Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Blizzard of 1978

blizzard of '78

Blizzard of ’78, Photo courtesy of the Vindicator

As I write, most of Ohio is bracing for a significant snowfall. Recently I wrote about one of the historic snowstorms that hit Youngstown, the great Thanksgiving storm of 1950. Many of us may have heard about that one from our parents, or were young children at the time. Many of us, however, lived through the Blizzard of ’78 that struck the morning of January 26 and continued through the 27th.

Three different low pressure systems collided over western Ohio in a phenomenon known as bombagenesis (what a cool word!), creating an intense low pressure system with record low barometric pressures, 28.34 inches at the Youngstown airport. Wind gusts in some places reached 100 mph. When the storm hit, I had been living away from Youngstown for a couple years, and ended up stranded in Bowling Green, Ohio for five days until I-75 was opened in northwest Ohio. Drifting there was so bad some trucks were covered with snow, and that area of Ohio was perhaps the hardest hit.

The storm hit Youngstown hard as well. I went back and read the Vindicator accounts of what happened locally and thought I would trace this from January 26-28.

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Screen capture of front page of Youngstown Vindicator, January 26, 1978 via Google New Archives

Thursday, January 26, 1978

The storm hits in the early morning hours. At 4:30 am, temperatures were 43 degrees. By 7:00 am, they had dropped to 16 with wind gusts up to 65 miles per hour and driving snow and white out conditions. Power lines arced, light poles fell, one traffic light at Market and Myrtle ended up hanging a few feet off the ground. Power outages were reported along Mahoning Avenue, in the Wickliffe area and parts of the east side. Outages set off 25-30 burglar alarms, keeping police busy. Windows were blown out of homes and businesses including the Hills store in the Lincoln Knolls plaza and Gray Drugs windows in the Boardman Plaza. WHOT had to operate on auxiliary power and WBBW lost power at various points during the day. The postal service cancelled mail deliveries and all schools including Youngstown State were closed that day.

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Screen capture of front page of Youngstown Vindicator, January 27, 1978 via Google News Archives

Friday, January 27, 1978

The Vindicator reported that at least 200 area residents had been evacuated to shelters, many in the Newton Falls area. Others slept at their place of work, unable to return home. Ohio Edison reported 2335 local residents without power and had over 200 linemen at work in the bitterly cold conditions. Statewide, roughly 150,000 to 175,000 were without power. Temperatures were around zero with wind chills at -30 to -40 degrees. Interstates in the western part of the state were closed as well as the Ohio Turnpike. Governor James A. Rhodes, emotionally moved at times spoke about people who were displaced:

“They are helpless victims of something they have no control over…They are going through something tonight that none of us would want to go through.

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Screen capture of front page of Youngstown Vindicator, January 28, 1978 via Google News Archive

Saturday, January 28, 1978

Ohio Edison reported that all but 125 homes had power and said the remaining outages would be restored that day. Roads were slowly getting opened up. In many cases a single lane was opened on some stretches. The Ohio Turnpike was still closed west of the Lorain-Elyria exit, west of Cleveland. Edwin Powell, Vindicator circulation manager claimed that most people still received Thursday and Friday’s papers, in some case, both being delivered on Friday. He said it was a no-win situation, some being upset that papers weren’t delivered, others that the kids were out delivering in that weather–this was when youth still delivered newspapers. Carriers reported that the worst problems were the wind blowing snow in their face and holding onto their papers and getting them into their sacks. As conditions improved and roads got dug out, authorities got a better idea of the storm’s toll. At this point, the Vindicator reported that 18 people statewide had died, including a Lordstown resident who lost power and was found dead in his home of a heart attack. (Later on, the death toll in Ohio was revised to 51, and 70 total in the path of the storm).

Because of the wind and cold, this storm is ranked the worst storm in weather history in Ohio. In some place, wind chills were -70 degrees. In Youngstown, over a foot of snow fell. Statewide, 5000 National Guardsmen were mobilized to rescue stranded residents and drivers (one truck driver whose truck was covered with snow survived a week in his cab before being found). Damage estimates from the storm were $210 million.

One of the interesting debates is whether there was a spike in childbirths nine months later — “blizzard babies.” The evidence is mixed, but I think most of us like the idea of couples finding this particular way to stay warm! However you do it, stay warm and safe this weekend!

I’d love to hear your blizzard memories! Let us know if you were a “blizzard baby!”