Fear, Anxiety And Storms: From the Blizzard of ’78 to Sandy

by Bill Brenner on October 26, 2012

Written in the hours before Superstorm Sandy hit. For those who get scared about the weather…

A lot of people are anxious over this “Frankenstorm” weather forecasters say could hit us early next week. They use words like “historic” and “unprecedented.” They draw comparisons to the “Perfect Storm” of 1991, saying this one could be worse.

It’s the type of verbiage that alarms people.

I feel for those who are freaked out right about now. Growing up in Coastal New England did plenty to feed my fear and anxiety over the years.

Mood music:


My reaction to hurricanes and nor’easters has long been a source of family amusement. My sister Stacey loves to tell the story of how I ran through the house with duct tape as Hurricane Bob approached in 1991.

When people ask where this fear came from, I don’t have to think it over. It started with the Blizzard of 1978.

That storm started like any other for a second grader. I was thrilled that we got two feet of snow because it meant school was canceled. I remember my mother making us French toast that first morning. The toys we got for Christmas were still shiny and new, and I could play with them all day.

Then the ocean spilled into the street in front of my house and kept rising. I’d never seen anything like that before, and all my 7-year-old mind could do was picture the house floating away into the great unknown.

Then the pumping station down the street got flooded out and our basement, where the playroom and most of the toys were, filled with sewage.

The ocean ripped apart my neighborhood along the northern edge of Revere Beach that week. Houses were torn from their foundations. The wind tore the roofing off some of the pavilions lining the beach, and schoolmates had to stay in hotels for a year or more while their homes were rebuilt.

Every winter since then, every nor’easter riding up the coast fills me with anxiety. The TV news doesn’t help. Impending storms are more often than not pitched as the coming apocalypse.

From the late 1970s straight through the 1990s, I’d shake from weather reports mentioning the Blizzard of ’78 with each new storm. As a young adult, I developed a pattern of throwing a blanket over my head and going to sleep. That’s exactly what I did in 1985 when Hurricane Gloria grazed us and, at age 21 in August 1991, when New England took a direct blow from Hurricane Bob.

In more recent years, I’ve been a lot less anxious about stormy weather. Some of that is because I don’t live on the coast anymore. Some of it is because I’ve gotten much better control of my anxiety. When Hurricane Irene came through here last year, I was calm and even drove around a bit.

But I remember how I used to feel.

So if you know some people who are freaked out by Hurricane Sandy right now, don’t make fun of them. Weather-based anxiety is serious business, and ridicule can make things worse.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Peter Bakula September 1, 2012 at 10:15 am

I feel bad you went through that as a kid in ’78 Bill, living in Peabody at the time my experience wasn’t exactly the same. I just remember walking everywhere with dad for about a week. I think times are different though, and storms like that won’t catch us ‘by surprise’ anymore. Remember, that storm was supposed to be just a ‘few flurries.’

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