Comparing Nemo to the Blizzard of 1978

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Other than a time span of 35 years, there might not be much separating the Fairfield of Feb. 6, 1978 from the Fairfield of Feb. 9, 2013.

In 1978, a blizzard brought high-speed winds and 33 straight hours of snowfall, accumulating to almost two feet of snow in Fairfield and the rest of the Northeast. Last
Friday’s storm, dubbed “Nemo,” dumped 35 inches onto the town by 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

In both cases, Fairfield students were met with snowed-in cars and houses and days of canceled classes.

Alumna Maureen Murray ’78 recalled a chaotic few days spent on campus during the 1978 blizzard. Murray worked in the campus center office for Jim Fitzpatrick, who still works for the University, and said she was responsible for answering phones.

Answering the calls was “very crazy,” she said. “I didn’t really have any information to give people because I didn’t really know what was going on … other than school was closed for the day.”

View footage from the 1978 blizzard here.

During Nemo, Fairfield University utilized its StagAlert system to notify university members of important updates via email, text messaging and voicemails.

Murray also said she recalls being one of the only seniors on campus, as most juniors and seniors then lived at the beach. Many of her friends were stuck at their beach houses, and the Seagrape Café, then known as the Nautilus, ran out of alcohol.

Senior Sam Goodnow said she was at the Seagrape on Saturday, but it seemed most student beach residents were to be found elsewhere. Some students were making snowmen and igloos, she said, and, “everyone had to shovel … but there’s nowhere to put the snow.”

Fairfield Department of Public Safety and Connecticut’s Department of Transportation were unavailable to comment on the cleanup process of the storm at press time.

Sophomore Marie Atwill also said she spent some time helping to shovel a friend’s car out of the snow and spent the rest of the time hanging out with friends in the dorms. “It was a good time to get laundry done and relax away from school, especially with hookah,” she said.

Senior Ian Diaz said he spent the weekend watching basketball, going to the gym and cooking “two feasts” with his girlfriend.”

Some current professors who were at Fairfield during the Blizzard of ’78 recalled how they spent the days following that storm.

“We sat in small circles with gas lamps flickering and listened on small archaic things called transistor radios to the old FM WQXR … occasionally shifting to hear FM stations still playing the Grateful Dead and Neil Young,” said Dr. Philip Eliasoph, Professor of Art History.

Nursing Professor Carole Pomarico said one of the major problems she faced during the 1978 blizzard were issues of protocol. The School of Nursing did not have “policies for canceling clinical experiences or how to make up the time lost.”

Though policies are now in place, making up clinical times is an issue. Current nursing students have not yet been able to complete their clinical hours.

“Shutting down a state was a new phenomena and so was shutting down the University,” Pomarico said. “I think the storm of 1978 was worse because of the limited resources and no real previous experience to learn from.”

Dr. Dorothea Braginsky, Professor of Psychology, said she was stranded in New Haven for almost a week after the 1978 blizzard. “[I] had to climb out the window and shovel my way to freedom,” she said. Though “more fun,” she believes the 1978 blizzard was worse than Nemo.

Braginsky added, “This storm [Nemo] was easy since it was very well predicted. I think everyone was cozy at home for a forced restful few days.”

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