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The Long Island near-blizzard of January 19-20, 1978

The near-blizzard of January 19 - 20, 1978, was a surprise storm that began overnight on a Thursday. Long Islanders woke up Friday morning to a blinding snowstorm with the heavily falling snow being blown around by winds gusting to 45 miles per hour. The previous evening's weather forecast called for some light snow changing to rain, but some residents of western Long Island may have already known that the forecast wasn't working out as planned; the snow began over western Long Island before 10 P.M. and quickly became heavy with nearly four inches of new snow on the ground near John F. Kennedy airport by midnight. Across eastern Long Island the snow did not begin until after midnight and residents were in for quite a surprise the next morning.

As the snow began accumulating across the western end of the island late on Thursday evening the forecast was adjusted to include between one and three inches of snow before a changeover to rain. Very late at night it was adjusted again to call for two to five inches of snow before changing over to rain. Instead, this became the first storm to drop a foot or more of snow across most of Long Island since the "Lindsay Blizzard" of February 1969 (so-called because of its political repercussions for the mayor of New York City). Like the 1969 storm, this one came as a surprise to most meteorologists whose forecasts never caught up with the actual weather as it was occurring.

During the afternoon of Friday January 20, the precipitation did lighten and change to a mix of sleet and freezing rain, but not before 12 to 18 inches of snow with drifts to 6 feet or more blanketed the length of the island. Although much lighter, the icy mix was sufficient to put a hard crust on top of the snow. This put an end to the drifting, although gusty winds continued throughout the day.


Some snowfall totals from around the region were as follows:

• Islip
• Syosset
• Patchogue
• Mineola
• JFK
• Bridgehampton
• Central Park
• Setauket

17.0 inches
17.0 inches
16.0 inches
15.3 inches
14.2 inches
14.0 inches
13.6 inches
13.5 inches


The storm was significant over a wide area of the northeast. Philadelphia accumulated 13 inches of snow and the 21.5 inches of snow that fell on Boston on January 20 broke previous records as the greatest 24 hour snowfall in the city's history. It was to be a short lived record that was eclipsed less than three weeks later by the Blizzard of 1978. The first four photos below were taken in Syosset, New York on January 22, 1978, two days after the storm ended. The next eight photos were taken in Massapequa Park, on the south shore of Long Island on January 20 and 21, 1978. Click any of the pictures to view a higher resolution image. The weather maps are courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project.

January 22, 1978 - Syosset, New York. Taken two days after the storm. Click any of the images on this page to enlarge.

January 22, 1978 - Syosset, New York. Children walked up and over the layer of ice covering the drift without breaking through to the softer snow beneath. In the lower right, the blown-bare remains of the ice from the prior week's storms can be seen.

January 22, 1978 - Syosset, New York. January 22, 1978 - Syosset, New York.



January 22, 1978 - Syosset, New York.



January 22, 1978 - Syosset, New York.

January 22, 1978 - Syosset, New York. January 22, 1978 - Syosset, New York.



January 20, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York. Photo courtesy T. Earley.



January 20, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York. Photo courtesy T. Earley.

January 20, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York.  Photo courtesy T. Earley. January 20, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York.  Photo courtesy T. Earley.



January 20, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York. Photo courtesy T. Earley.



January 20, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York. Photo courtesy T. Earley.

January 20, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York.  Photo courtesy T. Earley. January 20, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York.  Photo courtesy T. Earley.



Snow Day!! January 20, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York. Photo courtesy T. Earley.



Snow Day!! January 20, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York. Photo courtesy T. Earley.

Snow Day!!  January 20, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York.  Photo courtesy T. Earley. Snow Day!!  January 20, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York. Photo courtesy T. Earley.



January 21, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York. The layer of sleet and freezing rain that crusted over the snow at the end of the storm was more than enough to support the dog's weight. Photo courtesy T. Earley.



January 21, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York. The layer of sleet and freezing rain that crusted over the snow at the end of the storm was more than enough to support the dog's weight. Photo courtesy T. Earley.

January 21, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York.  The layer of sleet and freezing rain that crusted over the snow at the end of the storm was more than enough to support the dog's weight.  Photo courtesy T. Earley. January 21, 1978 - Massapequa Park, New York.  The layer of sleet and freezing rain that crusted over the snow at the end of the storm was more than enough to support the dog's weight.  Photo courtesy T. Earley.



January 19, 1978 - 500 mb height contours at 7:00 A.M., E.S.T. Courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project.



January 19, 1978 - Surface Weather Map at 7:00 A.M., E.S.T. Courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project.

January 19, 1978 - 500 mb height contours at 7:00 A.M., E.S.T.  Courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project. January 19, 1978 - Surface Weather Map  at 7:00 A.M., E.S.T.  Courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project.



January 20, 1978 - 500 mb height contours at 7:00 A.M., E.S.T. Courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project.



January 20, 1978 - Surface Weather Map at 7:00 A.M., E.S.T. Courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project.

January 20, 1978 - 500 mb height contours at 7:00 A.M., E.S.T.  Courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project. January 20, 1978 - Surface Weather Map  at 7:00 A.M., E.S.T.  Courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project.



January 21, 1978 - 500 mb height contours at 7:00 A.M., E.S.T. Courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project.



January 21, 1978 - Surface Weather Map at 7:00 A.M., E.S.T. Courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project.

January 21, 1978 - 500 mb height contours at 7:00 A.M., E.S.T.  Courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project. January 21, 1978 - Surface Weather Map  at 7:00 A.M., E.S.T.  Courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project.