40 Years Ago: Massachusetts Snags a Memorable Snowfall in May Storm

I’ve posted three times this year on historic snow storms of March and April. By the time May rolls in, it’s really tough to get a snowflake in southern New England. However, occasionally New England manages to find a way and outdid itself 40 years ago on May 9th.

A small low pressure system dropped down from Hudson’s Bay with a large high pressure system just behind. While the associated cold front pushed down to the Gulf of Mexico, the upper level trough became a cutoff low over southern New England Together, they managed to bring near freezing weather to where I lived in eastern Massachusetts. An offshore surface storm formed, intensified, and backed into New England bringing Atlantic moisture with it. Heavy snow aloft chilled the surface air and changed rain to heavy wet snow. That quickly overwhelmed the warm soil temperatures and brought the region some 8″ (20 cm) of snow on the ground. I measured 3″ (8 cm) of snow on the sides of utility poles.

More significantly, deciduous trees like maples had leafed out and the weight of the wet snow brought limbs and whole trees down, often on power lines. 600,000 customers lost power, some for a week. News anchor Shelby Scott at WBZ-TV begged people to feed the birds as the ground feeders couldn’t reach the ground until the snow melted.


While maps show little snow accumulation along the coast, I recall that even there they had tremendous tree damage. Higher elevations to the west, e.g. Worcester, the Berkshires, and the Catskills in New York had 1-2 feet (30-60 cm).


By some measures, this was a 200-300 year storm. “Unprecedented” was heard many times that week. This event, previous events, and subsequent events, fit in well with general handwringing then about an impending ice age. Magazines like Time, Newsweek, and Science News had significant reports citing the evidence of the cooling climate since the 1950s. While people who belittle these concerns point to there being few peer reviewed papers on the subject, climatology had only recently transformed from documenting climatic history to making hypotheses about future climate. People saw a very scary trend, but didn’t have a good culprit beyond aerosols caused by air pollution.

David Keeling at Scripps Institution of Oceanography published a paper the year before showing his record of CO2 levels at Mauna Loa. This established both the seasonal oscillation and a monotonic rise in annual CO2 levels. This had been hinted at in a 1960 paper, but now with 14 years of very clean data, his graph was sensational news and his paper helped shift scientists’ focus to CO2 levels as a climate driver, especially a few years later as the climate flipped back to a warming mode.

However, before that happened, our impending ice age was clear to everyone in the northeast. Severe cold earlier in the 1976/1977 winter brought a protracted freeze that shut down barge traffic on the Ohio River, froze Lake Erie early, and in January had set the conditions for a paralyzing blizzard in Buffalo. I wish I had written about it in January. This May storm added more fuel to the fire. Or snow to the ice chest. Spring did get back on track after this storm, but eight months later Boston would set, briefly, a new record for the greatest 24 hour snowfall. (Think about what that means!) I expect to write two or three posts about the winter of 1977/1978, as the worst was yet to come before the warming climate of the 1980s and 1990s took hold.

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Robert Stewart
May 8, 2017 7:57 pm

I can still recall the flowering fruit trees in Bedford and Concord with partial layers of snow that exposed horizontal patches of pink . It was a reminder that nature can be both very lovely and quite startling in its unexpected combinations.

Reply to  Robert Stewart
May 9, 2017 1:50 pm

But the absence of a snow storm in Massachusetts this year must be a proof of man-made-global warming!

Joel O'Bryan
May 8, 2017 8:18 pm

Weather Bell Joe Bastardi is forecasting a “nasty” Mother’s Day nor’easter for this coming Sunday in New England. Probably too warm for snow, but still cold and nasty.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
May 9, 2017 12:21 am

Nebraska and South Dakota had them a couple of years in a row…we had 7″ and more of May snow in Iowa in 2013. Seems to me that winters are getting longer.

Tom Halla
May 8, 2017 8:20 pm

But, but, but, according to GISS temperature records, there was no cooling period from 1940 to the seventies./sarc

May 8, 2017 8:27 pm

I recall we had about the deepest snowfall in my memory in eastern Oklahoma around that time.

John F. Hultquist
May 8, 2017 8:27 pm

Nice report. Thanks Ric.
About that time, I recall pulling together materials regarding cold periods, namely, that such times resulted in more storms in the mid-latitudes. I do not recall thinking the climate was changing.
Then, as now, I do not think a small amount of warming or cooling actually changes the climate of a place. My basis for climate includes vegetation boundaries and transitions – ecotones. Early Köppen climate classes were of this sort.

May 8, 2017 8:29 pm

“David Keeling at Scripps Institution of Oceanography published a paper the year before showing his record of CO2 levels at Mauna Loa. This established both the seasonal oscillation and a monotonic rise in annual CO2 levels. This had been hinted at in a 1960 paper, but now with 14 years of very clean data, his graph was sensational news and his paper helped shift scientists’ focus to CO2 levels as a climate driver, especially a few years later as the climate flipped back to a warming mode.”
A very good point, that you hardly ever see mentioned. A turning point of sorts.

May 8, 2017 8:31 pm

“People saw a very scary trend, but didn’t have a good culprit beyond aerosols caused by air pollution.”
That was enough for them to blame the cold on human activity.

May 8, 2017 8:53 pm

“Unprecedented”. Now where, oh where, have I heard that term before?

May 8, 2017 8:58 pm

Forty years ago is the new now, meridionally speaking.

Ron Williams
May 8, 2017 9:09 pm

It just goes to show that throughout time, there is always outliers in early killer frosts, or late spring snow storms. I learned from my grand parents who were all born in the early 1890’s, that by the end of their lifetimes, they too had seen all the wacky weather that we will always probably get. If you were a farmer as many were 100 years ago, expect the worst and hope for the best.
I don’t know if anyone watched Fareed Zakaria on his program GPS Sunday morning, but he had two guests of recent import on. The first was Bret Stephens in a political panel and at the end of the segment, Fareed politely asked Bret Stephens about his recent article in the New York Times regarding his ‘heretical’ article on AGW/climate change. Bret was saying that his fear was ‘intellectual hubris’ by leading climate scientists may be similar to the political campaign of HRC and that they risked missing the trees for the forest in properly understanding AGW/climate change. To his credit at the end of the segment, Fareed basically said it was a valuable contribution to the climate change debate and immensely enjoyed his NYT article.
The final guest was Neil deGrasse Dyson, pontificating on science and particularly climate change. Near the end of his talking points, NDG said that if anyone even questioned the ‘theory’ of climate change, that it was the beginning of the end for our democracy and ignorant jackals like us who elected a denier, well you know how the rest of that goes. Fareed also praised him for always being such a knowledgeable guest.
I wonder what Fareed Zakaria really thinks?

May 8, 2017 9:26 pm

And all of this happened with how many ppm of CO2? Let me guess… we were quite under the “safe” limit.

The Original Mike M
May 8, 2017 9:47 pm

And about 10 months after that we had Michael Dukakis flying around in a helicopter looking at thousand of cars stranded on major roads like 128 because all the exit ramps became blocked at the start of the Blizzard of 1978.

May 8, 2017 9:48 pm

The winter of 1976-77 In Chicago was not so bad. It was the following winter, 1978-79, when 82.3 inches of snow fell and shut down O’Hare Airport and the streets didn’t get cleared, period. Cost the Mayor (Bilandic) his job. There’ve been other nasty winter (1966-67, January storm shut down the entire city), but the worst one ever was the Groundhog Day blizzard (2/2/2011) which not only put 4.5 feet of drifting snow on my front porch, but also shut down Lake Shore Drive, stranding dozens of commuters when a flexbus broke down and couldn’t be moved. That was legendary.

May 8, 2017 9:58 pm

Ah, yes… 1977 was marked the end of the 1945~1977 PDO 30-year cool cycle. When the PDO switched to its 30-year warm cycle, global temps began to rise again, as they did during the 1910~1943 PDO warm cycles (almost the exact same warming trend between 1910~1945 and (1979~2010)…
Soon after the PDO and AMO both enter their 30-year cool cycles from 2019, and sunspot activity basically flatlines from 2020, we should get some really bizarre and consistent cold weather events. (France losing 50% of its Bordeaux wine crop from a late-April frost event last week is a good example)…
It’ll be hilarious watching Leftists try to explain away future cold events and long-term cooling trends from around 2019…
Ye ol’ “Global Warming is causing global cooling” can only be trotted out for so long before Leftists suffer a serious crisis of credibility problem…
And so it begins…

tony mcleod
Reply to  SAMURAI
May 8, 2017 10:58 pm

long-term cooling trends from around 2019…
Good to see your science is settled, that must be a comfort.

Reply to  tony mcleod
May 9, 2017 12:28 am

There is a perfect 100% correlation, and an obvious causation process involved between PDO/AMO 30-year warm/cool cycles and 30-year global warming/cooling cycles since 1850:
The current PDO warm cycle has so far been obscured by 2 El Nino cycles (2009/10 and 2015/16) and a weird “The Blob” anomaly in the North Pacific, but all these have ended, so global temps will start showing falling trends from 2019, when the AMO also enters its 30-year cool cycle.
Collapsing solar cycles will also add to the coming global cooling.

Reply to  tony mcleod
May 9, 2017 10:29 am

The bitterness of a refuted warmista.
I feast on your tears.

Ron Williams
Reply to  SAMURAI
May 8, 2017 10:59 pm

Yes indeed! This is my thinking as well. In fact I would be surprised if it doesn’t. It’s what we see in the historical record this oscillation in climate swings. It seems the only way of keeeping honest score is temperature so if the trend stays paused, or drops in real data consistently over time then the spending on trillions for an ill-conceived threat to humanity is over.

Reply to  SAMURAI
May 9, 2017 12:51 am

I said that long ago. I was rather peed with the science is settled that I said this, all this global warming would be a harbinger of the next glacial age. I remember in the early 70s, worried by the cooling and the next glacial age. I thought we can spread some dark stuff over the ice in the arctic and north Canada. I imagined planes dropping some dark stuff to decrease the albedo.

The Original Mike M
Reply to  Leopoldo
May 9, 2017 6:12 am

“I thought we can spread some dark stuff over the ice in the arctic and north Canada. I imagined planes dropping some dark stuff to decrease the albedo.”
That would only make cooling worse because the problem isn’t the Arctic not absorbing enough heat from feeble IR in the summer – the problem is it losing too much heat in the darkness of winter. Snow covered ice insulates ocean heat in the winter while open water in the summer doesn’t appear to affect temperature at all going by the temperature record – http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/meant80n.uk.php
As you can see, summer temperatures are nearly identical so the lion’s share of the difference in heat loss happens in the dark.

The Original Mike M
Reply to  Leopoldo
May 9, 2017 6:25 am

[ Mod – I am seeing only a partial plot displayed by wordpress for the embedded preview of the DMI 2016 arctic temperature data It displays correctly if I click on it though? Is that a cache issue on my end or yours? ]
[Wordpress has completely screwed up their caching of non-https images. There’s no good solution that we’ve found and the ISPs I use don’t have a https option I can use to relocate such images. People can visit the JAXA interactive graph at http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/meant80n.uk.php and go from there. -Ric]

Reply to  Leopoldo
May 11, 2017 8:08 am

For Original Mike below.
I have been saying this for like forever! You would think with the albedo of the dark Arctic Ocean in the summer that the temperatures would spike up at some point in August but alas NADA! Not even in 2012

May 8, 2017 10:38 pm

buki o sutete, kousan shiro!
Drop you weapons and surrender.
My translation….
Stop your whinging and give up your silly ( cataclysmic ) climate claims.
Another translation….
Smell the roses before the frosts kill them.

Reply to  D B H
May 8, 2017 10:41 pm

just in case my intension was misunderstood….
my prior comment was meant as agreement with you SAMURAI.

Reply to  D B H
May 9, 2017 1:30 am

The exact English translation would be, “Throw down” (not “drop”, which would be “otose”落) your weapons and surrender”, but the English translation misses the nuanced uncivil grammar used, so perhaps a better translation would be:
I’m genuinely concerned about what’s coming given the climatic history of past Grand Solar Minimum events…
During the Wolf GSM (1280~1350–the first of 4 GSMs during the Little Ice Age), the climate turned so brutally cold that roughly 25% of Europe’s population was wiped out from: exposure, shortened growing seasons, frost lost, frostbite, and famine… Then the Black Death kicked in 1352, and 50% of the remaining population got obliterated… (real wrath of God stuff…)
Towards the end of the last PDO cool cycle (1945~1977), it got so cold some scientists were talking about the “The New Ice Age”, and that was during the strongest 63-year string (1933~1996) of solar cycles in 11,400 years…..
We’ll see soon enough.

Brian Jackson
Reply to  SAMURAI
May 9, 2017 2:02 am

The winter of 1947 in UK was the “worst EVAH”. The entire country froze up for all of Jan, Feb & March with temperatures staying below freezing for the entire 3 months. Same in the winter of 1963. Fits right in.

May 8, 2017 11:06 pm

Lots of snow in Moscow on their annual VE-Day parade. Apparently, the last time that happened was back in 1922. Lots more snow outside the city centre.

Reply to  alfredmelbourne
May 10, 2017 6:37 am

They had a VE day parade in 1922? How prescient of the commies!

May 9, 2017 4:23 am

I remember that day well, or actually the day before, I believe it was Mother’s Day 1977 in Buffalo. The cold winds off Lake Erie put some 8 inches of snow on the ground. I went out cross country skiing in the AM with yellow klistervox on my skis, ended up walking back because the snow was melting so fast. By 1 pm it was green again.

Reply to  Ric Werme
May 9, 2017 9:04 am

The storm started Friday afternoon, with some 12 inches of powder already on the ground. I lived and worked (at GIBCO) on Grand Island and all the bridges closed. So I took in 2 coworkers for the weekend, and found out on the next morning that one of them was a diabetic…and needed insulin. So off we were in a VW bug, 3 guys, in a travel ban. All of the E-W roads were blown clear, but the N-S roads were disasters. The worse were the snow drifts that extended from barns across the road. We had to get out of the bug, tramp across to make sure there were no vehicles in the drift, take a running start with the bug with one guy driving and “sled” across, unusually with an assist by the other two. We made to the pharmacy, and ended up making two deliveries on the way home. What with the National Guard plowing us out the next week, a memorable experience…
Buffalo didn’t know what to do with the snow or the abandoned cars. So the snow was carted out on to Lk Erie and the cars to Millard Fillmore golf course. The snow on the lake caused “eire” fog as the spring came, and as February came, many found that a car ring had found their cars at the golf course before they did…

Reply to  Ric Werme
May 10, 2017 6:55 am

In May of 1977, I had just moved to Marlboro, MA and was still in a motel when the spring storm hit. The trees were well-leafed, and the snow was wet enough to stick, with attendant treefall causing wide-spread power outages, including my motel. Did I forget to mention that I had 3 kids and a wife in tow? Formerly from Florida. With zero winter wear?
The next January, I was sitting at my desk at The Mill in Maynard when the snow began to fall at around noon, IIRC. I watched it snow for about an hour then clocked out and headed home on the back roads with a car without snow tires. I made it with little problem. Those who failed to leave early were not so lucky. Route 128 quickly became a snowbound parking lot, reminiscent of the photo above. People abandoned cars and walked to the nearest building, where they stayed for a couple of days. The Governor declared the roads in eastern Mass to be closed for almost a week. The National Guard cleared 128 with fork lifts and flat beds, hauling the abandoned cars to a pier in Boston for storage.
Fun Times! A major component of my decision to relocate to the sunbelt.

John Bell
May 9, 2017 4:30 am

I live thru the May 10, 1990 blizzard in Milwaukee, that was surreal!

May 9, 2017 5:50 am

I remember that May snowfall well. We were remiss is taking our studded snow tires off at the end of winter so the day after this historic snow event, I was driving to a friends house and got pulled over. The officer noticed the studded tires because they do make a distinct sound. At any rate, when he informed me of the law, I couldn’t resist saying, “you have to admit, I was prepared for yesterday”. He was a nice guy, chuckled a bit and reminded me to get them removed and sent me on my way.

May 9, 2017 8:15 am

mid maine. 5-9-2017
31 degrees F 530am
almost killed myself slipping on deck.
next 4 days mid 30’s at night
just plain cold.
/rant off

May 9, 2017 9:29 am

I remember that May snowstorm, and refer to it frequently when talking about the weather here in Massachusetts (we were in Newton Corner). Yes, there were flowers covered with snow, though don’t think the roses were out yet:

That Emmylou album was later, actually (1980).
/Mr Lynn

Ian Cooper
Reply to  Ric Werme
May 9, 2017 11:30 pm

Down here in the mid latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere (40 South) daffodils can bloom as early as late July in some parts but at my place they pop out in the second week of August, right in the middle of winter, the southern equivalent of Groundhog Day. We rarely ever get snow on the ground at sea level here but back in mid August 2011 we did, & the daffodils were covered. Wish I’d taken a photo of it now!

Barbara Skolaut
May 9, 2017 11:37 am

I remember a cold spell in the mid-1970s in Central Virginia. It blew through with not much snow, but enough wet on the ground to turn streets in the Hampton Roads area into ice rinks. I had to wait until mid-day next day for the interstate to be safe for me to return to Durham, NC, where I lived at the time. The James River froze over up to Richmond for weeks; people rapidly found out how much we depended on river traffic to deliver goods to Richmond. Meanwhile, back in Durham (and in Central Virginia, too), the temperature didn’t get UP to freezing for a month. It wasn’t in April or May, but it was unusual, even for winter in the “Sunny South.” Right in the middle of the “Coming Ice Age” (according to Time Magazine).
So I have a hard time getting exercised about “Global Warming.” I’m much more concerned about the present “cue ball” sun. Cold kills.

James at 48
May 9, 2017 1:27 pm

That was during the infamous late 70s La Nina. At the time we here on the Left Coast were chanting the mantra “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.” Along with the terrible drought we had a number of cold events during the winters and springs. Only time I ever saw sticking snow in the Bay Area flats was a little over a year prior – Feb 1976. We were all late for school that morning. Too many snowball fights for us tweeners to resist.

Not Chicken Little
May 9, 2017 2:02 pm

The Chesapeake Bay largely froze over the winter of 1976-77. I remember ice skating a mile or so out into the bay from the Annapolis area. Maybe it wasn’t quite that far…but in the sheltered coves ice was almost 3 feet thick!

May 9, 2017 2:04 pm

Ric, I don’t know if this is the same event, but I remember a savage Ice storm on the 10th of May, 1980 or ’81 – I’m pretty sure it was ’80 (?). I was living a few miles west of Hanscom Field, Bedford, MA. If it is the same event, I’m getting senile.

Reply to  peyelut
May 10, 2017 6:59 am

I used to worry about Alzheimer’s, but I can’t remember why.

May 9, 2017 2:17 pm

Blizzard of ’77 slideshow.

Ted Getzel
May 9, 2017 2:50 pm

I tried to share this story on Facebook over the last couple of hours and keep getting a “We are having trouble with the URL you provided, try again later. Still will not let me post it?

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