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Jan 25

Remembering the Blizzard of 1978

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.

Front walk of my parents' home after the Blizzard of 1978.

Front walk of my parents’ home after the Blizzard of 1978.

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.

Back walk at my parents' home after the Blizzard of 1978.

Back sidewalk at my parents’ home after the Blizzard of 1978.

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.

Back of my parents home, Blizzard of 1978.

Back of my parents home, Blizzard of 1978.

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.

Here are a couple articles if you want to read more about the Blizzard of 1978: 1978 Ohio Statewide Blizzard  and  Wikipedia, Great Blizzard of 1978.

 

17 comments

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  1. Waldo

    What a great reminder of how different our lives can be depending upon where we are and what we are trying to do. While the blizzard of ’78 was tough, it was nothing like you describe in the city. Of course more concentrated groups of people have great power and influence. City folks also expect things to be done for them, as we have seen in Katrina and Sandy, whereas country folks expect to stand on their own, including helping each other, not sitting in the living room calling in the “government.” Certainly everyone expects the “government” employees to do their jobs and do their part, but that expectation can be as different as watching to be sure the Snowplow guy is OK and gets a warm coffee while stuck in front of your house, to calling his boss or the local TV to gripe that he has not worked hard enough, fast enough or on “my” street. Makes a difference when he is the guy nextdoor or some stranger in a fleet of hundreds too.

    How would Jacob Miller and his family have endured such a blizzard? Fed the horse, milked the cows and watched the clean, white snow blow against the barn? No one else put hay in the barn, stacked the fire wood, or carried food to the house. Living or dying depended upon his own preparation, determination and effort.

  2. Waldo

    Was that the year Mr. Kuhn pulled into an intersection near Ohio City and was struck by a snowplow that killed his wife? The snow was piled so high along the road that they could not see the cross traffic without actually moving into the lanes. As our neighbor across the fields, he was renting our farm at the time on a share crop basis. It was a very hard time for the family.

    1. Karen

      I’m not sure. I asked my mom and she does not recall either. If I find out I will let you know. What a tragedy. I know how high the snow can get piled up at intersections.

    2. Karen

      I knew someone at church today would have an answer to your question. Herman Kuhn’s wife was killed in the collision with the snow plow. The accident occurred at the intersection of 707 and Herman Road. My sources tell me that it was not during the Great Blizzard.

  3. Jim - Hidden Genealogy Nuggets Blog

    I see according to Geneabloggers, today is your 2nd year anniversary since you’ve been blogging. Happy Blogiversary.

    Regards, Jim
    Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

    1. Karen

      Thank you! Those two years have gone by quickly.

  4. Brenda Leyndyke

    Karen, Happy Blogiversary! I look forward to reading many more blog posts.

    1. Karen

      Thank you! I plan to keep them coming.

  5. Kathryn

    Karen,

    Happy Blogiversary! My Dad’s family is from Mercer County, so looks like we have a lot of locations in common. This is a great site!

    Kathryn

    1. Karen

      Thank you! Mercer County is a great place to live.

  6. Betty Taylor

    I came over to say Happy Blogiversary and started reading. When I got to the post about the Great Blizzard it brought back memories. A few weeks ago here in Indiana they kept talking about a blizzard and we got several inches of snow. I told my 18 year old son “this is not a blizzard”. If you didn’t live through the “Blizzard of 1978″ I don’t think you can even begin to understand.

    My husband was a trooper with the Indiana State Police at the time. When the snow started falling on Wednesday evening he got called out. I didn’t here from him again until Friday when they were able to patch a call through from him. He just wanted to let me know that he was okay and see how we were doing. I was at home with three children ages 1, 3, 5. We were extremely lucky. We did not lose electricity. We live in a very small town and no one could open the grocery store. We had just gotten a food order and I had a freezer full of food. I passed out meat to the neighbors, a neighbor across the street baked bread for everyone. We all just took care of each other until we could get out and moving again. It was really a great time after I knew my husband was okay and would be home eventually. Sadly though, in 1979, he died from a line-of -duty accident.

    Betty

    1. Karen

      Thank you! What a great story about people helping people during the tough times. I hope I never again see a blizzard like that in my lifetime. Amazing that your husband was out in the blizzard for several days and was ok, but I am sorry to hear that he was later killed in the line of duty. We too often take for granted those who put their lives in danger every day for our safety and protection. A big thank you to them and their families. Thank you for writing.

  7. Grant Davis

    Happy Blogiversary. I’m celebrating my 4 month Blogiversary. This is a great blogging community. I received “An Early Christmas Gift” and it was great to share it on my blog. I’m still sharing the history that will come from it.

    Regards, Grant

    1. Karen

      Thank you! And happy 4-month Blogiversary to you! This IS a great blogging community and a great way to record and share memories and family history.

  8. Waldo

    707 and Herman Rd.? Seems I have it all wrong. I remember the accident being on the intersection of the highway out of Willshire (181?) and 118 just south of Ohio City. Even recall someone saying they were on the way to Van Wert. Guess it is really not important.

  9. Waldo

    According to find-a-grave, Helen Kuhn died Feb. 27, 1978 in Van Wert Hospital, Van Wert County. Needless to say a wreck in Mercer County would more likely have been rescued from Celina or Coldwater Hospital, would it not? Granted the date was some weeks after the blizzard, but given the temperatures at this time of year, the snow was probably still piled along the highway.

    1. Karen

      As I recall we had a couple significant snow storms that year and we had a lot of snow for a long time. The location of that intersection would be about the same distance from Van Wert as St. Marys. The Kuhns may have been more familiar with Van Wert and requested to go there.

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