A Reflection on the Blizzard of 78

By: Tom O’Neill 

Blizzard of 78February 5, 2018 marked forty years since the infamous Blizzard of 78 struck the northeast. In 1978, I was Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and very clearly remember the challenges former Governor Michael Dukakis and I faced in the wake of such a paralyzing storm.

Snow began to fall on a Sunday afternoon at over an inch an hour. I was at the Garden, where Boston College was playing in the first round of the Beanpot Tournament, losing 12 to 5 to Boston University, our longtime rival. As I watched the defeat of my alma mater, neither I nor the fans around me realized the disastrous conditions that awaited us outside. I was fortunate enough to be able to make it out of the Garden, but hundreds of Beanpot spectators ended up stranded there for days, unable to leave because of the debilitating weather and whiteout conditions. On the precarious trek back to Beacon Hill, I stopped frequently to help stranded drivers push their cars out of snowdrifts. The state soon implemented a travel ban to help protect any more individuals from becoming trapped in their cars away from shelter, as many were.

Early the following morning I boarded an Army helicopter with the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration (today known as FEMA) to spend the week crisscrossing the Commonwealth, checking in with towns and cities as they dug out, and seeing first responders and volunteers help stranded motorists. Despite advance warnings, most in Massachusetts could not fully anticipate the intensity and duration of the storm.  As I traveled the state, I had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the lengths that residents across the Commonwealth would go to in order to help friends, neighbors, and even strangers in times of need.

Over the past year we have seen similar selfless acts following devastating natural disasters. There was Darryl Hudeck, who rescued a mother and her 13-month-old son from flood waters in Houston following Hurricane Harvey. Then there was Massachusetts State Police Sergeant Christopher Sanchez, who deployed to Puerto Rico and helped a young, disabled girl find a new wheelchair after losing everything in Hurricane Maria. These simple acts of kindness that transcend generations from the Blizzard of 1978 to present day, reminding us that even in the snowiest of winters, or the most challenging of storms, we are one community.