Col. Steven McCartney should know. He was a Providence cop during the Blizzard of 1978.
He says the big difference between 1978 and the storm that hit us last Friday and Saturday is the meteorological information available today and how we responded to that data.
The Blizzard of ’78 clobbered the state with high winds and extraordinary levels of snowfall. During both storms, the snow was falling at three inches an hour or more. In the current blizzard, winds of more than 60 mph were recorded in Warwick. There were whiteout conditions.
Yet, in the aftermath of Nemo, the state didn’t come to a standstill. Green Airport was fully operational by Sunday. Roads were open, as were most businesses. National Grid crews were doing their best to have electricity restored to all customers by late Monday. At the height of the storm, about 187,000 customers were without power. By Monday afternoon the city closed the shelter at Vets High, the library was open and busy, and the city pool and skating rinks were operating.
This is a far cry from the aftermath of the Blizzard of ’78.
As Chief McCartney remembers all too vividly, Providence had to clear 3,300 abandoned vehicles from city streets. In some of those cars, police found the bodies of drivers and passengers who had sought to avoid freezing by using their car heaters, only to be asphyxiated by the exhaust of their cars. It was “horrific.”
With advance warning, schools were closed Friday, eliminating any chance of stranded buses or students trapped in schools. In Warwick, the Department of Public Works tactically positioned equipment so it would be ready to go; McCartney scheduled an early start for the second and third shifts; a parking ban was posted; and the public, on a near minute-by-minute basis. was kept informed of developments through broadcast media, the Internet and social media.
The advance warning could also be blamed for some of the pre-storm hysteria that prompted a rush on service stations, as people sought to fill their tanks, and to food markets to fill refrigerators.
With people off the roads and the roads cleared of parked cars, city and state crews had their best shot at maintaining access for emergency vehicles and as prompt a recovery after the storm as possible. In Warwick, they did well. although there’s no question more remains to be done to widen streets, clear intersections and cut and remove downed limbs and trees.
Preparation paid off. No one died. Normalcy is being restored and, from this experience, new means of further improving response are being suggested. Mayor Scott Avedisian has suggested designated stations where plow crews could take a needed break from the action, and he suggested enhancing communications to more easily find and fix those problems leaving people without electrical power.
We survived the Blizzard of 2013.