NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

February 8, 2013

Misplaced faith in a woodchuck

Punxsutawney Phil, you deceitful rodent.

You saw no shadow when you emerged from your burrow on Gobbler’s Knob on Saturday. That means, supposedly, an early end to winter and an early spring. Though this winter has been relatively mild in terms of snowfall to this point, it has been bitterly cold and windy on too many days, so we welcomed the news.

But now comes word that by this time tomorrow, the first flakes of snow will be falling in what could be a blizzard of historic proportions. We may get, according to weather forecasters with access to more technology than a Pennsylvanian woodchuck, one to two feet of snow. Yes, that’s feet, not inches.

And this storm comes at a fateful time for New Englanders — within a day of the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78, a storm so awesome and powerful that old-timers still speak of it in hushed and reverential tones. The great storm was so mighty that it imposed a unique moment of calm on the chaos that is Route 128 — by burying miles of cars and trucks and rendering them immobile.

The Blizzard of ’78 remains the benchmark for great storms. Any major snowfall gets compared to it. All fall short.

The weather wizards tell us this one could give ’78 a run for its money. That will take some doing.

The great storm of Feb. 6-7, 1978, dropped two feet of snow on the Merrimack Valley with somewhat lesser amounts in Southern New Hampshire. The snow jackpot fell south of Boston, with some communities getting three feet. Hurricane-force winds lifted the snow into massive drifts — some 3,000 cars and 500 trucks were stranded on Route 128. The heavy winds pushed the sea into the streets of coastal communities. The damage estimate was $520 million in 1978 dollars, the equivalent of $1.8 billion today. Worst of all, about 100 people died as a result of the blizzard.

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