 2015