History

The Blizzard of 1978

As the winds howled, life stood still
SNOW: 12.9 inches in 6 hours
WINDS: 60 mph.
TEMPS: 32-degree plunge overnight.
Published: Jan. 25, 1998
By Benjamin Kline
Dayton Daily News

   The National Weather Service forecast published in the Dayton Daily News Wednesday, Jan. 25, 1978, predicted, "Temperatures steady tonight, turning colder toward morning. Snow flurries Thursday."
   That didn't quite cover what soon happened.
   On a dark and stormy night that merged into a deep-frozen, windswept, white-out dawn, the Miami Valley was hit with one of the worst storms on record.
   A low-pressure system moved warm air from Louisiana to northeastern Ohio, pinwheeling into cold air from Canada that dropped temperatures from 32 degrees at 1 a.m. to 3 degrees at 7 a.m. Thursday.
   The Miami Valley had a record one-day snowfall of 12.9 inches in six hours, breaking a

'One experience in a lifetime is enough,' says Luther Mann, shown with his daughter Kim outside their home in 1978. The family still lives at 16895 Pasco-Montra Road, east of Botkins in Shelby County. They came through the blizzard OK, though they were snowed in for a week and the house suffered minor damage.
PHOTO CREDIT: WALLY NELSON/DAYTON DAILY NEWS
1968 record of 11.2 inches. Winds gusting as high as 60 mph seemed to push the icy precipitation horizontally into people's faces and through the frail defenses of their doors and windows. The wind screamed .
   When the storm subsided, one family in Union removed 42 bushels of snow that had blown into their attic. A resident of Dayton's St. Anne's Hill neighborhood was shoveling snow into the toilet after it blew around sashes, sills and jambs into his old house.
   "It was probably one of the worst storms that ever developed in the midsection of the country," said Dr. Jeffrey Rogers, who teaches synoptic meteorology at The Ohio State University in Columbus "It had the lowest barometric pressure - which is a measure of its intensity - that we have seen this century."
   Jack Callahan, a city of Dayton street maintenance field supervisor, was driving his snowplow-equipped salt truck that night on the Ohio 4-69 expressway, just northeast of downtown.
   "At 9 or 10 p.m. it was raining and the temperature was in the mid-40s, and nobody had predicted this mess," Callahan recalled. "All of a sudden it kind of snuck in on us. The temperature dropped 30 degrees. Dispatch told us to make a wide pass. When I left Main and went up the ramp to (Route) 4, there was 1 1/2 inches of snow before I could get as far as Eastwood Lake."
   Visibility got so bad, Callahan said, that he could not see the lights attached to his truck's plow bar. As cars began to careen off the road, Callahan found his truck "right on top of them." Soon, all roads were declared closed except to emergency vehicles.
Cars buried at Dayton International Airport
BILL GARLOW - DAYTON DAILY NEWS
   Forty-eight hours later, Callahan was sent back onto the expressway, expecting it to be buried in snowdrifts.
   "It had blowed clean," he said. `But there was 1 1/2 inches of ice on the pavement."
   Throughout the Miami Valley - already decorated with a 60-year record 2 feet of snow on the ground - people were stranded in farmhouses, bus stations, truck stops, anywhere they were lucky enough to find shelter. Dayton International Airport closed at 1 a.m. Thursday and stayed closed until 4 p.m. Friday. Miami University's basketball team, returning on Interstate 75 from a game at Toledo, spent two nights bunked at the Vandalia city jail.
   For the first time since the 1913 flood, Dayton postal workers could not deliver mail. The Regional Transit Authority did not get a bus onto the streets. Only snowmobiles and four-wheel-drive vehicles - common today but not then - could get through the deepest drifts.
   In Dayton Power & Light Co.'s 14-county service area, 23,000 customers had power outages.
   The blizzard caused about two dozen deaths in Ohio, including 10 in the Miami Valley. Half the latter were heart attack victims.
   A Greyhound bus full of passengers was stranded on Interstate 71 in Fayette County early to late Thursday, but no one died. In Urbana, an elderly woman and two children nearly died from carbon monoxide fumes caused by a clogged chimney flue. They were rescued and revived.
   Gov. James A. Rhodes, calling the storm "a killer blizzard looking for victims," activated 2,500 Ohio National Guard troops and 500 pieces of equipment to clear roads and rescue Ohioans stranded without fuel or food. The Red Cross opened shelters in schools, churches and municipal buildings. Guardsmen helped rescue many people in rural Shelby and Darke counties.
   Babies were born in unusual places. Jeffrey Pugh arrived in a meeting room at the former Imperial House South motel, courtesy of Clearcreek Rescue paramedic Sandy Carpenter, who had never delivered a baby.
By Friday morning, people began to venture out in their cars. Many regretted it. They became stuck. The storm's costs were appalling. Farmers alone added up $63.5 million in losses of livestock, undelivered milk and other damages.
   Overall, the month of January 1978 saw a record of 40.2 inches of snow, the most since record-keeping began in 1900. The next-largest accumulation was 24.6 inches in January 1996.
   "It was not a pretty month," said meteorologist Don Hughes of the National Weather Service at Wilmington. Forecasters hope they could provide better warning of such a storm today. "But we're never gonna stop it from happening," Hughes said. "I hope man will never learn to completely control the weather."

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File Created: 1-24-1998
Prepared by: Dayton Daily News Library staff
Sources: DDN reports