Fifty-two years ago, winter was something we all dealt with as the snow and cold arrived. When it was over, the snow melted and spring arrived. Back then, the weather reporters did not have the technology to predict what was coming more than a couple of days in advance at best. We did not have social media and the intense hype on TV creating the anxiety and craziness that compels hordes of people to rush to the supermarket and buy groceries they won’t need. I know I wasn’t out buying milk and bread before the storms of 1969.
If you’re over 60, you may remember when it snowed for four days straight during the 100-hour-long snowstorm of February 24 through 27, 1969. It started on a Monday, and by Tuesday the ground was covered with 18 inches of snow, and it was still snowing.
The storm stalled and redeveloped, and by the time it ended on Thursday, some 31 inches of snow had accumulated in the city. At the time, it was the most snow ever recorded from one storm.
Gale-force winds whipped the snow into 8-to 10-foot-high drifts, making road plowing a difficult if not impossible task. Haverhill High School, on Monument Street, had 15-foot-high snow drifts piled up against the back of the buildings and reaching the roofline.
The city was at a standstill, with factories, schools and businesses closed, and no mail deliveries for two days. The high winds across the marsh drove the snow into 8-foot-high drifts along the Plum Island turnpike, totally shutting off the island from the mainland and leaving some 300 residents stranded.
What made this storm particularly difficult is that it was preceded just two weeks earlier by another snowstorm that had dumped more than 2 feet of snow on the area. The Haverhill Gazette headline of February 10, 1969, stated that it was the “Worst Storm in City’s History”; little did we know what was to come.
The heavy, wet snow, combined with snow drifts, made driving almost impossible and caused many vehicles to become stranded and abandoned, which in turn made road-clearing efforts impossible. Some city streets were not cleared until two days after the storm, raising the ire of local residents. Interstate 495 was considered passable at the time of the storm; unfortunately all of the exit ramps in Haverhill were blocked by drifts and abandoned cars. The Howard Johnson Restaurant and Motor Lodge at the corner of River Street and Lowell Avenue, where CVS and Best Western are located today, quickly filled up with people who had become stranded on I-495. The restaurant stayed open around the clock to accommodate those without rooms.
Many people remember blizzards or other severe storms because of the way they affected their lives, and this one was no exception for my wife and me. We had purchased our house and were anxiously waiting to move into our new residence in February. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and gave us what was the snowiest February in city history at the time. Total snowfall for the month was more than 5 feet.
Due to the moving company’s backlog of customers, we had to endure several delays before the movers finally told us they could move us in early March. The former owners of the house had moved out prior to the back-to-back storms, and so there was no one there to shovel out the property. While my wife packed up our belongings, I spent a weekend digging out the snow from in front of our new house and evenings during the week clearing the driveway.
To this day, I still don’t rush out to the grocery store to buy stuff when a storm is forecast, and I don’t watch the constant weather updates on TV telling me it’s snowing. I just look out the living-room window.