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The Podium

The blizzard that changed Massachusetts

Cars were left abandoned on Route 128 South in the Needham area. It took more than a week and help from the National Guard to dig them all out.

Globe File

Cars were left abandoned on Route 128 South in the Needham area. It took more than a week and help from the National Guard to dig them all out.

On Feb. 17, 2003, 27.5 inches of snow fell at Logan Airport, the most snow ever recorded for any single winter storm in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Ask your family, friends, and neighbors what they remember about this historic winter event, and what you are likely to get back are empty stares.

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Yet ask anyone 40 years or older about their memories of the Blizzard of ’78, when 27.1 inches of snow fell at Logan Airport on Feb. 6-7, and virtually everyone is eager to tell you in great detail their stories of the storm and the paralyzing days that followed it.

Many share their experiences of speaking for the first time with long-time neighbors, or dealing with the bizarre reality of being a modern American living in a virtual car-free environment. As the then first assistant to the commissioner for external affairs for the now defunct Metropolitan District Commission, I spent six long days inside my office where I met no neighbors and was totally unaware of the quiet and desolate car-free roads.

The MDC, by dint of its responsibilities for managing the 19 coastal beaches, 550 lane miles of inner city highways, and the third largest police force in New England, turned out to be the perfect location to serve as both a home base for then Governor Mike Dukakis and his “storm control center.’’ It was there that we had informed the public about such things as how a statewide state of emergency impacted them; who could travel on the roads; who were considered essential personnel; and what progress was being made by the thousands of city, state, and National Guard workers trying to clear roads, bridges, tunnels, airport runways, and rail lines.

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I held press conferences three times a day for six days to communicate to folks trapped at home that progress was being made all across the state, albeit progress that often only came one shovelful of snow at a time.

The truth is the Great Blizzard of ’78 was not just another winter weather event, but rather that rare communal experience that changed forever how modern Bostonians came to view themselves with regards to the power and force of the weather.

Before the storm most of us had arrogantly come to believe that we could easily control the worst winter elements by using our advantages of modern transportation, modern communication, and modern snowplowing equipment.

After the storm, humility had clearly trumped arrogance.

Before the blizzard, a meteorologist’s forecast of a possibility of snow did not automatically cause the near panic that compels so many of us still to this day to rush out to stock up on bread, milk, water, rock salt, and shovels.

That reaction is one of the unique leftover remnants of the blizzard.

In the end few would ever again exhibit the pre-storm hubris that was the norm before the Blizzard of ‘78 permanently etched itself on the psyche of all who continue to recall its force and impact.

Truth be told, there is a rational reason why the Blizzard of ’78 created more impact than more recent, equally large storms.

That reason occurred on Jan. 20-21, 1978.

During those two days, a storm deposited an astounding 21.4 inches of snow.

Because the snow from that storm had not melted before the second bigger, more ferocious storm arrived, it was a combined 48.5 inches of snow that greeted us as we opened our doors on Feb. 8.

In the end the real benefit of our memories of the Blizzard of 1978 is that they make us even today rightly humbled by the power of the sea; by the power of the winds; and by the power of the moon at full high tide.

Michael Goldman is president of Goldman Associates and serves as an adjunct professor at Suffolk, Salem State, and Northeastern universities.
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