On Ben's Farm

Let It Snow!

The students in the class called "The Weather" listened to Professor Bob Adams with rapt attention as he described the three air masses--one from the west, one from the south and the third over the Atlantic--that were on a collision course toward New England. His forecast called for a terrific meteorological event.

"He called it, on the money," recalls Steve Gaumer '81, who used the advance notice to get ready for what would become known as the "Blizzard of '78." He and his friends packed their skis in the car to take advantage of the two-for-one day at Wildcat Mountain.

The snow began in earnest on the morning of Feb. 6, falling at a rate of up to four inches an hour and continuing for approximately 36 hours. Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts were particularly hard hit, with up to 55 inches of snow in some areas. Major highways were closed, trapping people at work or in their cars; coastal areas were flooded, including Hampton and Seabrook, N.H.

The snowfall in Durham measured only 17 inches, but it fell on a deep base from a previous storm. Road crews could not keep up and the University of No Holidays was forced to cancel classes. "The blizzard turned into one of the great unplanned college breaks of all time," says Steve Lawrence '78.

Many students bundled up and went outside to play. Those with cross-country skis enjoyed skiing in College Woods--or right down the middle of Main Street. Others improvised with trays from the dining halls for sledding down the hill near the library. Chip Schooler '80, a transfer student from South Carolina, recalls being introduced to the sport of skitching. "At that time, I had logged about 400 parachute jumps, but I had never seen anything as crazy as running out behind an unsuspecting car, grabbing the bumper and sliding along," he recalls.

Crazier still were the students who thought that massive snowdrifts could cushion their fall when jumping from a second- or even third-story window. They soon found out otherwise; in addition, the authorities disapproved.

For those who preferred to stay indoors, the mood was just as festive. For keg parties in dormitory lounges, which were allowed in those days, students employed ingenious methods (a pair of skis slid one keg into a dorm) or sheer determination (one group took three hours fetching a keg from downtown). "Almost the entire floor, even the engineers who rarely strayed from their books, spent most of the first day drinking and socializing," says Whitney Parker '81. "It was a great bonding experience."

The Durham bars did a brisk business as well. The late Mike Libby '77 was tending bar at Scorpio's Pub when a student walked in and announced that tomorrow's classes were canceled. Beth Anderson '79 remembers the delighted response when Libby grabbed an armful of beer bottles and proclaimed, "Beer's on me the rest of the night!" When the bar closed, the patrons had a hard time getting the door open because of the deep snow. "It took us over an hour to trudge back to the house," says Nancy Batt '79. "We didn't exactly make a straight line home. We kind of made a zigzag trail back. I never had so much fun."

Not all students had the luxury of being able to play the day away. There were roads to plow and students to be fed. Bhavdeep Sawhney '78 awoke on the morning of the 7th to more snow than he could have imagined back home in India. He was about to leave for his job as a breakfast cook at Stillings when he discovered that snow blocked the International House's front door. Undeterred, he slid out a second-floor window. Bhavdeep ended up staying at Stillings for most of the day to fill in for those who could not make it. "I can say without hesitation that it was one of the most memorable days of my college life," he says.

Kathy Harrington '81 chose to use the bonus day to catch up on some school work. She headed to the Kingsbury Hall computer center, expecting to have the place to herself, but found the place was hopping. "Blizzard or no blizzard," she says, "we nerds were going to get our projects done!"

The blizzard is a vivid memory even for students who weren't there. Jill Healy Oetheimer '79 was an exchange student at Chico State that semester. "I had no idea what was going on until I passed a newsstand with the headlines blaring 'Blizzard Hits East Coast.' I was so disappointed to have missed it!"

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