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Blizzard of '78
 
What Happened in Ohio: A Meteorological Review

This overview is reprinted from a report by United Press International's Jay Gibian. The report, entitled Blizzard - An Ohio Broadcast Special, was issued February 17, 1978. The report was re-typed here in its original broadcast copy form minus the all-caps rendering, which is how radio copy used to be typed for easier reading by the announcer. -- Webmaster.

Click to see scanned images of the original broadcast copy:

* Blizzard - An Ohio Broadcast Special -
UPI copy page 1
* Blizzard - An Ohio Broadcast Special, continued -
UPI copy page 2


A storm of unprecedented magnitude....that's what the National Weather Service terms the blizzard which whipped Ohio last month. What occurred on January 26th, 1978 in Ohio was not a blizzard. What did occur was even rarer and even more dangerous: a severe blizzard....the worst of winter storms.

The National Weather Service defines a "severe blizzard" as a storm with winds of 45 miles per hour or greater; a great density of falling or blowing snow; and temperatures of 10 degrees or less.

In fact, winds gusted to more than 100 miles per hour over much of the state, with sustained winds in the 45-60 mph range. Record snowfalls were recorded in many areas....and all-time low barometric pressure records were shattered as the intense storm whipped the state.

With the assistance of Ed Degan....a meteorologist at the Akron-Canton Airport's Weather Service Office, UPI has summarized the development of that storm-of-storms:

On January 24th, two seemingly unrelated low pressure areas, one in the western Gulf of Mexico and the other in northern North Dakota, began to develop.

The North Dakota low was expected to pass north of Ohio, posing no great weather threat to the state. The gulf low was forecast to move gradually northeastward toward Ohio. Rain was expected to develop over the state, changing to snow, as colder air moved in behind the storm system.

On Wednesday, January 25th, all the weather patterns seemed to be occurring as forecast. The Gulf low moved into northern Louisiana during the morning, the other system was moving to the east.

Then the first signs of something ominous began to appear.

The North Dakota low began tracking more to the southeast and atmospheric pressure, north of the Gulf low, began to fall rapidly.

It became apparent to meteorologists that the two low pressure systems were on a collision course....and that collision would occur over, or very near, the state of Ohio.

At 4:30 p.m., the Weather Service issued heavy snow warnings for northwestern Ohio and a winter storm warning for the remainder of the state.

By early Wednesday evening, the low from North Dakota was tracking directly toward Ohio. It then became obvious that a very dangerous weather situation faced Ohioans.

Forecasters issued blizzard warnings for the entire state at 9 p.m., January 25th.

The weather conditions at this time, however, were misleading....and those conditions are blamed for many being surprised by the storm.

Rain had spread over Ohio and temperatures were in the 40s across most of the state. The wind increased slightly as midnight approached, but conditions were more typical of an early spring rain storm, than those preceding a disaster.

Midnight passed, however, and wind speeds continued to increase.

It swiftly became evident that a storm of unprecedented magnitude was imminent.

But then the two storms met and did something that even the meteorologists....who had expected a blizzard....did not foresee. The two low pressure centers twisted together....a very rare and dangerous occurrence. Warm air began to flow into Ohio from the north and colder air into the state from the south.

The rain abruptly changed to snow, spreading northeastward and gaining in intensity.

Wind speeds, by that time, had reached the 70 mile per hour range and gusts of more than 100 miles per hour downed power lines, billboards, mobile homes, and tree limbs.

And then the snow....caught by the strong winds....began to form deep, deep drifts.

An entire semi-trailer truck was buried in one snow bank near Mansfield. The driver was not rescued until nearly a week later.

Hundreds upon hundreds of motorists were stranded in their cars along nearly every highway in the state. The Ohio Turnpike, for the first time in history, was completely shut down. Interstate highways were, for the most part, impassable. Smaller roadways in nearly every county were invisible beneath the snow.

Visibility was often reported at zero.

Electric service to thousands of homes across the state was disrupted. Many persons were forced to leave their frigid homes.

Suffering, discomfort, and danger were, by then, commonplace. Deaths occurred.

Officials urged all Ohioans to remain at home as temperatures dropped to near zero. Wind chill factors across the state plummeted to near 60 degrees below zero.

In all, 35 persons died during that storm. Officials, even today, say some bodies still may be buried in unmelted snow drifts.

The Blizzard of 1978 was, in fact, the worst storm to ever occur in Ohio.


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