Memories of the Blizzard of ’78

By NOAA Central Library, Silver Spring, Maryland (NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Weather Map January 26, 1978. By NOAA Central Library, Silver Spring, Maryland (NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The newscasts of this past day about the blizzard currently hitting New England brought back memories of the signature blizzard of my generation in the Midwest, the Blizzard of ’78, which hit from Wednesday January 25 through Friday January 27, 1978 –exactly 37 years ago as of this writing.

I found out that a similar phenomenon created both storms and it has a really cool name–bombogenesis. This occurs when a storm center intensifies resulting in a drop in atmospheric pressure of 24 or more millibars in a 24 hour period. The Blizzard of ’78 resulted in a drop of 40 millibars in the same time period and record low pressures (28.28 inches measured in Cleveland) and wind gusts as high as 100 miles per hour (anything above 75 is hurricane force). [Weather data courtesy of Wikipedia.] One account I’ve heard of the storm says three weather systems collided (of all places!) right over Bowling Green to create this storm.

I was living in Toledo at the time working with the collegiate ministry I still serve with. One of the campus groups I worked with was at Bowling Green State University, 20 miles south of Toledo. The group met on Wednesday evenings and I would often stay overnight with one of the men in the group and meet with people through the day on Thursday. When I left Toledo on the night of the 25th, the temperatures were in the low 40’s and it was raining somewhat heavily. It still was when I parked about 75 feet from the dorm where I spent the night.

On Thursday morning the 26th, I woke to hear the windows of the dorm room where I was staying rattling. Getting up to look out, all I saw was WHITE. I could not see my car, which was a sky blue that usually would have easily stood out. In the course of the morning, we began to realize how bad this storm was with snows upward of 40 inches, drifting across roads that made them impassible, and the governor’s declaration that only the National Guard could be on the roads. Much as I wanted to get home, I realized that I needed to hunker down. My fiance’ was likewise hunkered down, but in cozier circumstances in the home she roomed in back in Toledo. She had plenty of groceries–I was glad she was safe.

Things got interesting. A water pumping station that served the university failed, meaning a loss of water supply and steam heat. So it got cold and bathrooms didn’t work. This came back online in a day or so with boil orders for drinking water. We didn’t mind–being warm and flushing toilets mattered more!

I ended up staying from Wednesday night until the following Monday morning. It was kind of like an extended party, as we got out to get snacks and refreshments and settled down to marathon card and Monopoly and other games. Needless to say, it was the ultimate “bull session.” On Saturday, I led a leadership workshop that I had planned to return to Bowling Green to lead, except that I was already there. On Sunday evening, we hosted a worship gathering for any interested students in the dorm where I was staying.

Leaving on Monday wasn’t that easy. Because of all the rain and the rapid drop in temperatures (from 40 degrees Fahrenheit to subzero in a matter of hours), all that water froze around my wheels and on the roads. I couldn’t get out of my parking space until a delivery truck driver with a chain pulled me out. When I got to Interstate 75, I discovered that while the snow had been plowed, ice remained on the road there and everywhere, and because it remained cold for the next several weeks, it did not melt but simply became more rutted with traffic. Lots of bumpy driving. But I made it home to find a message from my roommate, “Welcome home, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon!” I felt like it and never did coming home feel so good.

My memories were far from the harrowing. I’ve read accounts of truckers stranded on I-75 with snow drifted over their trucks surviving by melting snow to drink. There were people who struggled to find their way from their house to their garage in white out conditions.

There was another kind of memory as well. Nine months after the blizzard a number of babies were born. In a Facebook group, now defunct apparently, a number of people shared that they were born nine months after the Blizzard of ’78 and were know as Blizzard Babies. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a similar spike in births up the east coast in nine months.

So, my friends in New England–hang in there and make some memories (maybe even some human ones!) as we did in ’78. No doubt you will have great stories to tell!

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