Thursday marks 40 years since the "Great Blizzard of 1978" hit Ohio

Blizzard of '78
1978 Blizzard
Revisiting 1978 Blizzard
Published:
Updated:

Thursday marks 40 years since the "Great Blizzard of 1978." The winter storm hit the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes Jan. 25-27.

The blizzard dumped vast amounts of snow with near-hurricane-strength wind gusts heaping snow into enormous drifts up to 15 feet tall. In the end, 70 people died during the storm -- 51 of them here in Ohio alone.

This severe blizzard was the result of a relatively rare merger of two distinct upper-level waves (one over Texas and one over the Northern Plains) that caused an explosive intensification of a surface low pressure system moving north from the Gulf Coast into Ohio.

The storm system produced some of the lowest pressure readings ever recorded in the United States mainland that were not associated with hurricanes.

On January 26, the barometric pressure dropped to 28.46 inches of mercury at Columbus, 28.68 inches at Dayton and 28.81 inches at Cincinnati. These readings set new records for the lowest sea-level pressures ever recorded at each station.

Even more impressive was Cleveland's record low pressure reading of 28.28 inches, which remains the lowest pressure ever recorded in Ohio and one of the lowest pressure readings on record within the mainland United States.

Legendary 10TV meteorologist Joe Holbrook was closely monitoring the storm in WBNS' weather office. In the age before the Internet, local television meteorologists would go outside to check the station's thermometer for temperature, an anemometer for winds and barometer for pressure. Joe thought it was odd that the barometer reading had sunk close to 28 inches. He tapped on it thinking the needle was stuck. It did not move.

Visibilities were near zero for much of the storm. Temperatures rapidly plunged from the 30s to bitter-cold single digits in just a few hours. Wind gusts averaged 50 to 70 mph for much of the day on Jan. 26, reaching 69 mph at Dayton and Columbus and 82 mph in Cleveland. An ore carrier stranded in thick ice on Lake Erie just offshore from Sandusky reported sustained winds of 86 mph with gusts to 111 mph that morning.

Extremely cold wind chills about minus-50 degrees or lower continued throughout the day, making it especially dangerous to venture outside. While snowfall was difficult to measure due to the strong winds, official storm-total snowfall amounts from Jan. 25-27 ranged from 4.7 inches in Columbus to 6.9 inches in Cincinnati to 12.9 inches in Dayton.

Chris Bradley recalls the Blizzard of '78

I was 13 years old when the storm hit. I remember hearing the howling sound of the winds at night only to wake up and find one side of our house buried in snow.

Growing up outside of Indianapolis, all the roads were closed. Like in Ohio, thousands of cars were stranded on Interstate 70.

I recall seeing National Guard tanks coming down the state highway in front of our house to open a single lane. The snow was so deep, it made it seem as if you were driving through a tunnel. To make matters worse, I was sick during the storm. A neighbor doctor diagnosed me with strep throat and my dad rode on a snowmobile with the Morgan County Sheriff to get medicine in the nearest town. Now that doesn't happen every day!