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The Great Freeze Of 1977: Remembering The Chesapeake Bay’s Mini Ice Age

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Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ)— If you’re looking for some feel-good warmth this winter, all you have to do is look back to when it was really cold.

Alex DeMetrick reports 1977 was the year Maryland was locked in a brutal deep freeze.

This winter has brought icebreakers back onto the Chesapeake.

It’s the first time in years state and Coast Guard vessels have been needed to grind out a little open water for other boats.

“Historically, this is one of the colder winters for the Chesapeake Bay,” said a Coast Guard crewman.

But history has a way of topping itself. Maybe you remember 1977.

“That was a brutal winter. We had something like 58 straight days of below freezing temperatures between mid-December and mid-February,” said Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum chief curator Pete Lesher.

You can Google a glimpse of what those temperatures did to the bay. In 1977, it froze solid enough to walk across–a costly novelty.

“The watermen were iced in. They couldn’t get out to the oyster beds. Seafood workers were out of work. It even affected commerce in the Port of Baltimore, of course. They had to run icebreakers to get the ships in and out,” Lesher said.

The ice of 1977 also had an impact on land, where people were trying to stay warm.

“Heating oil shipments were getting scarce around the region because we had the oil but couldn’t get it to where it needed to go,” Lesher said.

Lesher is chief curator at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, where some of the exhibits are currently locked in ice–but it’s not two feet thick near shore as it was in ’77 and it doesn’t have the destructive force.

“With all of that ice moving with the pulse of the tide, it was piling up against piers and all kinds of structures,” Lesher said.

The Sharp’s Island Lighthouse was shoved over 15 degrees.

“And there it remains today. It stands as a remnant canted over to the ice of 1977,” Lesher said.

The winter of 1977 did have one upside for a hearty band of sportsmen. It was the first year ice boat races were held so far south on the East Coast.

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