Jim Andrews

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Blizzard of 1978

January 24, 2008; 8:51 PM ET

It was on this date, January 24th, that, 30 years ago, I watched one of the most amazing storms unfold in real life. This was the great winter storm known over much of the Midwest--even into Kentucky and Tennessee--as the Blizzard of `78. Along with those Southern states this storm hammered Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan was utmost ferocity. Wikipedia has a writeup on the storm. Anyone wanting to see weather maps of this storm (these are `loops`, or `movies`) can go here and look under `Midwest Blizzard of `78` (near the top of the page).

As the headline of the above-linked page relates, the Blizzard was a `phasing storm`. Which is to say that storms from the south and the north came into lock step, so to speak, leading to one massive, explosively-deepening monster.

At the time, I lived near Dayton, Ohio, and snow was already deeper on the ground than at any time in recorded weather history for the area. But, ahead of the storm, a thaw set in with rain falling, not snow. At this time, the southern `partner` storm was beginning to roll northward from the Gulf even as a powerful arctic cold front whipped up its own blizzard on the northern Great Plains. As the two came together, soaking rain gave way to snow in Dayton, Once the storm passed southwestern Ohio aimed for Lake Erie, the blizzard--blinding snow and raging winds--entered the state from Indiana and Kentucky, Cincinnati being its first foothold.

At my house, winds roared through the night and on into the following day. At times, the house across the street were lost to sight. Winds reached 60-70 mph (about 95-115 kmh) at the height of the storm. It took another day or two for winds to lay enough to stop the drifting and allow road crews to clear the drifts and thick ice (from the rain and melting snow ahead of the blizzard). School was out for something like a week.

For Dayton, it was the biggest one-day storm (12.1 inches--31 cm) and the snow depth (25 inches--64 cms) broke the week-old snow depth record by one inch. But Dayton was far from the brunt of the storm. It unleashed 100-mph gusts along the Cleveland, Ohio, lakefront. This Ohio city also recorded the lowest non-hurricane atmospheric pressure in the contiguous United States--958 mb, or 28.28 inches of mercury. It dumped 36 inches of snow upon South Bend, Indiana (with a big boost from `lake-effect` snow). Its drifts snagged a passenger train in Indiana and reached the roofs of houses in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. There were many rescues by snowmobile.

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