NOAA 98-R203

Contact:  Bob Chartuk                        FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
          (516) 244-0166                     2/3/98


In the midst of this year's relatively mild winter, thoughts are turning back to the Blizzard of 1978 that, 20 years ago this week, dumped up to three feet of snow across the Northeast and caused 99 deaths.

"We mark the anniversary of the 1978 blizzard by reminding people to stay alert when it comes to winter storm watches and warnings issued by the National Weather Service," said Mike Wyllie, meteorologist-in-charge of the New York forecast office on Eastern Long Island.

According to Wyllie, the Feb. 5-7, 1978, storm came to life under conditions that could be considered perfect for the formation of a blizzard. "We had cold air and extremely high pressure coming down from Canada and a low pressure system forming off the Carolinas," Wyllie said. "The two merged explosively to generate significant snowfall and hurricane force winds that wreaked havoc across the Northeast."

Property losses, some of which were caused by tidal flooding and beach erosion, peaked at $500 million in Massachusetts with New York suffering more than $40 million in damage. New Jersey reported $44 million in losses, $50 million were reported in Maine, and $14 million in New Hampshire. More than 1,700 homes suffered major damage or were destroyed and 39,000 people took refuge in emergency shelters. Federal disaster assistance totaled $202 million.

Wyllie noted that under the National Weather Service's modernization effort, "Our ability to predict such large scale storms has improved considerably and we are now able to warn the public with more lead time than ever before." He added, "While this winter has been relatively mild, a severe storm is always possible and the public should not become complacent."

Central to the weather service's advanced technology is a nationwide network of Doppler radar systems, new weather satellites, and powerful computers that can predict atmospheric conditions with great accuracy. "The new technology, in addition to a highly skilled weather service work force, gives modern forecasting a significant edge over 1978," Wyllie concluded.

The meteorologist underscored the massive coastal destruction that can occur during a nor'easter. "The 1978 storm struck during astronomically high tides caused by a new moon and this, combined with huge waves generated by hurricane force winds, made a major impact on coastal areas," Wyllie said.

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