Today is the 35th anniversary of The Great Blizzard of 1978. A storm we will never forget.
They say it wasn’t just a blizzard back in ‘78. It was a severe blizzard. The National Weather Service defines a “severe blizzard” as a storm with winds of 45 miles per hour or greater; a great density of falling or blowing snow; and temperatures of 10 degrees or less. That pretty much sums it up. It was the worst winter storm in Ohio’s history. And we lived through it.
We had been our new house less than a year when the blizzard hit. A winter storm was predicted but I don’t think anyone thought it would be the blizzard of the century. As Joe and I were driving home from work that Wednesday evening, January 25th, it was raining and not all that cold. But that changed quickly.
We made it home safely but it quickly became hazardous for those who were still out. The barometric pressure dropped to a record low. The temperature dropped drastically to around zero. And the wind blew fiercely. There were white out conditions and the roads became impassable in a very short time. It turned treacherous quicker than anyone could imagine and some people were stranded.
The wind blew and howled all night and the snow kept coming down. Joe actually thought he would go into work at GTE that Thursday morning but once we looked outside we knew we weren’t going anywhere. The 50-60 mph winds, with gusts over 100 mph, blew around the snow we had received overnight. It was still snowing and blowing. Nope, we weren’t going anywhere for some time.
When the winds finally calmed down on Friday we went outside. They said we received a foot of snow but there was at least 2-3 feet of snow everywhere, with drifts even higher. Some drifts extended all the way up to the spouting on the house. It was a hard crusty snow and we could walk right on top of it without sinking in.
We were one of the fortunate homes that had power throughout the blizzard and the days after. We were in good shape here. We had plenty of food and the power to cook it. My parents weren’t so lucky. They were without power for several days. They burned papers and catalogs in their fireplace and used a kerosene heater to keep warm. I believe that my dad purchased his generator after that storm. At least both our homes still had phone service and we called each other regularly.
On Saturday, day three of being snowbound, our day’s activity consisted of looking out our window with binoculars, watching a couple pay loaders open up Frahm Pike. It was a slow job for them. They opened up our road on Sunday. Then Joe and I walked out to the end of our 200 foot driveway with shovels, intending to shovel out our driveway. Seriously? Who could shovel that deep crusty wall of snow with a mere shovel?
We were grateful when the late Roger Hawk drove by on his large tractor with a snow thrower attached. He saw that we were not making much progress, pulled into our driveway and had it opened up in just a few minutes. Thank you Roger! Now Joe would be able to get out and go to work on Monday and start repairing and restoring phone service. He had no idea what lay ahead for him.
Joe has never since worked as much overtime as he did in the weeks after the blizzard. Those were long cold days and he worked late into the night. The main problem was fixing the phone pedestals along the side of the roads that the snowplows had plowed off.
When the sheriff finally lifted the county driving ban it was time for me to go back to work. And I got to see firsthand the condition of the roads. They were a solid sheet of bumpy ice and it was like driving down a big old washboard. I still remember what must have been at least a 4 inch drop-off near the Hometown Nursing Home on Myers Road in Celina. It was like dropping down a step, to a lower level of the road. It was a slow and tedious commute to and from St. Marys and it took weeks to get rid of the ice on the roads.
In 1978 we had an International Scout (4 wheel drive–Joe’s vehicle) and a Ford Mustang (rear wheel drive–my vehicle). Of course the Scout was the vehicle of choice after the blizzard. Joe insisted that I drove the Scout to work since I had farther to go. That left him with the Mustang. He could make it to and from Celina with the Mustang but navigating our driveway was the problem. He couldn’t get down the driveway with the Mustang’s rear wheel drive. But he is resourceful and he devised a plan. He would put chains on the Mustang’s tires in order to drive out to the road. Then he would take the chains off and drive on to Celina. On the way home he would stop at the end of the driveway, put the chains back on and drive up to the garage. That whole routine got old real fast and I felt more than a little guilty driving off to work in Scout every day, leaving him with the Mustang and chains.
Our back roads were one lane only. Driving on them was like going down a snow hallway with walls higher than our vehicle. It was an eerie feeling driving on those confined roads and we hoped that we would not meet another vehicle coming from the opposite direction.
Many people have more exciting stories to tell about the 1978 blizzard than I do. People with snow mobiles and four-wheel drive trucks stepped forward to transport doctors and nurses and people in need of medical care to hospitals. Others rescued stranded people and delivered food and medicine. Road crews spent endless hours clearing roads and utility workers worked many long days restoring power and telephone service. The Ohio National Guard was even called in to help out. We remember and thank all of those volunteers.
I did not take any photos after the blizzard but I have included a few photos that my dad took at their home.