Wednesday, January 26, 2022

It was forty four years ago

A common sight in 1978
That The Storm hit.  Anyone who grew up in Ohio and is over fifty, and you don't have to say which storm.  They know it was the storm.  It was the storm about which even people in Buffalo said 'Wow, that was a storm.'  

It was the legendary Blizzard of '78.  I remember when it started because some friends of my parents visited that night.  I remember that because our guests had a little girl who had significant health issues.  Sadly she passed away later that year.  That always stuck with me.

But it also framed my memories to recall the build up to that night.  It was January, and yet rather warm for January.  When the family left, it was just starting to rain. A faint sprinkle at first. For our extended family in northern Ohio, there was still plenty of snow from an earlier snow storm.  For us farther south, much of the snow had melted away.  Weather reports on the radio were signaling a warning, however.  Two massive fronts were about to collide right over the Ohio Valley.  So take care. 

And then it hit.  In only a matter of an hour or so, the temperatures plunged down to freezing, eventually near arctic conditions, with wind chills topping almost 60 below zero.  Hurricane force winds swept in, with gusts approaching a hundred miles an hour in some places.  But the coup de grace, the crushing blow, was the barometric pressure.  In one of the lowest pressure recordings in United States history, the barometric pressure dropped like an anvil; buried the needle.  And the floodgate of the heavens were opened.

In my stomping grounds, it started as rain but quickly turned to ice, then snow.  And snow.  And snow.  From January 25 through January 27 it snowed, and the winds never seemed to stop.  By the time the snow abated and the winds died down, you could believe you were in Antarctica.  It was snow and ice and snow everywhere you looked.  Almost everything was covered.

Depending on your location, your neighborhood, and your surroundings, you might see the tops of cars buried under snow drifts.  In outlying rural areas near open fields, whole houses were covered, with only the tops of their roofs showing.  My sister's soon to be first ex-husband was with us when it hit.  He stayed for a day but felt he needed to go check his home since his parents were in Florida.  

It was a good thing. Somehow the front door had been left ajar, and the winds literally tore through the house.  Snow drifts several feet high were everywhere in their split level home.  Upstairs.  Downstairs.  Basement.  Everywhere, even in closets, snow was piled.  My dad drove out to help him on the third day and, for the first and only time in his life, he actually got stuck in the snow.  He was none too happy about that. 

It was that way everywhere.  Kids often enjoyed a big snow drift, or snow plowed up along the streets.  You could build some cool tunnels and forts in those.  But with this blizzard, you could go out into your front yard and build tunnels, since well over a foot fell on snow from earlier snow storms, the total often being five or more feet high.   In addition, some drifts in our suburban neighborhood topped a dozen feet. 

Of course school was canceled the next day.  Then the next.  Finally for the remainder of the week.  All weekend Ohio was paralyzed.  Entire swaths of rural Ohio were cut off.  In some places it would be almost two weeks before people were able to get out. My dad, and my sister's fiancĂ©, went out to shovel our sidewalks.  Understand, Dad was a veteran and had been a fireman on the railroad before becoming an engineer, and that was in the age of steam.  Her fiancĂ© was a farmer.  Both were work horses and not adverse to hard labor.  Yet it took the two of them over two hours to shovel no more than about fifty feet of sidewalk.  The high drifts with the thick ice was the culprit. 

The following Monday ranks high in my memories of childhood.  Seeing the slow progress on the news and in our own town, we all wondered what Monday would bring.  Mom got me up for school, just in case. Then I - and every kid in Ohio - gathered around the radio to listen to the school closings.  Holding my breath, they began with the most beautiful words ever: The following school districts will remain closed for the rest of the week.  And then they said our school.

Has there ever been a better time to be a kid than to get almost two weeks of free vacation so close to Christmas?  Especially since in those days we didn't get the two weeks off at Christmas my kids had.  I know it was bad for a lot of people, and several died and many more were devastated.  But as a kid, you don't think on those things unless you're directly impacted. 

It's enough that the blizzard remains a major sign post in my life's story.  I'll never forget it.  Nor will I forget all of the events and people that surrounded and were included in the storm.   


  1. I remember it well. We were at my parents' house for dinner and it was about 8:00 that we heard the weather report. I jumped in my cutlass and it started to rain. I was only a 15 minute drive which ended with a long steep downslope and a very long up hill drive to my apartment, Within minutes the rain turned to sleet then freezing rain. I got down the first long hill as carefully as possible, then turned right and gunned it up the long steep driveway hoping my momentum would carry me through any slippage from the icy road. Barely made it. My brother had left just after me and he arrived about five minutes later scared out of his wits. The next day it was like Iceland in December which I'd seen in '68. Went to work by bus. The first two passed us absolutely jammed full. The third stopped and took us standing. By ten AM the word went out at work that the busses were going to sop running. I walked to 6th and Vine in downtown Cincinnati and it looked like we were on the moon. Completely deserted except for the fools like my self who still went to work. I'll never forget it.

    1. I was too young to drive, but I remember our in town neighborhood being at a stand still. I think it was days before snowplows came through and the roads were feet of snow high with only one or two tire tracks. It would be that way for a week or more.


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