He was only 3, but Matt Bowling remembers climbing to the top of a 20-foot mound of plowed snow and peering down on his Boston neighborhood.
It was the first week of February in 1978. And a historic, deadly blizzard had just struck New England.
As another massive snowstorm bore down Friday night on the Northeast, many looked back at the Blizzard of '78 that claimed nearly 100 lives and wondered how this blizzard would measure up.
Bowling, now 38, runs a website about the 1978 blizzard and said his normally sleepy site got more than 10,000 page views over the last couple of days.
For Ty Fan, who spent Friday stocking up on food at a Cambridge, Mass., grocery store, the 2012 storm conjured memories of 1978.
“I just remember trudging through the snow to get to the store,” said Fan, who was a student at MIT at the time.For Fan, the 1978 storm was an inconvenience. For others, it was a tragedy.
Meteorologists in 1978 were able to warn of the approaching monster storm a few days in advance, said Louis Uccellini, a Northeast storm expert due to become the National Weather Service’s director on Sunday, told The Times.
The problem, however, was that weather predictions did not have the technological precision that they do today. The storm hit later than expected. On Feb. 6, 1978, New Englanders woke up to clouds instead of snow and assumed the prediction was wrong.
“The Weather Service said, ‘It’s still coming, it’s just late. And it’s coming hard,’” Uccellini said.
Many people – frustrated with a flurry of false alarms earlier in the year – ignored it and drove to work. By the time they realized how bad the storm was, it was too late.
“A lot of people got trapped,” Uccellini said. “A lot of cars got marooned.”
About 3,500 abandoned, snow-covered cars stretched along Route 128 in Massachusetts. Another 1,950 cars were abandoned along thoroughfares in Rhode Island, where one city recorded a record 38 inches of snowfall.
According to Uccellini's research, the storm forced more than 10,000 people into shelters and claimed 99 lives in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In some cases, authorities found bodies inside cars as travelers died of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to local media accounts.
An aerial photo that ran in the Providence Journal showed a plea someone had stomped in the snow: “This street needs plowing.”
With this tragic history as a backdrop, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on Friday signed an order banning cars from the roadways after 4 p.m. and threatened jail time for offenders.
Nobody wanted a repeat of the 1978 horror, scenes captured back then in a 13-minute special segment broadcast by Boston’s CBS affiliate after the storm. The story began with shaky video of snowflakes jetting at the camera and showed images of buried cars.
By the end of the segment, though, there were images of clear skies and families enjoying the snow.
As the credits rolled, a song played in the background: The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun.”ALSO:
Alana Semuels in Boston contributed to this report.