storm of the century


heading home

A few snowflakes are spinning lazily through the air outside my window. I know from the weather forecast that this is just the beginning, the harbinger of a huge storm which has paralyzed portions of the U.S. from Texas to Maine. From what I’ve heard, the storm won’t be as severe here, although we are expecting heavy snow, with about 30 centimetres by tomorrow morning.

It was on this day 35 years ago, in 1976, that Saint Johners experienced our “storm of the century”. The Groundhog Day Gale was completely unexpected. The day started calmly, with the temperature around the freezing mark and a light wind. The winds rose to more than 180 km per hour, causing a huge amount of damage across the city. Windows were smashed, telephone poles toppled, cars and sheds and airplanes were flipped and crushed. At high tide, the water rose over the low-lying parts of the city, and the hurricane-force wind carried the salt water for miles inland, causing electrical failures not only that day, but even months later. The gale was followed by days of bitter cold, which — combined with widespread power outages — sent many people to seek shelter. Miraculously, the only person killed was a man whose ice-fishing shack was blown across the river.

Already, outside my window, the few snowflakes have become a steady snowfall. On the internet I’m reading about the “snowpocalypse” in the States, and — on the other side of the world — a cyclone the size of New Zealand that is pounding northeastern Australia. It looks like many of us will see another storm to remember for years to come. But if it’s any consolation, I don’t think the groundhog will see his shadow today.

Photo taken on December 9, 2009

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13 thoughts on “storm of the century

  1. Wow … that was really interesting reading. I had no idea of this.

    We’re looking at the same flakes falling. In one minute, it turned completely white outside our windows! It doesn’t feel like it’s going to be the ‘epic monster storm’, but you never know.

    If the groundhog is peeking out today, he’s crazy, but there’s this: http://goo.gl/SmvW1

    I know that building… 🙂

    • It may not be the “epic” storm, Rebekah, but now — 5 hours later — the snow is still not showing any signs of stopping. I wonder when I should start shovelling to get to work tomorrow morning?

      • we were just talking about it — it did start out a little … lame. NOW it’s really coming down, and I don’t think it will stop anytime soon…

  2. I certainly remember that storm, power out from Monday to Thursday eve. The great thing I recall was the cameraderie in our neighbourhood, folks checking in on each other, those with campstoves cooked and dropped off hot meals, using their snowblowers to carve pathways from house to house. Stay warm… we’re going to wait this one out!

    • What I remember most is huddling around the very smoky fireplace, and then going to sit on the basement stairs because I couldn’t stand the smoke anymore! I don’t remember what we did about food, though I expect the Coleman stove was pressed into action.

      I see you’re expected to get up to 45 cm today, Gordon. I hope you can get out the door tomorrow morning!

    • Yes, I was in high school at the time, barefootheart. Much of the most visible storm damage was uptown, so we didn’t see how bad it was until later. I certainly remember how cold it got in the house, though!

  3. Thanks eyegillian, I’ve plowed the driveway twice now… thanks to the tractor, and still the snow falls. Back in ’76 we hung blankets over all access points to the living room, and had the fireplace going from first thing in the morning until the end of the day, rueing the moment when we had to climb the stairs to our stone cold bedrooms!

  4. I have been watching the weather reports as well and tonight, for the first time, heard about the storm that hit the region on groundhog Day 35 years ago. I lived in northern NB at that time but I honestly can’t recall anything. Once again, it must have missed up here.. just as this latest storm is forecast to do.

    • I hadn’t realized before how many storms come roaring in off the Bay of Fundy — I guess they’re usually heading east, not north — but I still think a most of the bad ones take the detour around Nova Scotia, so we usually get off fairly lightly.

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