DISCUSSION: As of just two days ago, it was officially the 30th anniversary of the 1978 blizzard. As many "baby boomers" will recall, this was one of the more impressive and historic winter storms which took place during the course of the 20th century. Attached below is a neat first-hand account of this historic winter storm from the perspective of writers (Thomas W. Schmidlin and Jeanne Appelhans Schmidlin) from across the north-central United States as they experienced and reflected on this historic winter weather event.
"The worst winter storm in Ohio history struck before dawn on Thursday, 26 January 1978. The Blizzard of ’78 continued through Thursday and into Friday. Transportation, business, industry, and schools were closed statewide for two days, with the normal pace of society not returning to the state for five days.
Wednesday evening, 25 January 1978, was relatively quiet in Ohio. Rain and fog were widespread, some freezing rain was falling in the northwest, and temperatures were in the 30s and 40s. Wednesday evening’s weather map, however, presented an ominous combination of weather headed for Ohio. A strong winter storm was moving northward from the Gulf of Mexico trough Tennessee and Kentucky, bitterly cold air was moving along the Atlantic Coast. Computer models of the National Weather Service forecast a major winter storm over Ohio for Thursday.
The southern storm intensified as it tracked northward, entering Ohio near Portsmouth at midnight and exiting across Lake Erie from Cleveland at 4:00 A.M. Thursday. Records for low atmospheric pressure were already being set Wednesday evening in eastern Tennessee, and more records fell as the storm intensified through Ohio. Atmospheric pressure of 28.28 inches at Cleveland was the lowest pressure ever recorded in Ohio. This was also the second lowest pressure not associated with a hurricane recorded this century in the forty-eight contiguous states (Blackburn 1978). Other low pressure records included Akron-Canton with 28.33 inches, Youngstown with 28.39 inches, Columbus with 28.46 inches, Toledo with 28.49 inches, and Cincinnati with 28.81 inches (Blackburn 1978). Old pressure records were exceeded by .3 inch or more at most cities.
The rapidly intensifying storm pulled bitter cold air from the west across Ohio on winds of fifty to seventy miles an hour by Thursday morning. These conditions combined with heavy snow and blowing of deep snow already on the ground to cause full blizzard conditions all across Ohio. Blizzard conditions arrived first with the arctic cold front in Cincinnati at 1:00 A.M., reached Dayton an hour later, Columbus and Toledo at about 3:00 A.M., and extended northeast to Akron, Youngstown, and Cleveland by 7:00 A.M. on 26 January. This blizzard caused the most complete disruption of transportation ever known to Ohio. Maj. Gen. James C. Clem of the Ohio National Guard reported the immobilization of Ohio was comparable to the results of a statewide nuclear attack (Clem 1978). Prolonged blizzard conditions created enormous snowdrifts that stopped highway and rail transportation and isolated thousands of persons. Air travel was stopped for two to three days by low visibility and deep snowdrifts on runways. The almost complete immobilization of Ohio continued through Friday.
Some highways and airports reopened late Friday or Saturday, but many roads were not passable until Monday, 30 January. State roads remained closed in half of Ohio counties on Saturday. Interstate 75 was closed for three days, and a portion of Interstate 475 near Toledo was closed for six days. Motorists stranded on Interstate 75 near Findlay broke into a truck weigh station for shelter. The entire length of the Ohio Turnpike was closed for the first time in its history. The turnpike was reopened east of Elyria Friday afternoon but remained closed in northwestern Ohio until Saturday. Airports at Cleveland and Toledo reopened Saturday, but schedules were uncertain and delays common. In many communities, a snowplow was parked at each fire station to clear the snow ahead of the fire truck if a fire broke out."
As you can see above in this detailed summary pertaining to the Blizzard of 1978, this was a multi-faceted winter weather event which had a variety of different implications and impacts for multiple forms of travel both on the ground and in the air. There is no question that throughout the all-time meteorological record books, the Blizzard of 1978 stands out as one of the more recognizable "benchmark" winter storms which resonates through the course of time.
To learn more about other past historic weather events from around the world, be sure to click here!
©2017 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz