Diary entries during Blizzard'78

 ... written by a Melrosian's mother,

the late Louise F. Dodge, Winthrop, MA

The following is from a diary kept by the mother of Melrosian Betty McGowan, now resident of the Cochrane House. Winthrop and Revere (Atlantic Ocean shore towns)are under 10 miles east of Melrose. Beacon Hill and Dorchester are part of Boston, 6 miles to the south. Other towns mentioned are beyond a 10-mile radius, north and south. Cottage Ave. and Hillside Ave. were in the author's neighborhood.

Monday, Feb. 6 -- 25 degrees and cloudy. Strong northeast winds 50-60 miles per hour blowing at 1:00 p.m. as snow started falling or rather blowing in a straight line by the gale. It's going to be a big one.  

6:30 p.m. -- 28 degrees in Boston. Almost hurricane winds blowing and snowing hard -- a driving snow. The front windows of the house are covered with snow again, as it swirls around the corner of the house. Winds clocked at 83 mph at Logan Airport (94 miles per hour later).

Planes can't get into the hangars so will have to be kept outside.   In the last storm a radar-controlled "caterpillar" vehicle plowed, being controlled by the tower.  

Tuesday, Feb. 7 -- Governor Dukakis declared a state of emergency and President Carter signed an emergency order for Massachusetts. We are under military martial law jurisdiction. No one allowed out on the streets. A big flash of light came at 7:20 p.m. and out went the lights all over town. I had candles and flashlight ready.  

Storm is howling and blowing and snowing so you can't see but a few feet out the windows. The front windows really piling up with drifting snow. No plow can get up here. 12-15 foot tides are high at 10:20 a.m., running five feet over normal. By afternoon people along Winthrop Shore Drive and Missing Link in Beachmont are being evacuated as six feet or more of water is in the cellars. Point Shirley, the same. One rescuer went into a house to get the folks out and in less than five minutes the water rose three feet and no one could get out.  Eventually, they did. Lights on again at 1:30 -- only out three hours. Gas burner in the furnace is out. It doesn't run any more.

Still a blizzard. Tides high at 10:00 a.m. Terrible destruction and houses damaged almost beyond repair in Winthrop. It is unbelievable. The winds are 70-94 mph. It is a hurricane-type wind swirling round and round and the eye of the storm moving only about one inch an hour, that is why the storm is lasting in all its fury so long. The TV and radio storm center is doing a marvelous job of keeping us informed.

Stoughton, MA to Cranston, RI area very bad. 70,000 people with no electric power. A roof blew off a house and into a generator, blacking out the area. South Boston, Beacon Hill and many more places are blacked out. Dorchester, etc., as well as Needham-Dedham ... just about everywhere.

From Needham on Rte. 128 to Stoughton, one unbroken line of stalled cars slowly being buried in snow. No plow can move because of the snow. Drifts are 20 feet high. Three thousand cars and five hundred trucks stranded in Needham to Randolph on Rte. 128.

Cottage Ave., my street, is one mass of snow drifts 15-20 feet high across the streets. Can't see cars as snow has completely covered and drifted in between them and two to three feet over the tops.  

Snow has stopped about 10:00 p.m. Feb. 7th. Martial law still in effect. National Guard and army units ordered out.

Wednesday, Feb. 8th -- 20 degrees. Sunny and what a sight. All Cottage Ave. from Hillside Ave. looking east toward the ocean, is drifts up to rooftops.  The snow is so deep between our cars along the street, I could just see the tops of shovelers' heads.

There is a six-foot pile of sand across Shirley St. going to Point Shirley. No plow can get through until the sand is cleared. Houses with so much water up to the first floor (from the cellar) and above. Folks have just stayed on the second floor at the Missing Link. Many, many houses full of water and people being evacuated to Revere High School. Shore Drive residents in Winthrop have been taken to Winthrop High School.

Helicopter with Governor Dukakis flying over the shoreline and trying to evaluate the terrible damage. It is unbelievable.  

In the 48 years I have lived here, I have seen bad storms and hurricanes, but this is the most destructive and devastating ... in fact, it set a record of all time in the hundred years of weather recording.  

The huge drifts, at least 16 feet high, blocking Cottage Avenue from Hillside Avenue, are still there.  No piece of equipment has come to clear them. Our fire hydrants still buried 8-10 feet deep.

Logan Airport cleared a thousand feet of runway, 180 feet wide, (took 42 hours) to allow troops and equipment from Fort Bragg, NC, to land and assist with getting cars off Route #128 and other blocked highways. Cars are still being towed as fast as possible, but thousands still stalled and completely covered with snow. Two women found dead in a car near Randolph.  

Winthrop Shore Drive torn up and sea wall gone, of course, for a block. It is covered with rubble. Big stones and rocks. So much sand and rock on Shore Drive it looks like the beach. Great damage to houses, untold as yet, and great damage to the sea wall.  

Feb. 9, Thursday -- 15 degrees and sunny. Cottage Hill still untouched by plows. Schools and banks still closed and businesses, except drugstores and some supermarkets. Supplies cannot get through from the warehouses.

Neighbors on Cottage Ave. are trying to dig out walks and around cars so the plows can see them...they are buried so deep.

People in Revere (a third of it was covered by salt water along the shore) and animals being rescued from houses by boats and rafts. The same in Winthrop. Rescuers wading waist-deep in water to get to the houses. It's indescribable. In Hull and Scituate, 30 or 40 houses just washed away or completely ruined. Devastation all over that part of the seashore and up to Portland, Maine, on the northshore. Landmark at Rockland, Maine, is gone. The Ship cocktail lounge at Anthony's Restaurant on Atlantic Ave., Boston, washed away.

It's four days now and everything's still at a standstill. Still a state of emergency. People can go for food or the drugstore only. Terrible disaster.

Army troops and heavy equipment still landing at Logan Airport and going to Route 128 between Needham and Randolph to help tow cars, etc. In Boston there are over 500 pieces of equipment trying to clear Boston's 690 miles of roadway. Part of the state not so hard-hit. No state of emergency there.

Friday, Feb. 10 -- 10 degrees and sunny. Entire city of Boston was blacked-out again. Winthrop was without power for only 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Words can't describe the conditions. Cottage Ave. still has 12-15 foot drifts blocking access to Hillside Ave ... the big hill down.  No town equipment available yet for clearing snow.  No plow could do it. It will have to be hand-shovelled. Shirley St., the main road, is clear but narrow.  

This storm started as a hurricane off the Carolinas and came up the coast very slowly and with fury. At one point, the satellite picture on TV showed the eye very clearly of the snow-hurricane off Cape Cod on the south side.

The radio and TV are wonderful. Personnel somehow got to the station through the snowdrifts and storm. They just stayed there, giving information for emergencies and phone numbers for the same. The camera men did an excellent job where ever they were. No one now living will ever (probably) see anything like this again. The worst on record.

I am 73 1/2 years old and I've seen bad storms, but this is the worst winter storm ever.  

Snowmobiles aided the rescue teams and people were using skis and snowshoes to get around Boston as well as other places. They helped people to hospitals and got personnel there also.  

Today the ocean is blue and calm as the Pacific. Looks so harmless yet can be whipped into fury by the elements. The new moon made the tides high 10-12 feet and storm increased it to 15 feet at a monstrous force. A really frightening sight to see such enormous waves.

The children are beginning to coast down Hillside. It's many a year since I've seen that. It was a great place to coast in the 1920s and '30s when cars were scarcer. Cottage Ave. and Crystal Cove were roped off to traffic so that folks could coast way down to Beacon Street. I've done it myself with my daughter when she was young.

11:30 a.m. About 30 people, young and old, are out shoveling the roadway to clear an 8-foot-high path. An unprecented sight. No oil trucks or fire trucks could get through. I never saw anything like this. An army truck tried to get drifts off the hillside intersection but gave up with his piece of equipment ... a front-end loader. Now the shovelers are trying to do just that. Really something to see. Folks working together for the good of all. Those who hardly speak to each other in ordinary times are talking.

Senator Brooks just landed by helicopter on Town Landing just beyond the yacht club on Shirley St. at the bottom of our hill to assess the damage to bayside and to (view) boats moored nearby and everywhere in Winthrop. I guess the worst is over.

March 7, 2003

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