Reflections on the April Fool’s Blizzard of 1997

April Fools 1997 Blizzardby Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, 4/97

Some random thoughts and observations on the Great Blizzard of 1997:

Any snowstorm with even mild accumulation brings the inevitable comparison to the Great Blizzard of 1978, but this was one of the rare instances where the comparison was warranted. The April 1 blizzard was the third largest snowstorm in Boston history, and certainly had many of the same elements as the unforgettable ‘78 storm: Newscasters describing roads as “treacherous” and “impassable.” The National Guard called in. Abandoned cars on the highways. Logan Airport closed for nearly a day. Power-outage figures in the hundred thousands. Over two feet of snow in a 24 hour period. The governor declaring a state of emergency and making a plea for residents to stay home. In many ways, last Tuesday was ‘78 all over again.

All that said, the blizzard of 1997 will not be remembered by many for very long. The storm was a huge but momentary inconvenience in our Spring season. Anyone who lived through ’78 will never forget Massachusetts literally being shut down for a week, as the mother of all storms stopped everything. We’ll never forget the televised image of Governor Dukakis in his sweater, banning driving and asking the people to stay home while cleanup began. We’ll never forget the community feeling of friendship and togetherness we all shared back then, or the reality of life at a complete standstill for a week, or bread and milk being rationed, of the sight of people getting around on skis and snow-mobiles. By the time you read this, the 1997 storm will be a distant memory.

Trning to the subject of power outages, why did the sky have to light up in an eerie blue glow for over ten seconds before the power went out at the exact same time I was skimming an article about the alleged Roswell UFO crash? It’s amazing how your mind works overtime in the darkness to piece together stupid reasons why the power outage REALLY occurred. Your logical mind knows that the transformer gave out and lit up the sky as it failed, but there’s that stupid little itty-bitty portion of your subconscious that whispers, “Lengthy and odd blue glow in sky + simultaneous power outage = spaceship.” It’s amazing how active your imagination can get in the dark, and it’s obvious that I have to stop reading the tabloids.

Also on the power outage note, I’m amazed by how quiet life is without electricity. When I woke up Tuesday morning, all I could hear was the snow and wind outside. The LED readout on the alarm clock was dark, the heating system and radio were silent, the coffee maker was quiet. The house was cold and still. Looking back on all those old pictures of relatives of nearly a century ago, I always wondered why they looked so serious. Now I know: They were all thinking, “Gee, this is so boring! Will someone please invent electricity so I can play some CDs?”

I’d like to compliment all the people who worked around the clock to get the power turned back on. While 24 hours (or more) without heat and lights was unpleasant, I think we all took some comfort in the knowledge that the crews were out there in the worst of the storm, doing their best to get Foxboro’s power back on-line.

April Fools 1997 Blizzard TrucksLife seemed pretty quiet downtown, too. When I finally liberated the car after three hours, touring the area seemed like a good idea. As I made my way through icy and bumpy side streets, I was amazed to see Foxboro Common nearly deserted, and almost all businesses closed. While the Globe reported a happy climate in Boston, with people sledding and otherwise enjoying the snow, here in Foxboro the snow-shovelers I passed all had the same look of annoyance and grim determination to shovel a path back to the street. No Winter Wonderland here, although there were many people helping each other by pushing stuck cars and helping to shovel the snow.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of a dozen tractor-trailer trucks lined up on route 1 in Sharon with nowhere to go, or the eerie sight of route 95 North closed.

And finally, while we humans fancy ourselves as the masters of this planet, it’s interesting to note that every now and then Mother Nature sends us a reminder that she’s still in charge — and is capable of playing the best April Fool’s joke of all.

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