GREENFIELD — Forty years ago this week, the Blizzard of 1978 slammed New England, dumping as much as 30 inches of snow on Franklin County.
Even as today’s messy storm took aim at New England, Ralph Gordon, 82, remembered the historic 1978 storm well. At the time, he was Greenfield’s Civil Defense director, and made the call to not declare a state of emergency in town. The county did not get hit as hard by the nor’easter as the coastal areas in the state, and local towns were spared traffic congestion, stranded motorists and other weather-related problems, the Greenfield Recorder reported at the time.
“There was just a very short time we went through, a couple of days,” Gordon recalled. “(The Department of Public Works) did a heck of a good job anyway.”
The nor’easter formed on Sunday, Feb. 5, 1978, and broke up two days later. As if in commemoration of this historic winter event, the National Weather service predicts between 5 and 9 inches of snow to fall in Greenfield today.
For Gordon, several memories of the 1978 blizzard still stand out.
Gordon remembers driving around during the storm in his station wagon, which had chains on the tires, and seeing five young adults walking down Sanderson Street with snow up to their knees to get to work. He said they worked at an organization that helped people with disabilities.
“They were going to work. I never forgot that,” Gordon said. “Their attitude was phenomenal.”
Gordon, too, worked during the storm. He was called to help search for a boy who was reported missing near Highland Park.
“I got in touch with some of the civil defense people who had radios, and by god, they all somehow got up there and helped us look for the youngster,” Gordon said. “They thought he was lost, and as it turned out, he wasn’t. He was with his older brother. You just had to do it, even though the snow was up over our knees, we had to go up there and take a look.”
The Recorder reported at the time that despite the severity of the storm — by far the strongest of that winter — there was only one accident involving personal injury, and many area businesses remained open.
For Greenfield resident Al Norman, the blizzard was no big deal. He remembers then-Gov. Michael Dukakis appearing on television to assure residents that the situation was under control.
“As I recall, we were all watching TV and what I remember is the governor appearing on TV looking very calm and collected, and assuring people that everything would be OK,” Norman said. “My only remembrance of it was that it was just another storm.”
Greenfield resident Bill Benson, who was 29 at the time and living in Leverett, echoed Norman.
“It was a huge calamity in Boston, but out here we just had a big snow storm,” he said, adding that he and a friend hitched a ride to UMass, where they spent the day.
While Greenfield managed to escape the storm mostly unscathed, the blizzard stranded thousands elsewhere. Some areas received as many as 55 inches of snow over 72 hours, according to History.com, and 56 deaths were attributed to the storm.
Retired Greenfield High School Music Director Paul Calcari was 18 years old and attending Anna Maria College in Paxton at the time of the blizzard. He said the storm was unlike anything he’d ever seen.
“The dormitory was kind of nestled into a hillside, and the way the wind was blowing, the snow had come way up over the windows and the doors, and we couldn’t get out,” he said. “We lost phone service and of course there were no cell phones in ‘78, so we were stuck in there for more than 24 hours and we had to dig ourselves out like rats. It was crazy.”
Calcari said his family lived in Orange at the time, and they received several feet of snow. He said he and his classmates weren’t expecting anything so severe.
“We had just hoped that we would have enough snow that they were going to call classes. We stayed up and played cards,” he said. “I just remember the highways were even closed down, as in, cars were still on the highways but there was no way for them to get off. … Oh my lord, it was really something.”