Journal of a Sabbatical

twenty years ago today

February 6, 1998

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Some Blizzard of '78 sites:

Pictures of Blizzard of 1978

Walpole, MA

New England Weather Hazards

A Sleepover at Boston Garden -- for the Beanpot

A Weather Lover's Reminiscence of Blizzard of '78 in Providence




Twenty years ago today, a few snowflakes began to fall from a dark sky. A couple of days later we assessed the damage. Twenty years later, people still talk about the Blizzard of '78. It's one of those events you remember all your life and talk about like it was yesterday. Rhode Island, being mostly ocean, was particularly hard hit. My standard joke to Nancy is that I can sum up the entire history of Rhode Island as "Roger Williams arrives. King Phillip's War. Hurricane of 1938. Blizzard of '78." I was browsing some sites on the Ocean State Web Ring when I came across a Blizzard of '78 site - that's just soooo Rhode Island... talking about the weather is like the official state sport or something - I once ran across a collection of stories by Rhode Island writers with the totally appropriate title How the Weather Was. Weather trauma 'r us.

Not that RI was the only state to experience trauma. Massachusetts was definitely traumatized. And the weathermen on Boston tv stations have remained delusional ever since.

Anyway, 20 years ago today I was working at Digital in the mill in Maynard, MA and living in Hudson, MA. I had a brand new VW Rabbit I'd just picked up at the dealer a few days before. Ironically, the delivery of my new Rabbit had been delayed by a big storm on January 20. Little did I know...

So, I was hot on the trail of a bug in the ill-fated yet impossible to maintain RT-11 FORTRAN compiler when they announced we were shutting down early because of the storm. Me leave? Nope. Not when I'm this close to finding this bug. How bad could it be? The snow I mean. After all, it's not like I've never seen snow before. Some people left, some people stayed. I worked on my bug until I had a fix but before I could test it the security guard came around and told me I'd really better go home or I was going to be stuck there. I dug out my car and drove home. I don't remember how long it took. I remember the snow was already up to the front bumper of the Rabbit. I knew if I stopped I would never get going again. Rt. 62 winds sharply in its meanderings from Maynard to Hudson and the wind was blowing like I've never seen it before or since. The car and I crawled slowly for what seemed like all night, but I have no idea how long it really was. I parked the car in a close approximation of a space in the dirt parking lot of the apartment building I lived in and went to bed.

Two days later I couldn't see my car. Furthermore, I couldn't open the front door of the apartment building. The snow had drifted up over the front door almost to the second floor. The mill was closed until further notice - not that I could've gotten there anyway. After awhile, to keep from going stir crazy, I got out my xc skis and skied down the railroad tracks - no trains were gonna get through there any time soon. I skied into town and nothing was open. The next day I skied into town again and the diner was open - miraculously. I stuck my skis in a snowbank and bought lunch at the diner. I have never been so grateful for mashed potatoes in my life! On the way back to my apartment, I passed a unit of National Guard troops who were clearing snow from the fire hydrants and directing traffic (what traffic - driving was banned for an entire week - the Guard was directing emergency vehicles and snowmobiles) in intersections that no longer had traffic lights.

It was the following week before we got back to work. Irate customers waiting for patches to the compiler were pestering me with calls. All I could manage to say about what happened was "umm, we had a lot of snow."

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