Joe Lundberg

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Blizzard Evoking Strong Memories of '78

February 8, 2013; 10:17 AM ET

Friday, 11:00 a.m.

The snow has commenced around New York City. Connecticut and Rhode Island are fully engaged in it, and it is spreading northward through Massachusetts. A pre-storm band of snow has already dumped several inches of powder on southwestern Maine. The weather will only get worse this afternoon, with the height of the storm tonight. At that time, there will be snowfall rates of 2 to 3 inches an hour, with some over 4 inches per hour, especially if thunderstorms erupt on the northwest side of the storm, as I suspect may happen. Let's cut to the chase - our latest total snowfall predictions here at AccuWeather.com:

It would not at all shock me to see a much larger area with 2-foot-plus snows that encompasses more of Rhode Island and Connecticut and a tad farther west in Massachusetts. Remember, these areas will be pretty much all snow, start to finish. And while it is warming along the coast, that warming won't get very far inland. The temperatures over central and western Massachusetts on north are no better than the 20s and shouldn't rise much. In fact, it could fall a bit during the height of the storm, which suggests better than 10:1 snow to liquid ratios there.

The latest NAM model finally looks like it has come around to what the European model has been saying pretty much since Monday. Here's the latest NAM total precipitation forecast from this morning through tomorrow evening:

That's probably still a little excessive, but it's not much higher now that the European, and it more closely mirrors that model's areal spacing of the precipitation shield. So, adding all of that up, there will likely be some places with totals closer to 3 feet. It will shut down the region tonight and tomorrow and keep it that way into Sunday before some semblance of digging out returns some things back to working order.

Further complicating that clean-up effort, and, of course, adding to the severe nature of the storm, will be the wind. Look at the 1 a.m. projected surface map, and notice how tightly packed the isobars (solid, thin, black lines) are across the region:

That implies sustained 20- to 30-mph winds in much of the interior, with gusts of 40 to 50 mph. Along the coast, sustained winds may exceed 40 mph for several hours, with wind gusts of 60 to 70 mph. This will cause some power outages at the very least. It will also cause extensive blowing and drifting snow that will result in white-out conditions tonight and tomorrow morning and create massive drifts in open areas, further slowing the process of clearing the snow. And finally, it will pile water up along the east and northeast-facing coast lines from Long Island to Massachusetts, resulting in tidal flooding and beach erosion. Given what happened a few short months ago with Sandy, this is just plain awful.

In the Blizzard of 1978, much of the same was in play. My memories from the storm are still very, very vivid. I've been throwing little snippets of my recollections up on Facebook the past few days. Much like this storm, it was pretty well advertised days in advance. I remember hearing about it on the radio Friday. Then the anticipation around it steadily built through the weekend. I was a junior in high school at the time, and of course cable news channels were non-existent, as was the internet. So it was your local TV outlet, your local radio stations and the newspaper. That was it.

I remember taking observations on Sunday - it was pretty sunny as I recall, and I kept wondering where the clouds were if it was going to start snowing before morning! I got up the next morning, readied myself for school and stood out at the bus stop in front of the house with a slate-grey overcast, a stiff wind blowing, and every now and then, a stray snowflake. Back in those days, if it wasn't snowing at decision time, you went to school and work. Period.

Before 9:00, it was snowing. And much like I'm seeing in Connecticut this morning, it didn't waste any time getting serious. By 10:30, the schools were dismissing, but it was kinda late for that. The buses had trouble getting to the high school, and the normally 15- minute ride home took well over an hour. Some going across the town to the Gales Ferry section took several hours.

It just kept snowing. And snowing. The last plow on our street in our subdivision was seen in the late afternoon or evening. After that, they just gave up. Before 11, then Governor Ella T. Grasso closed down the state, which would ostensibly help to get her re-elected later that year. More importantly, it allowed emergency personnel unfettered access to the roads and highways to get the main arteries opened up again as quickly as possible. It would take days for some places to dig out. That next snow plow in my subdivision wasn't seen until Thursday afternoon.

At the height of the storm, I could hear the distinct sound of ice pellets 'pinging' off the back window - at least the part of it that wasn't plastered with snow from the northeast wind! "You have to smell the warm air to get the best snows" I've been told since. Well, we certainly did.

The radio DJ on one of the local stations normally signed off at midnight. But where was he going to go? He stayed there and kept the station on air through the night - no such thing as round the clock service on FM stations in most smaller markets in those days before automation and syndication! He worked a 12-hour shift before the morning host was able to walk to the station and relieve him.

I woke up before sunrise after a fitful night of sleep - too excited! I was supposed to deliver the morning edition of the Hartford Courant - it never came that morning. I think I delivered it and the Wednesday edition the next morning, late, with some snarls from my customers. What could I do? I couldn't deliver what I didn't have!

Anyway, looking out the front window to the south over Long Island and Block Island Sound, it was actually partly cloudy. That was essentially the 'eye' of the storm passing to our south and east. There was a lull in the snow at that point. Then the northwest wind kicked in, it clouded right back over, and the snow began anew, though lighter in intensity. It snowed another 12 hours before finally quitting during the evening.

All in all, 20-24 inches on the level in my back yard. Not too far to the north and northeast, 30 to almost 50 inches of snow fell. Snow everywhere. School was closed the rest of the week. After getting back to it the week after, we had 'winter vacation.' Not bad, going to school a grand total of about 10 days in February! Of course, we paid for it with a very late end to the school year. (As a side note, administrators then wiped that winter vacation off the books, and when I graduated in '79, it was the earliest graduation they'd ever had in the school district!)

The pictures and scenes from and especially after the storm were epic. Somewhere in my archives I have a copy of the Providence Journal-Bulletin on one of the anniversaries of the storm (I think it is from 1998), with all sorts of pictures of cars stranded in snow drifts on I-95. What a scene! A quick little search on the internet will bring up some of those images.

And now we're seeing a redux of that great storm unfolding before our very eyes. It may only affect about 10 states when all is said and done (New England plus New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and northern Delaware) in terms of significant snowfall, but in the core of that area, it will rival and perhaps exceed that storm.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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Joe Lundberg
Joe Lundberg, a veteran AccuWeather.com forecaster and meteorologist, covers both short and long-term U.S. weather on this blog.