Blizzard of 1978

No mere snow squall or winter gale, this storm was known to those who witnessed its icy wrath as “The Great Blizzard.” The front slammed the region, dropping the mercury to dangerous lows and pumping out snow to incredible heights. It began on January 23, as it moved west toward the Ohio Valley. On January 25, forecasts for the state began to paint a more severe picture of things to come and by nine p.m. a blizzard warning was issued for the entire state of Ohio. Scott and Sue Kollman of Kollman’s grocery store conveyed the frantic state of locals as the storm approached, saying, “Everyone was scared . . . there was a run on the store.” The next day, President Jimmy Carter declared a state of emergency for Ohio. This would mark the peak of the blizzard’s strength, with wind speeds topping eighty miles per hour in Cleveland. It would be another two days before the storm broke and an assessment of the damage could take place.

Of the storm’s aftermath, local Andrew Miller nostalgically remembered it as only a small boy could have: “I remember the snow being up to my knees, which at the time probably would’ve been two feet . . . No plows had been through yet, nobody had shoveled after, it was still storming and you just couldn’t tell the difference between the road and someone’s front yard. It was just an even plain.” His mother Sandy told how theirs was the only home in their neighborhood with a wood-burning fireplace, presenting a warm and inviting refuge for nearby neighbors without heat . . . providing they were capable of braving the storm. And for some, that bravery came from the insatiable need to eat, drink, and be inebriated. “Nobody could go to work, but Babka’s was packed,” according to the Kollmans. The following is taken from a bulletin by the National Weather Service:

Still images and film footage were combined, documenting many of the familiar sights around Twinsburg as they appeared during the infamous now infamous blizzard. Public Square, shops and storefronts, Corbett’s Farm, and rural byways are shown coated in snow, reflecting the true ferocity of the storm in its immediate aftermath. Film footage of the 1978 blizzard was captured by Twinsburg resident James Kizak.

The following content are the actual press releases from the National Weather Service illustrating the evolution of the storm from January 24-26:

SPECIAL WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE AKRON OHIO
100 PM EST FEB 1 1978

…THE BLIZZARD OF 78…

TUESDAY JAN 24…TWO SEEMINGLY UNRELATED LOW PRESSURE AREAS SEPARATED
BY VAST DISTANCES…ONE IN THE WESTERN GULF OF MEXICO THE OTHER IN
NORTHERN NORTH DAKOTA…BEGAN TO BECOME ORGANIZED. THE NORTH DAKOTA
LOW WAS EXPECTED TO PASS NORTH OF OHIO POSING NO GREAT WEATHER THREAT
TO THE STATE OTHER THAN TO BRING IN COLDER AIR. THE GULF LOW WAS
FORECASTED TO MOVE GRADUALLY NORTHEAST UP THE MISSISSIPPI VALLEY TO
THE OHIO VALLEY AND THEN NORTHEAST OF OHIO. RAIN WAS EXPECTED TO
SPREAD INTO THE STATE FROM THIS LOW…CHANGING TO SNOW AS THE COLDER
AIR MOVED IN BEHIND.

WEDNESDAY JAN 25…ALL THINGS SEEMED TO BE OCCURRING AS FORECASTED AS
THE GULF LOW MOVED INTO NORTHERN LOUISIANA DURING THE MORNING. THEN
THE FIRST SIGNS OF SOMETHING MORE OMINOUS BEGAN TO APPEAR. THE NORTH
DAKOTA LOW STARTED TRACKING MORE SOUTHEAST AND PRESSURES NORTH OF THE
GULF LOW BEGAN TO FALL RAPIDLY. IT BECAME APPARENT THAT THE TWO LOWS
WERE ON A VIRTUAL COLLISION COURSE AND THAT COLLISION WOULD TAKE
PLACE IN OR VERY NEAR THE STATE OF OHIO. PRESSURES CONTINUED TO FALL
RAPIDLY AHEAD OF THE GULF LOW AS WARM MOIST AIR WAS BROUGHT NORTH. BY
AFTERNOON HEAVY SNOW WARNINGS WERE ISSUED FOR NORTHWESTERN COUNTIES
OF OHIO AND A WINTER STORM WARNING FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE STATE. BY
EARLY EVENING THE PRESSURES HAD DROPPED TO RECORD LOWS THROUGHOUT THE
BUCKEYE STATE AND THE COLD LOW FROM THE NORTH WAS TRACKING DIRECTLY
TOWARD OHIO. IT NOW BECAME VERY OBVIOUS THAT A VERY DANGEROUS WEATHER
SITUATION FACED OHIOANS AND BLIZZARD WARNINGS WERE ISSUED FOR THE
ENTIRE STATE AT 9 PM. TEMPERATURES ROSE INTO THE 40S AND RAIN
CONTINUED AS THE DAY NEARED ITS END. THE WIND INCREASED GREATLY TOWARD
MIDNIGHT AND THE PRESSURE CONTINUED ITS DOWNWARD SLIDE.

THURSDAY JAN 26…BY EARLY THURSDAY HERE AT THE AKRON CANTON WEATHER
SERVICE OFFICE THE WIND HAD RISEN TO SUSTAINED SPEEDS BETWEEN 25 AND
30 MPH GUSTING TO OVER 40 MPH. THE PRESSURE WAS STILL DROPPING AND IT
WAS EVIDENT THAT A STORM OF UNPRECEDENTED MAGNITUDE WAS IMMINENT. AT
347 AM THE BAROMETER REGISTERED 28.33 INCHES…A FULL HALF OF AN INCH
LOWER THAN THE PREVIOUS RECORD LOW OF 28.83 INCHES SET ON FEB 25 1961.
WIND WAS NOW BLOWING AT 30 TO 40 MPH AND GUSTING TO OVER 50 MPH. BY
430 AM THE COLD AIR MOVED INTO THE LOCAL AREA. TEMPERATURES DROPPED
RAPIDLY AND THE RAIN CHANGED TO SNOW. THE WIND WAS NOW GUSTING TO
OVER 60 MPH AND AT 512 AM A PEAK GUST OF 76 MPH WAS RECORDED. BETWEEN
5 AND 6 AM THE TEMPERATURE FELL 21 DEGREES FROM 34 TO 13 AND
EVERYTHING THAT WAS WET FROM THE RAIN BECAME ICE. THE TEMPERATURE
LEVELED OFF AROUND THE 10 DEGREE MARK BUT THE WIND REMAINED HIGH…
SUSTAINED AT 25 TO 35 MPH AND GUSTING TO 40 AND 50 MPH DURING THE
ENTIRE DAY. REPORTS OF DAMAGE BEGAN TO POUR IN OF POWER LINES DOWN…
TELEVISION ANTENNAS BROKEN OFF…TREE LIMBS AND WHOLE TREES DOWN…
AND BROKEN WINDOWS. ROADS HAD BECOME VAST SKATING RINKS AND DRIVING
WAS ALL BUT IMPOSSIBLE. THE SNOW WAS BLOWING AND DRIFTING REDUCING THE
VISIBILITY TO NEAR ZERO. WIND CHILL FACTORS DURING THE DAY FELL FAR
BELOW THE MINUS 60 DEGREE MARK MAKING VENTURING OUTSIDE EXTREMELY
HAZARDOUS.

BLIZZARD WARNINGS WERE CONTINUED THROUGHOUT THE DAY AS OHIO REELED
UNDER WINTERS WORST STORM IN MANY YEARS. WINDS REMAINED HIGH…SNOW
BLEW AND DRIFTED…AND ALL TRAVEL AND OUTDOOR ACTIVITY CAME TO A
VIRTUAL HALT. THIS SITUATION CONTINUED INTO FRIDAY WITH THE BLIZZARD
WARNINGS BEING REPLACED BY TRAVELERS ADVISORIES AT 440 AM FRIDAY
MORNING. THESE ADVISORIES REMAINED IN EFFECT THROUGHOUT FRIDAY AS THE
WINDS DIMINISHED BUT WERE STILL STRONG ENOUGH TO CAUSE CONSIDERABLE
BLOWING AND DRIFTING…AND RESTRICTING VISIBILITY ON THOSE ROADS THAT
WERE OPEN. WIND CHILL FACTORS OF MINUS 40 TO 60 DEGREES CONTINUED AS
WINDS BLEW FROM 25 TO 40 MPH AND TEMPERATURES HOVERED IN THE TEENS.

FOR SHEER MAGNITUDE…THIS MUST RANK AS THE WORST STORM TO HIT THE
GREAT LAKES REGION IN MANY YEARS. ON THE WEATHER SIDE…RECORD LOW
PRESSURE READINGS…HIGH WINDS…DRAMATIC TEMPERATURE DROPS AND
CONSIDERABLE BLOWING AND DRIFTING SNOW WERE ALL BUT UNPRECEDENTED. ON
THE HUMAN SIDE…THE SUFFERING…DISCOMFORT AND DANGER CAUSED BY
DISRUPTED POWER…WIND DAMAGE…STRANDED AUTOMOBILES AND OTHER STORM
RELATED EVENTS WERE PROBABLY MORE WIDESPREAD THAN IN ANY OTHER STORM
IN MOST PEOPLES MEMORIES. MANY WEATHER RECORDS WERE BROKEN BUT THAT
IS WHAT RECORDS ARE FOR AND THOSE ARE JUST COLD STATISTICS.
UNFORTUNATELY THERE ARE NO RECORDS OR COLD STATISTICS TO MEASURE THE
HUMAN FACTOR IN A STORM OF THIS VAST SCALE.

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