The Winter Chronicle

SPECIAL EDITION

The 35 year anniversary of the Blizzard of '78
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January 26, 2013
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www.weather.gov/cle

It Hit!

Inside...

51 dead

Page A2

 

$73 Million agricultural losses

Page A4

 

Ohio National Guard activated

Page A3

 

State of emergency declared in Ohio

Page A3

 

The Meteorology Behind the Storm

Page 5-7

 

Final Credits

Page 8

Buried House

A house in Wood County nearly buried. (Photograph by Stephen Chang)

 

Storm ravages Ohio

Thomas W. Schmidlin and

Jeanne Appelhans Schmidlin

Writers

 

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.

 

    The arrival of the cold front and blizzard were unmistakable.  Temperatures fell thirty degrees in two hours, winds increased to more than 50 miles an hour, and blinding wind-blown snow filled the air.  Wind gusts of more than 40 miles an hour continued through

   See Storm, Page A2

   

Barn

Once the storm hit, snow drifted over rooftops of one-story buildings, as seen in this image of an outbuilding at the Forest Loudenslager farm in Marion county. (Photo courtesy of the Marion Historical Society.)

Transportation Halted

Thomas W. Schmidlin and

Jeanne Appelhans Schmidlin

Writers

 

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.

    See Transportation, Page A2

 


Highest wind gusts recorded in Ohio

National Weather Service wind instruments recorded the following peak wind gusts during the storm:

  • 69 miles per hour in Dayton
  • 69 miles per hour in Columbus
  • 75 miles per hour in Akron
  • 82 miles per hour at Cleveland Hopkins Airport
  • 86 miles per hour sustained winds with gusts to 111 on Lake Erie reported by the ore carrier J. Burton Ayers
These articles are provided courtesy of Dr. Thomas Schmidlin, chair of the Department of Geography at Kent State University and Jeanne Schmidlin, writer. They are the authors of "Thunder in the Heartland: A Chronicle of Outstanding Weather Events in Ohio," published in 1996 by Kent State University Press.