(People walk on the ice over the Chesapeake Bay during the Big Freeze of 1976-77. Photo courtesy of Bob Grieser)

Recently we’ve experienced some pretty cold days around Maryland. Yes, as in subfreezing temperatures and windchills that take one’s breath away. But so far, this is nothing compared to the great freeze of the winter of 1977. Truly.

If you were around, you probably still shiver at the memory. By Christmas of 1976, the Chesapeake was already beginning to ice over. On Jan. 17, 49 cities in the Eastern U.S. recorded record lows; at BWI, the thermometer dipped to -2 degrees. Over the course of the winter, some 25,000 homes and businesses lost their water supply, for anywhere from a day to several weeks. For only the ninth time in the 20th century, the harbor froze over, covered with ice from Pratt Street to Fort McHenry.

For heaven’s sake, the bay pretty much froze over, enough so that people were able to walk on the ice in sight of the Bay Bridge. Officials warned that wasn’t a very good idea, but there were no reports of anyone falling in.


(The Chesapeake Bay floeberg, near the mouth of the Chester River. Baltimore Sun file photo, Feb. 1, 1977)

There was even an iceberg in the bay. Technically, it was what is called a “floeberg” — “a large frozen mass compacted by winds and tidal action and measuring 100 feet long, 40 feet wide and 20 feet high.” (Icebergs are chunks of ice that have broken away from glaciers, which this monster had not.)

Twelve-foot snowdrifts were reported in Garrett County — where, by early February, 120 inches of snow had fallen. The temperature there fell as low as -18 degrees. Only one day in January climbed above freezing.

So sure, it’s cold out there. Go ahead and complain, if it makes you feel better. But if some old-timer tells you it’s been worse, don’t scoff. It has.

Click here to see many more photos from the 1977 Big Freeze.