The Blizzard of ‘78
Juno, Linus, Marcus and Neptune. Picking new baby names? Well, not quite. These are the four storms, albeit named only by the folks at the Weather Channel, that in less than four weeks buried New England, from New York through Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, under tons of snow with Boston residents trying to cope with up to nine feet of the white stuff and all still wondering what’s coming next.
Looking at the TV footage of mountains of snow I go back 37 years to the Blizzard of ’78, also dubbed the White Hurricane, the worst winter storm in Ohio history. It struck before dawn on Thursday, January 26, 1978 and continued into Friday and Saturday. Wednesday evening was relatively quiet in Ohio. Rain and fog were widespread, temperatures hovered in the upper 40s. However, weather maps warned of an ominous combination of weather headed for the Buckeye State. A strong winter storm was moving northward from the Gulf of Mexico through Tennessee and Kentucky and bitterly cold air was moving along the Atlantic Coast. Computer models were forecasting a major winter storm over Ohio for Thursday.
The southern storm intensified as it tracked northward, entered southern Ohio at midnight, arriving across Lake Erie in Cleveland at 4 a.m. Thursday. For the wannabe meteorologists, the atmospheric pressure of 28.28 inches in Cleveland was the lowest pressure ever recorded in Ohio and the second lowest pressure not associated with a hurricane recorded in the 48 contiguous states.
The arrival of the cold front and blizzard conditions were unmistakable. Temperatures fell 30 degrees in two hours, winds increased to more than 50 miles per hour (with a high of 82 mph recorded at Cleveland Hopkins Airport) and blinding wind-blown snow filled the air.
I woke up sometime during the night to howling winds like I never heard before. But again, I lived through many Cleveland storms and drifted back to sleep. I got up in the morning at my usual hour to get ready to head out to my office, looked out the front window and saw nothing. Not the house across the street, not my front yard, nothing but white. And nothing changed until Saturday.
The blizzard, the worst in Ohio’s history, completely paralyzed the state with the immobilization, described by the commanding general of the Ohio National Guard as comparable to the results of a statewide nuclear attack. Some 5,000 National Guard members were called out for rescue operations, police asked citizens who had snowmobiles to transport doctors and nurses to hospitals and the death toll reached 51 by the time it was all over.
And the only ones that profited from the blizzard were quick on the draw merchants, who by Monday were hawking “I Survived the Blizzard of ‘78” t-shirts and sweatshirts.