Winter Storm of the Century

The Blizzard of 1978, dubbed “The Storm of the Century,” has not been forgotten by Ohio residents 36 years later. In light of frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall, this year’s winter is being compared to that of 1978. But is there any real comparison between the two?

The Blizzard of ’78 began early in the morning on Jan. 26 and continued into the next day. According to the National Weather Service, in that 24-hour period, snowfall ranged from five to 13 inches across Ohio.

Wind gusts of nearly 70 mph resulted in snow drifts 15 to 20 feet high, burying roads, vehicles and homes. Atmospheric pressure plummeted. The low pressure readings remain among the lowest ever recorded in the United States. Wind chills of minus 50 degrees made venturing outside particularly dangerous.

Reports from the Akron Beacon Journal say that by the time the skies cleared, the storm had killed 51 people and caused at least $100 million in damage. Of the 51 lives lost in the Blizzard of ’78, most were the result of exposure as those who had been stranded in vehicles or homes without heat were overcome by the cold.

Countless trees and power lines were downed and the weight of accumulated snow collapsed many roofs. Blocked roads inevitably closed highways and interstates resulting in food shortages in some areas.

According to the Springfield News-Sun, thousands of workers and volunteers were mobilized to restore power, clear roads, deliver necessities such as food and medicine, and rescue those trapped by the snow. In places where the storm hit the hardest, helicopters were needed for emergency rescues. Snowmobiles became the only reliable method of transportation in many places.

According to a column written by WHIO meteorologist Rich Wirdzek, “It wasn’t until May 5 when the last of the snow finally melted from the Blizzard of ’78.”

Not all aspects of the blizzard were devastating. Professor James Phipps recalled some of the fun times resulting from the storm.

“The snow got high enough that my (daughter) would climb up on this big mound of snow above the bushes and ride her sled down what would normally be flat land.”

Has this year’s winter finally outdone the winter of 1978? It depends.

This winter, Cedarville has gotten 50 inches of snow while the winter of 1978 dumped 63 inches on Cedarville, said Phipps. Additionally, according to Weather Warehouse, the lowest recorded temperature in the 1977-78 winter was minus 18 degrees without factoring in wind chills. This winter, the lowest temperature has been minus 12.

The winter of 1978 was one of extremes. This winter, however, temperatures have remained below freezing longer than in ’78, with large amounts of snowfall being the norm, said Phipps. During the winter of 1978, the worst was largely restricted to the infamous blizzard.

Better snow control has made this an easier winter as well. In an interview with the Toledo Blade, Jeff Clark, who served as an Ohio turnpike maintenance worker during the Blizzard of ’78, recalled how unprepared Ohio had been.

“The snow got so deep we couldn’t plow it anymore. We kept the road open most of the night, until it got ridiculous. We were running on adrenaline.” Clark said.

“Part of the reason our counties are pretty well prepared now is because they weren’t then,” said Phipps. “We just weren’t ready for it. Much of what we do now came about because we’ve had events like the Blizzard of ’78.”

Cedarville’s campus was not immune to the effects of the Blizzard of ’78.

“We were off for three or four days. That had almost never happened before,” Phipps said. “Navigation on campus was difficult, but campus was a whole lot smaller in ’78 than it is today.”

Rather than forcing students into their rooms, however, the blizzard prompted them to lend a helping hand.

“People just came and pitched in and helped out as much as they could,” Phipps said. “Students still had to eat, still had to get where they were going and so there were paths cut – people managed to get back and forth.”

Michael Shoemaker is a senior history major and a reporter for Cedars. He enjoys playing guitar, reading whatever he can get his hands on and a hot cup of coffee.

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