The "Blizzard Like '78" may not have lived up to its predictions in the Cambridge area but it certainly felt real to some 45 members of the grounds crew team who worked 56 and a half hours straight, from 6:30am on Monday until 3pm on Tuesday.
"The rain and sleet and snow kept coming down and everybody just kept working," said James Wallace, assistant director of Facilities. "They did a wonderful job. They worked straight through with just two hour naps on the cots we have set up in [Building] NW62."
With forecasters predicting the convergence of two storms that were expected to dump 18 to 36 inches of snow in greater Boston, states of emergency were declared Sunday night by the state, the city of Boston and most of the surrounding towns.
The forecast prompted MIT to shut down at 3pm Monday except for essential personnel. "We didn't want to expose people to the potential dangers of a rush hour commute, and we were concerned about having the second shift come in and be stranded," said Laura Avakian, vice president for human resources.
At 5am on Tuesday, Ms. Avakian said the streets were being cleared in Boston, Cambridge and other nearby communities where many of MIT's faculty and employees live. The storm had hit these communities with only rain and then about six to eight inches of snow during the night.
"Our customers, the students, are here and a huge percentage of our employees and faculty could get in to work," she said.
Ms. Avakian said employees who came in would be paid for the full shift. Employees who did not come in can take it as a personal day, she said.
The story was different at Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, where snow drifts of 18 to 24 inches prompted a decision to close Lincoln Laboratory for all of Tuesday.
In addition, the Sloan School of Management, plagued by toilets backing up, closed down early on Tuesday.
Although the storm wasn't so terrible in the towns and cities around Boston, employees living further out were coping with chaotic conditions. In Scituate, for example, one couple whose house is on 12-foot stilts watched a high tide fill their back yard with 10 feet of water.
This was the fifth time that MIT has closed in the past quarter-century. The other occasions were the Blizzard of 1978; Hurricane Gloria in 1985; January 8, 1996 in the midst of New England's snowiest winter; and the April Fool's Day Blizzard of 1997.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 8, 2001.