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May Shock: Looking Back on New England's Epic Mother's Day Snowstorm

The years of 1977 and 1978 were strange when it came to winter. These two years featured several extreme winter weather events across the country. One such event was a snowstorm in the middle of May, on the heels of Mother's Day. This storm wasn't just a few flakes, or flakes mixing in with some rain. This was a full fledged, mid-winter snowstorm that slammed parts of the region with nearly two feet of snow and produced "vivid" thundersnow.

This unreal storm began to come together on Mother's Day of that year, May 8. Two areas of low pressure, one over the Greats Lakes and one over Pennsylvania, came together and intensified off New England's south coast. The storm would develop into a potent nor'easter. Mother's Day itself was cool amid a massive dip in the jet stream, with highs topping out in the 50s across the region.

The nor'easter began impacting New England in the early morning hours of May 9th. As the storm moved in, temperatures plummeted into the low 30s and the winds picked up. Wind gusts in Worcester reached 45 miles per hour, making it feel much colder. Most of the snow fell overnight from May 9th to the 10th.

Synoptic weather map showing the nor'easter to the south of New England

To say residents were shocked when they woke up on May 10th would likely be a big understatement. These people had packed away all their winter gear, snow plows were detached from vehicles, boats were in the water and many had already begun mowing their lawns. Temperatures were in the 70s and 80s just days before the storm.

The sun angle in mid-May is about as strong as it is in early August. With such a strong sun angle, the storm needed to be timed to come in during the night in order to accumulate, and that's exactly what happened. This allowed the snow to pile up. A lot.

Damage in Weston, Massachusetts on May 9, 1977

Once spring arrives, snowfall always becomes an elevation game, with higher areas receiving the most snow. This storm was no exception. The Worcester Hills and Berkshires picked up anywhere from 6-12 inches of snow, with some areas picking up 20 inches.

The Connecticut River Valley, sandwiched between these two regions, picked up just a dusting to 2 inches. Eastern Massachusetts picked up a general 3-6 inches, except for Cape Cod, which saw amounts similar to the Connecticut River Valley. Northern New England, which was further away from the storm, did not see nearly as impressive amounts with a general dusting to 4 inches.

While the high point for snow in New England was 20 inches in Norfolk, Connecticut, the high point for snow from the storm was a whopping 27 inches in the Catskills of New York.

Being the middle of May, the snow was about as heavy and wet as it can get. This much heavy, wet snow would cause much tree damage in the middle of winter when the trees are still bare. Of course, in mid-May, all the leaves had come out, exacerbating the problem. Widespread tree and power line damage occurred in the jackpot zones, causing massive power outages. Over 600,000 lost power across southern New England. These outages persisted for a week in places.

Amid snow covered roads, tremendous tree damage and numerous car accidents, many roads had to be shut down, including a portion of interstate 495 in Massachusetts. The state had packed away the plows for the season, so snow removal on May 10th was slow, leading to very messy roads. Fortunately, the snow did melt away very quickly as spring bounced back. Flowers were seen springing back up on May 11th. The snow had all but disappeared by May 13th.

To say this storm was unprecedented would honestly be an understatement. Cities and towns in southern New England picked more snow than what typically falls in the mountains of northern New England during May.

It has snowed in May before at unusually low elevations in New England. As a matter of fact, 57 of New England's 67 total counties have seen their latest snow on record in May or June. Another notable May snowstorm occurred on May 11, 1945, bringing nearly a foot of snow to parts of Maine and New Hampshire.

Some more recent May snows include May 18, 2002, nearly 3 inches fell in Ashburnham, MA. On May 14, 2017, six inches fell in western New Hampshire (on Mother's Day itself!) during another rare late season nor'easter. Most recently, snow dusted mountain towns of Vermont and New Hampshire on May 9, 2020. None of these storms, however, have come remotely close to the numbers put up by the Mother's Day storm of 1977.



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