Blizzard of '78: It was the Biggest Storm of Our Lives

A Swampscott resident remembers the storm. Do you? You can upload your photos directly to our image gallery and tell us your stories. Tell us in the comments.


Yes, it was a humdinger of a storm. I walked home from my job at the Nursing Home on Monday afternoon in a wild wind and snow storm and was very glad to get in the house.

Tuesday morning I got up and proceeded to leave for work at 4:45 a.m.  As our back door was impassable with snow of more than thirty inches packed against it, I went down the front stairs, inside, to the front door, which opens in. Well, I opened that front door and faced a wall of snow. Now what? I jumped into the snow and immediately went down the first three steps up to my hips in snow. I floundered down the rest of the stairs and through a deep drift to reach the street. Once in the street it wasn’t so bad. It was maybe a foot or so of snow where the plows had been through a few times.

I struggled up the street with the snow blowing so hard it was like being hit with needles on my face, so I put my mittened hands up to cover my cheeks, pulled my hat way down to meet my glasses and hunched my chin down into my collar.

I pushed my way through the wind and snow up Essex Street a quarter mile to the nursing home and saw what faced me. Getting into the building was going to be a serious challenge.  The snow was over four feet high and extended eight feet out into Essex Street. No way could I get into the building that way, or open the door if I actually reached it.

So I plowed around to the back door of the nursing home, up the side street, and found the wind had blown clear about half the parking lot, and piled up a couple of deep drifts near the back door. I clambered through piles of snow to the clear section of the parking lot, stepped into a drift, grabbed hold of the fence, and pulled myself along through the deep drifts, huffing and puffing.

I reached the back door of the nursing home and rang the bell. The nursing supervisor who let me in was more than delighted to see me. She stayed all night, knowing it was a big storm and she had visions of having to cook all the meals herself.

Of course, my journey to work was in the dark. It did not occur to me that it was snowing so hard and fast that if I had fallen in the middle of Essex Street, I would have been covered over with snow immediately, plowed into the snow at the side of the road and not be seen again until spring. ( The first crocuses?)

The walk home at one-thirty was not so bad. At least it was in daylight.

My word, do we have snow! Cynthia climbed up to the top of the cliff and slid then entire way down into our backyard on a piece of cardboard. No one will shovel the deep snow to the shop for her to get her sled. A first time slide down the backyard cliff for her. After last month’s snowstorm she could only slide part way down.

The backyard, with no exaggeration, has five feet of snow. Our new porch-sundeck had snow piled so high it half blocks the window. The front porch roof is piled so high we cannot see out the windows at all. It is the most snow since 1946, but that snow accumulated over three and a half months. This snow was one big load. We had about a foot of snow left on the ground from the January storm.

We feel very fortunate we did not lose any trees and we are not very near the ocean, so no flooding. However, we did have windblown seaweed on Essex Street, in front of our house. We have never seen that before.

Tuesday morning the woman who does laundry at the nursing home arrived at work a bit late, with her husband. He had walked her to work and shoveled her way through the deep front door drift. She announced, “Chivalry is not dead.” I said, “Neither is shovelry.”

Tuesday when the storm was so wild, I got a call at the nursing home right after breakfast from the Swampscott Council on Aging.  Could I, would I, by any chance be willing to do fourteen extra meals for “Meals on Wheels?”  I told Sherry Chamberlain I would do it without authorization, as I felt sure my boss, George Bane would agree.

A volunteer driver was going to pick up and deliver the meals. I prepared the meals then got a call that the truck was stuck in a drift on Burrill Street. However, the town had a four-wheel drive truck and a DPW driver who volunteered to do the driving, if I knew anyone who would be willing to go out in the storm and deliver the meals.  I told Sherry to call my kids. The would do the deliveries and think it a grand adventure. The town truck picked up Nancy Holmes, and Cynthia Holmes. They struggled through drifts and delivered all the meals.

Nancy and Cynthia had an opportunity to see the huge waves at the beach and to see all the water and washed out sea walls during the height of the storm. They also saw some mighty surprised oldsters as they scrambled from the middle of the street, over cars hidden in the snow, and slid down, through the snow and into doorways with the hot meals. The people were delighted. According to Channel 7 TV news, Swampscott was one of only three towns to deliver “Meals on Wheels.”

The next day, the girls did the same.

It took two boys four hours to shovel a tiny narrow path at our house and to shovel out the garage.

Thursday the milkman said there was no way he could get up the steep hill to Spinale’s. So I called Lee Gallo and got the Spinale’s order. Andy and I hiked up Spinale Road through the deep snow with Lee’s milk and eggs.

By Friday the police were stationed out in front of our house on Essex Street, turning back cars trying to enter Swampscott from Lynn. We saw about twenty-five cars turned back. It was great to see everyone walking. Our busy town became like a little village of one hundred years ago. Everybody walked, dragging sleds and carrying canvas bags, headed for the neighborhood grocery. Eveyone talked to one another, whether or not they knew one another. 

Cynthia and I had a serious disagreement about her going to play rehearsal at the high school during the storm. She was determined to go, I was just as determined she would not go. Nancy had just come in from Topsfield and said the wind was hitting her car just like a fist. Pow! Pow! Pow! Then the radio announcer said the wind had just been clocked in Swampscott at ninety-two miles per hour. I called the school and said Cynthia would not be there, for it was much too dangerous for her to walk. She stayed home. In truth, she was probably glad I insisted she not go.

The storm is over, but plowing and snow removal is going on round the clock.

The snow is being emptied onto the beach to wash away with the tide.

You can upload your photos directly to our image gallery and tell us your stories. Tell us in the comments.

william auger February 05, 2013 at 04:17 PM
we had a blast in that storm market sq was empty of cars with people cross country skiing down the roads some of the bars were open much to our delight!!! johnnie his brother dick and i went down to the beach roads to find them blocked buy national guardsmen we drove thru a puddle/lake and the water came in flooded the floor board it was a storm that will not be forgotten
Terry Date (Editor) February 05, 2013 at 07:01 PM
Sweet. Thanks Billy. Somehow I can picture this very well.


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