Arguably the Commonwealth's "Storm of the 20th Century," the Blizzard of '78 dumped 27.1 inches of snow on Boston on February 6 and 7, paralyzing the city and surrounding suburbs for a week. Although snow was less of an issue along the immediate coast, the tides were devastating. At its peak, the ocean rose 15.2 feet above mean low water (measured at the Boston Tide Station). Given that major tidal flooding begins at Boston and along the east-facing coast of Massachusetts at 13.6 feet these tides topped with crashing waves wreaked havoc on coastal homes, roads, and infrastructure. All tolled, 99 people were killed and thousands of houses and businesses were destroyed or severely damaged, with damage estimates exceeding $2.3 billion (in 1998 dollars).
CZM Reflections on the Storm
The Blizzard of '78 was also an initiation for Joe Pelczarski, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management's (CZM) former emergency management expert, who performed his first storm damage assessments as a rookie with the Division of Marine Fisheries. At that time, no Storm Team existed to evaluate damage, so Joe and some of his colleagues were called to do the job. Joe covered the coast from Gloucester to Saugus, taking photos and recording what he saw. Here are some of Joe's reflections on the blizzard that blew us away: "On the evening of February 6, the tide rose above 13.6 in Boston, staying at flood levels for two hours and peaking at 14.7 feet. The next morning's tide (many remarked to me that it seemed like the tide never went out) rose above the 13.6 level at 9 in the morning and peaked at 15.2 at 11 am. The tide did not recede below the 13.6 line until after noontime. There were three additional hours of flooding, three additional hours of battering waves combined with blinding snow, blizzard conditions, and a water temperature of 35 degrees."