“Is that what they’re calling Donald Trump?” That’s the question my husband asked me when I announced the title of this week’s post! “No!” I replied, “It’s the Blizzard of 78!” We’ve called it the Blizzard of 78 for the last 39 years. I discovered the title “White Hurricane” as I was reading some historical accounts today. Remembering the year of the “rare severe blizzard”, so named by the National Weather Service, has never been a problem for me. It was my senior year of high school in Upper Sandusky (please reference Where I Come From).
What I hadn’t remembered as well was how little snowfall we actually got. It’s pretty amazing that somewhere between 5 and 10 inches could have covered vehicles and drifted to rooftops, but it did.
The day before the monstrous storm was unseasonably warm and rainy, not unlike this January has been, but during the evening, we were warned that a blizzard was coming. A snow day was always welcome, but this time the break from school didn’t end until we had missed 18 days, causing my graduation to be delayed.
You can read about the meteorological significance of the weather system’s combination of extremely low barometric readings, super strong winds, significant snow, and deadly cold temperatures in this National Weather Service account.
51 people died in Ohio, not from traffic accidents, but from being stranded in cars, trying to walk to safety, or in their homes with no heat. Roads and highways including I75 and the Ohio Turnpike were closed, and helicopters and snowmobiles were employed to aid endangered motorists.
My family fared pretty well during the two day storm. When the blizzard began early in the morning of January 26, we were all at home and able to stay put. At some point, we lost electricity, but it wasn’t much of a concern until evening approached. That’s when Mom, my two sisters, my brother and I chose one room to sleep in, made beds on the floor, and gathered candles to use as long as we were awake. Before nightfall, though, our telephone rang, surprising us since we assumed we did not have phone service. On the other end was Jean Mylet, a neighbor whose daughter was in my class. Noticing that the lights didn’t come on in the houses across the street from theirs, they were offering lodging for the night. We somewhat reluctantly bundled up head to toe, gathered up our makeshift beds, and headed out the front door.
The next part of our adventure is what stands out in my mind as well as my mom’s. The five of us had difficulty making it down the front steps, which seemed nonexistent under the drifted snow. With our cumbersome clothing and loaded arms, we braced against the wind and took one step at a time where we thought the sidewalk was, passing only 3 houses and crossing the street to arrive at a warm, well-lit home where we ate together and played games through the evening.
When I asked Mom about her memories of The Blizzard, she recalled that while most businesses and offices remained closed, the Wyandot County Courthouse where she worked reopened shortly after the storm passed. As the only clerk of the probate court office living in town, she was called upon to walk the several icy blocks to man an office with few to no visitors.
My husband lived in Seneca county on his family’s farm and remembers making his way with his dad from the house to the barn to check on their livestock before dark. Entering the drafty structure, they quickly spotted the pigs circled together to keep warm, but the cattle were nowhere in sight. Suddenly, what looked like snow drifts began to move as the cows stood up! Ohio farmers took a hard hit from the storm with $73 million lost in livestock and property according to the National Weather Service.
During our lifetimes, we have endured other bitterly cold days in Ohio and have certainly seen heavier snowfalls. The four winters that we weathered in Minot, North Dakota, in the early nineties were pretty severe, with snow coming in October and not leaving until April and 50 below zero wind chills occurring on a fairly regular basis. However, when the White Hurricane took its time driving snow into drifts and sending temperatures plummeting, it froze a memory into our minds that has become the legendary Blizzard of 78.