via New England Historical Society

Rhode Island’s Blizzard of ’78 and the Winter that Defined a Generation

In the annals of Rhode Island’s weather history, the Blizzard of 1978 stands out as a defining moment when the Ocean State faced an unprecedented onslaught of snow, wind, and chaos. As we mark the 46th anniversary of this historic event, it’s worth revisiting the harrowing tale of how Rhode Islanders braved the elements and emerged resilient in the face of nature’s fury.

The blizzard, which struck on February 6, 1978, and continued for 36 relentless hours, left an indelible mark on the state. It was a convergence of meteorological factors – a low-pressure system colliding with a high-pressure system and fueled by the moisture-laden air from the Atlantic – that resulted in a perfect storm of epic proportions.

Rhode Island, already grappling with a significant snowfall in the weeks leading up to the blizzard, found itself paralyzed as the storm intensified. The state was blanketed with an astonishing 27-40 inches of snow, crippling transportation, shutting down schools, and leaving residents stranded in their homes.

One of the most striking aspects of the Blizzard of ’78 was the powerful wind gusts that accompanied the snowfall. Wind speeds reached up to 80 miles per hour, creating monstrous snowdrifts that buried cars, homes, and entire neighborhoods. Coastal areas, including Newport and Narragansett, faced the added threat of storm surges and flooding.

Emergency services were stretched to their limits as they struggled to rescue stranded motorists and provide assistance to those in need. National Guard units were mobilized to aid in the massive cleanup efforts, as the entire state worked together to recover from the aftermath of the storm. The Blizzard ultimately claimed the lives of 26 Rhode Islanders.

The impact on Rhode Island’s infrastructure was severe, with power outages affecting thousands of homes and businesses. The state’s economy took a hit as businesses remained closed for days, and the cost of the cleanup ran into millions of dollars.

Yet, amid the adversity, the Blizzard of ’78 showcased the resilience and community spirit of Rhode Islanders. Neighbors helped one another shovel out their driveways, share supplies, and check on the elderly. The storm became a shared experience that forged lasting bonds among residents who weathered the tempest together.

Today, as Rhode Island faces the occasional winter storm, the Blizzard of ’78 remains etched in the collective memory of the state’s residents. It serves as a reminder of the strength and unity that can emerge in the face of adversity, as well as the importance of preparedness in dealing with the unpredictable forces of nature.




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