The Blizzard of 1978

As Toledo greeted the year 1978, it had already been a winter to remember. Another bitterly cold, snow-laden winter, much like the previous winter of 1976-77.

On Dec. 5, 1977, an estimated nine inches of snow fell, clogging traffic, closing malls and schools and collapsing the roof of the A&P at the Kenwood Shopping Center.

Four days later, another nine inches fell.

There was a little break until New Year’s Day 1978, when three inches of snow fell but it didn’t have much impact.

On January 8th there was another three inches of snow.

On January 9-10, “Blasts of blinding snow driven by strong, frigid winds buffetted the area Monday [Jan. 9], clogging roadways with drifts so deep that, in some areas, national guardsmen were called out to tow away abandoned vehicles and rescue stranded motorists.” Only four inches was recorded at the airport, but drifts up to four feet deep were reported east and south of Toledo where many state routes were reported closed.

For a couple weeks not much happened. Then it all hit the fan when a northern Minnesota low and a gulf low hooked up to create what has been variously called the Cleveland Superbomb, the White Hurricane, but mostly the Blizzard of ’78..

The Blade, January 26, 1978. Click to read.

It was a Thursday, and by 9 a.m. more than seven inches of snow accompanied by thunder and lightning, had fallen. All told, the blizzard brought 13.1 inches of snow and the lowest recorded barometric pressure to that time in Toledo, 28.47 inches. Wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour made travel impossible. Toledo Express Airport closed at 5:30 a.m., and TARTA pulled its busses off the streets at 7 a.m. in what was believed “the first such action in history.” Mail service was cancelled. The Miami University basketball team, after beating the Rockets Wednesday night in Toledo, made it to Vandalia and spent the night in the city jail after being stranded.

That was pretty much it for The Blade’s coverage that day. It was an afternoon paper at the time, and there was probably not much to be done about getting reporters in or getting papers delivered. The blizzard brought Toledo to a halt that Thursday.

Anyone strolling in the downtown area during the normally busy hours might have felt like the star of a science-fiction movie – perhaps the lone survivor.

Only the disaster wasn’t man-made. Mother Nature shut down the town.

Virtually every retail store and office building was closed, along with restaurants and even bars.

The area wasn’t deserted. Snowmobiles scooted through the nearly deserted streets, and an occasional pedestrian could be seen bending against the wind – at a 45-degree angle. And once in a while a car would slip by. Most vehicles were of the four-wheel drive variety, and few of the bothered to stop for red lights at intersections. Drivers would toot their horns and charge through the drifts. A collision would have been big news – like the only two cars in town colliding.

The Commodore Perry and Holiday Inn downtown were filled. “Even the Esquire Theater, a burlesque house on Superior Street, which was open at noon, was darkened by 5 p.m.”

The Blade, January 27, 1978. Click to read.

Here’s a fascinating seven minutes of WTOL-TV’s newscast from Friday, January 27, 1978. Nice sweaters, Jeff Heitz and Joe Ashton!

People walked for their groceries. Snowmobiles and four-wheel vehicles took charge of ferrying people to where they were needed. Most stayed put. Meanwhile, down at the Safety Building, Toledo Law Director Frank Pizza acted as commander-in-chief. Mayor Doug DeGood was at the U.S. Conference of Mayors midwinter session in Washington, D.C., and City Manager Walter Kane was at a meeting of city managers in San Diego.

Newspaper delivery was obviously affected during the Blizzard of ’78, and in case readers missed what happened with Steve Roper, The Blade was happy to oblige.

On Sunday, the army showed up. Almost 400 soldiers and heavy snow removal equipment – end loaders, bulldozers, and road graders – from Fort Bragg, N.C. arrived at Toledo Express Airport. Their first mission was to clear major roads in Lucas, Wood, Ottawa and Hancock counties and establish a lifeline to persons isolated by snowdrifts estimated to be 20 feet high.

Wood County was the first priority. Much of the county was without electricity for up to three days. “I-75 was a slippery ribbon of glare ice over the 32 miles from the northern [Wood] county border at the Maumee River to Hancock County…

“The situation prompted Bob Blake, assistant superintendent for Wood County operations in District 2 of the Ohio transportation department, to point out that motorists driving when they shouldn’t have been probably created as many problems as the snow,” The Blade wrote.

By Monday, January 30, people started emerging. “Like groundhogs blinking in the daylight, area residents emerged from their burrows Monday, shook themselves, and began venturing forth…most admitted to cabin fever – adding that they were up to here with cold, kids, and togetherness.”

A week later, getting around was still problematic. Buried cars littered residential streets. The big problem with clearing the roads was with how the storm developed. A brief, intense rainstorm that had no chance to run off preceded the blizzard, which created about two inches of packed ice on most pavements. Even a week later, The Blade found that expressways were wet but snow-cleared, with passing lanes rutted by compressed snow or ice. Major streets were either wet or rutted, and side streets were reminiscent of wagon trails.

Over seventy people died in the storm and fifty-one of the victims were in Ohio (source).

Since I loved snow as a kid and still do, I was no doubt thrilled, having no job and no responsibilities to deal with. Still, I wish I could remember more other than piles of snow higher than me, digging out my driveway and digging paths so the dogs could at least go out and do their business.

A year later, with hardly any snow on the ground at all, The Blade took time to reminisce about what was possibly Toledo’s greatest winter event ever.

Here is a fun gallery of Blade photos of the Blizzard of 1978.

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