Older Rhode Islanders remember a real Blizzard: 1978

Feb 4, 2014

Some of you younger people may think we are in the middle of a snowy winter here in Rhode Island.  

Those of a certain age know better. Thirty –six years ago today, on Feb. 6, 1978, the sky opened with snow that didn’t stop for more than 24 hours.  Providence received two feet of the white stuff in the first 24 hours and more than 4 feet blanketed Woonsocket.

It was a Monday and the skies opened shortly after breakfast. It didn’t end until  11 p.m. Tuesday. Driven by gales, snow came down so fast that Routes 95 and 195 through Providence became frozen parking lots.  One of the problems was by late afternoon, everyone was trying to leave Providence at the same time at the height of the storm, when snow was coming down at the rate of 2 inches per hour. The 95 and 195 expressways were clogged with 2,000 vehicles and the streets of the capital city were clotted by 3,000 cars, trucks and buses.

Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts were pretty much shut down for a week. Rhode Island’s governor, the avuncular Joe Garrahy,  donned a red-and green plaid shirt and took to television to frequently remind Rhode Islanders to stay home and keep safe and warm.Yet it took a group of Providence College students to push a truck stuck in a snow drift carrying Garrahy from Providence’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood to the Statehouse.

The Blizzard of 78 is part of Rhode Island lore. Stranded workers in Providence bedded down in bars, the old Outlet Department store and makeshift shelters. To this day, older Rhode Islanders have stories about hunkering down in the city. Such taverns as Murphy’s Deli, which is still in operation, had patrons sleeping on the floor after the food and libations ran out.

By Saturday, Feb. 11, Providence city workers were abler to clear out a RIPTA bus and send it to T.F. Green State Airport. The bus got to Green as the first non-emergency plane was allowed to land. That aircraft carried the University of North Carolina basketball team, at the time ranked seventh in the nation.

The Tar Heels were taken to the Providence Civic Center (now the Dunk) to play PC on Sunday afternoon in a nationally televised game. That game has lived on in local Friar history because PC beat UNC , 71-69, on a baseline jumper by Billy Eason with 21 seconds left. City streets were closed but 6,863 cabin-fevered  fans walked to the arena to watch the upset victory.