The Easter ‘Blizzard’ in Rhode Island… 51 Years Later

Weather Blog

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Easter Sunday in 1970 started out pretty quietly, weather-wise. It was mainly cloudy in Southern New England.

Early-risers heading to sunrise services probably felt the pitter-patter of raindrops on their heads as a few light rain showers moved through the area. The sun was even shining in some areas — it seemed like it was going to be a nice Easter Sunday.

A little later in the morning, Southern New Englanders saw a drastic change in the weather.

March 29 was Easter in 1970. The winter season was one with slightly above normal snowfall through most of March. The month was considerably colder than normal, but only a couple inches of snow had fallen that March. The weather pattern changed a bit in the the days leading up to Easter. Four consecutive days of 50s seemed to be a sign that spring-like weather was finally settling into the region, so getting a snowstorm on Easter Sunday would be surprising to most.

Visited Grandparents in upstate NY. So warm we did not need coats. Arrived home in Franklin, MA Sunday night, and our driveway had so much snow my girls Dad had snow to his knees as he carried three daughters into house. Their patent leather shoes were useless.

‘Priscilla Graham on the Easter Nor’easter of 1970

On the weather map Easter morning, an area of low pressure was over North Carolina, headed northeastward. To our north, in a perfect position for a New England snow storm, an area of high pressure was parked, pumping cold air into the region. At dawn, the temperature was 43 in Providence, but by noon, the thermometer read 36. It’s quite unusual to see the temperatures falling in March when the Sun is quite strong. Our Easter Nor’easter was taking shape and strengthening.

Rain showers in northern Rhode Island began to mix with some snow as temperatures continued to fall. Visibility was dropping. In fact, by noon, visibility was down to less than a mile with rain falling in Providence. Rain. We can handle rain.

Southwest of here, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, the heavy wet snow already left its mark…clogging streets and weighing down trees. Close to a foot of snow fell in some areas of Pennsylvania. Allentown had 10.2″. The Mount Pocono area had 12.5″. Quite the surprise on Easter morning!

Easter 1970 in Pennsylvania. Courtesy Judy Rimlinger

Through the afternoon in Rhode Island, temperatures continued to fall as cold air drained into Southern New England. By 3PM, the temperature was 35 and visibility had dropped to about 1/3 of a mile — likely a sign that snow was falling and probably at a pretty good clip.

The roads were warm from multiple days in the 50s. Initially, the snow likely didn’t stick, but as the intensity of the snow increased and as the temperatures continued to plummet, travel conditions quickly became poor.

By late afternoon, the winds were likely whistling through the trees. Northeast winds were sustained at 20-25mph, likely with higher gusts as atmospheric pressures continued to drop. This Easter Nor’easter was strengthening as it passed to our south.

By 4pm, temperatures were below freezing. Visibility was so poor that whiteout conditions were likely at times. Roads were snow-covered. Just to our north, the sudden snow storm slowed traffic to a crawl on the Mass Pike.

I remember leaving the house… sun was out and by dinner time there was 6” at least on the ground!

Colleen Sullivan on the Easter Nor’easter in 1970

Girls in their Easter dresses were likely shivering as wind chills were dipping into the teens! And yes, their patent leather shoes were likely ruined as the snow piled up on the grass, roads and sidewalks.

Easter Sunday 1970 in Wickford. Courtesy Trish Goodkin

I absolutely remember this, I was pregnant with my son and we got stuck on the hill by our house and had to walk home, my husband holding our 1 year old daughter and me!!!!

Mary Surrette Skog on the Easter Nor’easter of 1970

The heavy, windswept snow continued through the evening, finally winding down by 11PM. By then, 7.8″ of snow had fallen in Providence and 5″ in Kingston. Even Block Island had 5.4″ of Easter snow!

Other snow totals included…

  • Woonsocket 7.4″
  • Hartford 7.0″
  • Worcester 5.9″
  • Boston 7.3″
  • Franklin, MA 6.0″

Was it a blizzard? No, officially it wasn’t, but whiteout conditions likely occurred at times. Visibility was poor for many hours with blowing snow. Winds likely gusted above 35 mph at times, but there’s no official record of that. For an official blizzard, sustained winds or frequent gusts greater than 35mph are needed for three hours along with visibility less than 1/4 mile and considerable falling or blowing snow.

Below are the weather observations from Providence from March 29, 1970, starting at midnight — the key is at the bottom.

What may be even more surprising is just two days later, another five inches of snow fell!

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