Boulevard - The Big Snow
This is Brookline Boulevard, along the 500 block near Castlegate Avenue, on January 21, 1978. This was the year of the dual snowstorms that wreaked havoc along the entire East Coast. The massive storms extended as far west as Ohio, and blanketed the City of Pittsburgh under more than two feet of snow.
Brookline Boulevard is still adorned with Christmas decorations, including the old tree ornaments and the large "Season's Greetings" banner hanging across the Pioneer Avenue intersection. It was a melancholy Christmas for Steeler fans as Pittsburgh bowed out of the playoffs on Christmas Eve 1977 with a loss to Denver in the opening round.
On New Year's Day 1978, disappointment over the Steeler loss was lessened slightly when the Broncos pulled off an upset and struck down the Oakland Raiders to earn a trip to the Super Bowl. The New Year also dawned with memories of the previous winter, when January 1977, a series of weather fronts brought a whopping 26.5 inches of snow.
Beginning on the eighth day of 1978, and lasting for a week, several minor snowfalls blanketed the ground in a layer of white. Given the lessons learned during the previous season, streets and walkways were kept relatively clear. So far it was just another Pittsburgh winter.
On January 15, a chilly Friday night, football fans watched as the Dallas Cowboys, featuring rookie running back Tony Dorsett of Pitt, beat the underdog Broncos, 27-10, in Super Bowl XII. It was difficult watching the Cowboys take the title, but hometown pride was awakened as Pitt's future Hall of Famer scored the game's first touchdown and led all rushers in yardage.
Then came the sixteenth day, and the dark clouds rolled in. Old Man Winter had a treat in store for Pittsburgh, and it came in the form of back-to-back snowstorms. From the 16th through the 18th, 12.2 inches fell. Then, after a brief respite measured in hours, the second storm hit. It snowed from the 19th through the 21st without pause. Another 14.8 inches came fluttering down.
It was mayhem in the city, and the effects were felt for well over a month. Temperatures plummetted, schools closed and the city struggled to clear the streets, creating enormous snow piles along most roadways. Some secondary streets weren't cleared for days. To make matters worse, subsequent minor snowfalls added to the burden.
Due to a shortage of fuel oil and the dangerously low temperatures, many local schools remained closed for nearly a month, giving students quite a long holiday. By the end of January, a record 40.2 inches of snow had fallen on the 'Burgh.
Preserved by an extended period of below freezing temperatures, another record was set. For sixty-four days, from January 8 through March 12, there was at least one inch of snow on the ground. This eclipsed the old record of sixty-two days, set only a year before, from December 20, 1976 through February 20, 1977.
As my own recollection goes, I can remember 1977 and 1978 as two of the most fun winters I've experienced. Obviously, as a High School student, I was released from the burden of getting to work every day and dealing with winter's headaches. As long as I kept the sidewalks clear in front of the house I was free to enjoy the snowy winter wonderland.
I remember the pick-up football games in the snow down at the Community Center. Birchland Street was off-limits to vehicles, as were some of Brookline other notable sled-riding slopes. We were sledding on a daily basis and snowball battles were common. In the evenings, my friends and I would walk to Overbrook School and catch a ride on the Shannon trolley. We'd get off at Park Avenue, then hike through the fields to the South Park ice skating rink.
Our unexpected winter vacation came to an end in mid-February and it was time to go back to school. Much to our delight, the diocese informed our parents that we would not have to make up all of the lost snow days and that summer vacation would proceed as planned. For us kids, it truly was a magical time.
* Photos provided by Rich Cummings, Marianne Puleo and Linda Majewicz *
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