Remembering the Great Blizzard of '78
Ohioans of a certain age remember January 26, 1978, the day the Great Blizzard of '78, also known as the White Hurricane, also known as the Cleveland Superbomb, descended upon Ohio.
It was the deadliest storm in Ohio history, claiming fifty-one lives. Twenty-one people died walking from stranded cars or homes without heat and another thirteen were found dead in stranded vehicles. Phone lines went dead across parts of the state and 175,000 homes lost power. East Ohio Gas asked residential customers to keep their thermostats at 65 degrees during the day (and lower at night) to prevent widespread power outages.
When the storm began just before dawn on Thursday the temperature dropped thirty degrees in two hours and winds increased to more than 50 miles per hour. Wind chills were up to -60 degrees F with sustained winds of 40 miles an hour throughout the day. Wind gusts reached 69 miles an hour in Dayton and Columbus and 75 in Akron. A wind gust of 82 miles an hour at Cleveland Hopkins Airport was the strongest ever measured in Cleveland. The second lowest atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the United States, apart from a tropical system, occurred as the storm passed over Cleveland.
This blizzard caused the most complete disruption of transportation ever known to Ohio. Maj. Gen. James C. Clem of the Ohio National Guard reported the immobilization of Ohio was comparable to the results of a statewide nuclear attack. Prolonged blizzard conditions created enormous snowdrifts that stopped highway and rail transportation and isolated thousands of person. Air travel was stopped for two to three days by low visibility and deep snowdrifts on runways. The almost complete immobilization of Ohio continued through Friday.
The entire length of the Ohio Turnpike was closed for the first (and only) time in its history. State workers stopped a caravan of nearly seventy semi-trucks in Van Wert by plowing a fifteen-foot pile of snow across Route 30. It was feared the trucks would become stuck in the twenty-foot snow drifts. Angry truckers hunkered down at the YMCA as food shortages -- bread, eggs, and milk -- were reported across the state. NOAA reported that "a Red Cross unit in Springfield bought eighty thousand loaves of bread from a bakery, and National Guard helicopters delivered them to six area cities, where they were given away, two loaves per family."
By Thursday evening President Jimmy Carter had declared a federal disaster and dispatched federal troops to the state armed with arctic gear and heavy equipment. Governor James Rhodes called up five thousand members of the National Guard to active duty and "forty-five National Guard helicopters flew twenty-seven hundred missions across Ohio and rescued thousands of stranded persons."