Monday, February 12, 2007

The Great Blizzard of 1978

It all started the morning of Jan 26, 1978, shortly before dawn the snowflakes began falling. Large quarter size flakes that floated gently to the ground. The problem was that they kept on falling, faster and faster and the wind velocity kept increasing to almost gale force which caused huge drifts to form. No one was worried at first as the kids were excited about going outside to play in the snow. As the day wore on the snow continued to fall and pile up deeper and deeper outside. It was like a Christmas card outside with the snow coating everything in sight with a white blanket. I don’t remember when it happened but at some point the lights went out and we all looked at each other as if to say “Now what?” What, turned out to be a widespread power failure throughout the city and county and the start of an experience we will all never forget..

Since we live in an all electric home this meant we had no heat, no electricity and no water. We had a cistern to provide us with water from the rainfall, actually most of the time we had to buy water as our large family used a lot of it. We had no idea how long the power would be off. It was beginning to get very cold in the house. I started a fire in the family room fireplace and we all gathered in front of the fire with our coats on and covered with blankets. The fire was not large enough to heat the family room and we were all very cold. You’ve all heard the song “The weather outside is frightful?” well it was and it was getting worse. I called my assistant manager who was scheduled to open the Becker Drug store in Morrow Ohio. He had somehow managed to make it to the store which also had no power. I told him to lock it up and go home! As the song continues “And the fire is so delightful” It was delightful but not very warm. I remembered I had a large heavy canvas drop cloth in the basement which I retrieved and nailed up over the doorway between the kitchen and the family room (There was no door there) Immediately it ballooned out like a ships sail in the wind as the draft from the chimney tried to suck it into the fire. I had no idea that a fireplace drew that much air as it consumed the logs. I nailed the canvas all around the door frame except for a flap to serve as a door to retrieve more wood. We even had to put some chairs against the canvas as it tried to invade the family room. I had already stacked quite a few logs on the back porch but as time would tell I would have to dig more out of the snow as time went by. After awhile we could remove the blankets but kept our coats on. I was thankful for the battery operated radio which kept us in touch with the outside world. As we listened to the forecasts there was only the promise of more of the same to come.

Since the water pump was electric we had no water to cook or wash and more important to flush the toilet. I rigged up a bucket to a long rope and removed the cistern lid in the garage. I was able to lower the bucket and bring up water as we needed it. We could fill the toilet tank and then flush it. This was when I first heard the poem that was penned by someone who was used to these conditions.

“If it’s Yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown flush it down”

I think we followed this advice during our crises. We turned part of the ordeal into fun as we roasted hotdogs and Marshmallows over the fire. We had lunchmeat and bread so we were not desperate for food. The "Great Blizzard of '78" continued for two days and shut down transportation, schools, and business all across Ohio, for a week in some cases. State Route 48 which passes by our street Retswood drive was closed to all traffic. There were drifts of snow as high as ten foot in some places. According to weather historians it was a storm that Ohioans will never forget, one that will be a legend through the 21st century.

I know our family who lived through the "Great Blizzard of '78" will never forget it. It is engrained as part of each person's "1978 Blizzard Experience", a legend to be told to their children and grandchildren.

The following was taken from a web site.
Rain and fog the previous evening gave little indication of the impending blizzard but forecasters saw the signs. A deepening low pressure center was moving northward toward Ohio from the Gulf of Mexico. Moist tropical air flowed northward along the Atlantic coast and, most importantly, bitterly cold arctic air marched eastward from Iowa and Illinois. Forecasters at the National Weather Service saved many lives as they issued a "Blizzard Warning" for Ohio in the pre-dawn hours. The barometer reading of 28.28 inches at Cleveland early on January 26, 1978, was the lowest pressure ever recorded in Ohio and lower than observed in most hurricanes. The "Great Blizzard of '78" swept across Ohio on winds over 70 mph and heavy snow. Hurricane-force winds drifted the powdery snow to the peaks of houses, totally covering some in drifts 20 feet high. Cars, semi-trucks, and farms buildings disappeared under the drifts. All air, rail, and highway transportation came to a halt. Ohio's major airports closed for two days. The entire length of the Ohio Turnpike was closed for the first time in history. Interstate 75 was closed for three days. Temperatures fell to near zero with the arrival of the arctic air and remained near 10 degrees all day. The death toll rose as motorists were stranded and home heating failed. At least 22 people died outside while struggling through the blizzard. Another 13 people were found dead in stuck cars, and 13 died in unheated homes. A greater tragedy was prevented by the early morning arrival of the blizzard and timely warning by the National Weather Service. The morning forecast caused nearly all Ohio schools to be closed so school children were not trapped in stranded busses or at schools. Governor Rhodes summoned the Ohio National Guard in the disaster. Over 5000 men and women of the Guard were pressed into long hours of operating heavy equipment to clear roads, assisting utility crews in getting to fallen wires, transporting doctors and nurses to hospitals, and rescuing stranded persons in emergencies. Forty-five Ohio National Guard helicopters flew 2,700 missions across Ohio working around the clock for three days. They rescued thousands of stranded persons, many in dire medical emergencies. More assistance arrived after President Carter declared a federal disaster in Ohio and dispatched 300 troops from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Toledo with arctic gear, bulldozers, and fuel tankers to rescue persons in northwest Ohio. Shortages of bread, milk, and eggs developed quickly. State police escorted food trucks from Michigan into Toledo stores. The Red Cross bought 80,000 loaves of bread in Springfield and Ohio National Guard helicopters delivered them to isolated area communities. U.S. Coast Guard cargo planes flew 30 tons of food into Cincinnati where it was distributed to low income families.
"Generosity of Ohioans poured out during the Blizzard, as it has in every weather disaster." Thousands of volunteers with snowmobiles and four-wheel drive vehicles risked their lives to deliver medicine to homes, take staff to hospitals, deliver Red Cross blood, and carry electric linemen to repair downed lines. Radio stations abandoned regular programming for two days to issue storm information and serve as communication links where electricity and telephone failed and highways were blocked. Restaurants that had electricity stayed open packing food orders for electric utility workers, stranded factory workers, and police and military rescue teams.
Agricultural losses were staggering. Dead livestock, lost production, and property and equipment damage totaled $73 million. More than 12 million pounds of milk was dumped on farms the day after the blizzard when storage and transportation were not available.
Diane remembers........I remember making grilled cheese with one of those sandwich thing a ma gigs over the fire. Also, I remember driving to Morrow OH. and the snow on the sides of the road was taller than our car!
Frank Iacobucci remembers..........
With regard to the Blizzard of '78, my son Marc was in high school and joined a number of other people when they walked across the frozen OhioRiver into Kentucky.

12 comments:

Junosmom said...

I'm glad you wrote this. It's just like I remember. I remember reading and talking, and enjoying the novelty of it. I think I was off of school for many days.

raven00 said...

Oh how I remember that year and also the 25 below zero the year before....We had a woodstove shipped down from Vermont in the summer of '78 just for that reason. Still have it but use it only for that type of situation. And as I recall the Al Gore's of the day were predicting another Ice Age....seems as though the emissions from our cars and factories were blocking the sun.

Anonymous said...

omg I would of been scard. you must of been board. I think i coudlent of done it without water, and electricity it would of been hard for me well I hope you are ok an di would like to meet you some day and hopefuly you dont go through that again thank you laquisha domina

Anonymous said...

hey im glad you ok

Anonymous said...

hey im glad you ok

Anonymous said...

I am 47 years old and lived through this, I was a kid and just loved it, I now live in Florida and was trying to explain the Blizzard to my husband, the pictures were great, I am sure my Mom who still lives in Toledo has some pics, but thos just brought back so many memories, we made pizza, played jaxs and watched the news!!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Oldham County and was in 8th grade that year. No doubt the longest School Year ever as we had to make up an extra hour each day that went well into June! My father bought my brother and I new sleds which I still have in my garage to this day. My birthday was in March and I remember having a SNOWBALL fight before school from the snow that didn't seem to completely melt until the end of March!

Anonymous said...

my friend Brenda & I were stuck in Cincinnati, Ohio after a KISS concert,the storm hit that night! We finally made it back to Fairborn, Ohio about 3:30 am, we were sooo glad to finally get home & to find out we were in a blizzard & there would be no school!!! Very happy times, the best!!

Offutt said...

I a senior in high school that year in Morehead Kentucky. We had over 45 inches of snow and the cars were completely invisible. Worst, the storm was followed by a very long cold snap so the snow couldn't melt. We had one plow truck for the entire region and it only cleared I64 and US 60. No internet, no cable TV (one station!), no Wii, no cell phones, ... just books and snow. School was closed for 6 weeks. We lived out in the country, 7 miles from town, which means we had no transportation for that entire time.

I remember lots of very long beautiful walks. And incredible boredom. This was like prison for a 16 year old boy.

Anonymous said...

In Naperville, IL (suburb of Chicago) I remember carving tunnels in my parents backyard, to adjoining yards. Too much snow! That was the year that my dad decided to buy a snowblower... (I can obviously see why!)

Anonymous said...

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