Blizzard of 1978

January 26th, 2009 at 12:01 am by under Bill's Blog, Weather

This is Blizzard Anniversary Day.  The Blizzard of 1978 ranks as the #1 snowstorm ever for Grand Rapids and much of Lower Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.  The barometer reading of 28.28″ in Cleveland still ranks as the lowest non-hurricane barometer reading in U.S. history.  Sarnia, Ontario reported a barometer of 28.21″ and Grand Rapids also set a record barometer reading (about 28.68″…I’m at home and don’t have the correct figure).  Grand Rapids had 15″ of snow in about 15 hours (19.2 total).  Muskegon picked up 52″ of snow in 4 days.  The Traverse City area had up to 28″.  Houghton Lake and Indianapolis had over 15″ of snow and Lansing recorded over 19″.  South Bend recorded a four-day total of 36″.  Wind gusts of 42 mph blew the snow off roofs (a good thing).  Wind gusts in Ohio topped 80 mph.  The storm hit on a Tuesday Night, and many schools didn’t reopen until the following Monday.  I measured a snow drift 14-feet high.  Drifts in Ohio reached 20-feet.  The entire Ohio turnpike was closed as was most of I-75.  All air and rail service came to a halt.  I was at the station for 3 days without leaving.  One news anchor came to work on a snowmobile.  For you weather junkies…this storm deepened 40 millibars in 24-hours – we call that “bombogenesis”.   Seventy deaths were blamed on the storm, including 51 in Ohio. At least 22 people in Ohio died outside while struggling through the blizzard. Another 13 people were found dead in stuck cars, and 13 died in unheated homes.   The National Guard were called out in Michigan and Ohio and the University of Michigan closed for the first time in 140 years.  Over 125.000 vehicles were abandoned in the storm.  It took 3 to 5 days to move the abandoned cars and open the expressways.  Read more about the storm here in Michigan, in Ohio, cool pictures and more here.  Here’s the governor of Ohio’s voice with a little film.  Here’s some eyewitness accounts from West Michigan and video of a newscast from Cleveland.  Mark sent a link to pics. from Breckenridge.  Leave a comment if you have a memory of the big storm.   Here’s a great video of pics. from the storm.

72 Responses to “Blizzard of 1978”

  1. Russ in GR says:

    I was a senior at GVSU (GVSC back then). I remember there was a pretty good snow storm forcast, but I don’t think anybody anticipated the scope of it all. Like Randall (above) says, it WAS on a Wednesday night – we had a physics exam scheduled for Thursday and Nope! We didn’t make it. I remember it started just before nightfall as some ordinary looking snowflakes coming down, but by Wednesday night we were buried. We were in an apartment complex NW of campus, a sort of bi-level affair where the lower floor was slightly below ground level and the upper level was six feet or so above ground level. The whole population of the apartments – all students – got drunk and crazy. We opened the main window in one of the upper apartments and were doing flips out the window into a snow drift in our underwear, guys and girls alike. I had a job in town and couldn’t make it, so I was happy about that. Anyway, it was great fun and I’d like to see another one – it would spice things up a little.

  2. Bob P. :o) (St.Johns) says:

    time for another of that magnitude…
    bring it on!

  3. Jevon Murphy (Dalton Township) says:

    Bill,
    I recorded a morning low of -6.0 degrees F and a dewpoint of -13 degrees!

  4. Michael D says:

    I lived in the Detroit area when this blizzard hit. It is my first memory of winter. I was 4 at the time. I can remember seeing all that snow. I can remember as I grew up winters produced a lot of snow…. maybe not as much as that one storm, but still enough to make drifts by my aunt’s house. We used to build snow tunnels in the drifts. Funny that those area areas have not had as much snow in 20 years or so. Winter always makes me miss being a kid! What I wouldn’t do for a snow day!

  5. Barb says:

    My room mate and I worked in hospital’s that year. Her at Blodgett and Me at St. Mary’s. Some one from our dept’s at the hospital sent 4 wheel drives to get us to work on that Friday so others who had been there days could go home. My parents had a county V plow get stuck in the road in front of their house on four mile. We were young and dumb and thought it was great.

  6. Jennifer says:

    I remember this storm a little bit. I was 6 years old at the time. I remember being out of school. It seemed like 3 weeks to me. Years later, my mom told me it was actually only 3 days. Anyway, I remember the snow came up to my waist. I remember playing out in the snow. I also remember the high snow drifts and we went to the top of them and slid down them at my Grandma’s house.

  7. Sharon says:

    I was 18 and living in Muskegon that year. I remember getting a call from the Red Cross that my blood type was desperately needed and could I donate. They sent someone in a 4-wheel drive to pick me up and transport me to the blood center in downtown Muskegon because most roads were impassable. This was just after the snow had stopped and it was rather strange to be 2-tracking on main roads and see the huge drifts that the blizzard had left.

  8. Brian says:

    I remember that storm very well. I was in 4th grade living with my parents just outside of the town Hubbardston. We had a guy from Hub. get stuck in the ditch in front of our house. Many neighbors tried pulling him out to no avail. We had three other people get stuck trying to do so. Two big 4 wheel drive trucks and a John Deere tractor. They called someone with a jeep that had a wench and they got the local fire truck (the big one). They still couldn’t get anyone out and the fire truck almost got stuck. That’s when they decide to call it quits and loaded everyone from town onto the the fire truck. The next day it was a white out. We had a drift in front of our house as high as the rain gutters. It took a full week before our road was plowed. Unbelievable storm that I’ll never forget.

  9. Tom says:

    I well remember the Blizzard of 1978. I was 23, a newlywed and I remember driving home from work wednesday evening and snow was coming down fairly steady and the winds were strong too. We had heard about the snow storm coming and went to the Alpine Meijer’s,it was called Thrifty Acres back then, and got some groceries etc. I couldn’t get over how much snow had come down over night, we car was stuck in the parking lot of our apartment and I called into work that I couldnt make it in. Only a handful did and they were thinking about sending them home. Once the storm had passed it was like one huge party at the apartment complex I lived at. Snow drifts were a couple stories high in some places and people were jumping off their balconies into the hugh drifts. Everyone got out and pitched in moving their cars etc so the plows and front end loaders could make it in there and dig us out. I remember that there weren’t too many people who owned 4WD vehicles then and not too many front wheel drive cars either. I had just bought my Horizon which had front wheel drive and it really came in handy!

  10. Bob Burggraaf says:

    My father-in-law picked me up in his IH Scout and we contacted REACT, a CB group who assisted in emergency runs. We spent the day shuttling doctors and nurses in and out of hospitals. Two vivid memories were 1) a group of neighbors off of Fuller that had a line of snowblowers going down their street to clear it out, and 2) a lone cross country skier going down Leonard to the Daanes store. No other traffic on the roads.

  11. Tyler says:

    Anyone remember the Blizzard of 99? There was another blizzard in December of 2000? I remember the blizzard of 99 almost collapsed the roof of the silverdome.

    1. Pebbles says:

      If you are talking about the one that started New Years Eve 98, I sure do. That is the worst in Michigan I ever remember! The only time we ever had to shovel snow off the roof, and that’s when the 75 (or so) car pile up happened on I-75 at the Frederick exit during a white out. Everyone’s roofs were leaking, even those with new ones. The one in 78 was surely bad, but really didn’t hit the Detroit area like it did other parts of Michigan. By the way, I’ve lived here all my life, and in the same house since 67.

  12. Alan (Leonard & Beckwith NE GR) says:

    My wife and I went to a movie with friends the day the storm started, but when we arrived at the theater on 29th street, there was no snow on the ground. Seems like it was fairly warm, too. When we got out from the movie, it was snowing and blowing, and when we delivered them home in Heritage Hill, the snow was getting deep. They invited us in, but we opted to drive on home, because we lived north of town in Alpine Township. I drove a Subaru 2-door sedan that could plow through anything, but by the time we got home it was coughing and chugging and having a heck of a time getting through drifts and deep snow. We finally pulled into the garage and it died on us! We were so lucky to get home that afternoon. We may have had to call a snowplow to dig out our driveway, and I think that may be the year we invested in a 4-stage snowthrower!

  13. Jill C. says:

    Oh yes. We remember that one. My husband and I had been married for just five months and were renting an old farm house north of Montague (Muskegon County). We have pictures from that weekend showing Steve shoveling through the yard and driving the little blue Capri over planks he placed over the ditch to the road. (The snow was drifted way too high in the driveway to the little one-car “garage.”) And I recall looking out the bathroom window and not seeing a thing because the snow was piled high against that side of the house. (Seriously lacking wind breaks out there that decade!) This must’ve been Saturday when we were successful in getting out and making our way down to the IGA. Ours was one of the few cars in the parking lot, others had come in by snowmobile, cross country skis, or snowshoes! We were shut in until that point and I remember that we finally broke down and borrowed my parents’ little black and white TV until we could afford to buy a new one later that year. (I guess even newlyweds get bored after awhile!)

    Before the weekend was through we had the dairy farmer down the road blow and plow out our driveway so my husband could get to work the next week. Talk about your high snow banks! Having grown up “in town” I’d never seen snow piled that high before!

    Jill in Cedar Hill, TX

  14. MAR 1974 says:

    I was taking classes at Lansing Community College and had a lab from 6;00 to 8:00. All day long people coming in to school kept saying that the weather was getting bad, but I thought there would be no problem getting home since it was only a 30-40 minute drive on a state highway. WRONG!!!! I drove through the blizzard at its worse(at least felt like it) and it took me 3 hours to get home. I met 3 cars on the way. Had a heck of a migrain when I got home. I still get nervous driving in snowing weather to this day.

  15. Kevin Yates says:

    I remember the blizzard of 1978. I was a Senior at Blue Mountain Academy a few miles outside of Hamburg,PA. The School campus was closed for 3 days. The county borrowed the road grader the school owned to help clear the roads. I think that we had around 3 feet of snow and the snow drifts were monstrous. I will never forget it. Cars were stranded out on I-78 and people had to be rescued from their cars.

    Kevin in Holland,MI

  16. cindymh says:

    I lived in Berrien Springs at the time–I was 16 and snowed in with my family for 5 days! Talk about cabin fever! The only tracks on the road were from cross country skis! People who lived far out of town had groceries and medicine brought to them by folks who had access to snowmobiles. I hope we don’t have another one like that!

  17. Karen Bemus says:

    We lived on a farm in Barry County with three children 5 years old, 4 years old and 6 months old . My husband worked at the Air National Guard Base in Battle Creek. I called him at 10 am and told him that the snow was getting heavy. He didn’t think it was bad, but the commander sent everyone home. My husband stopped for bread and milk, then was fortunate to follow a snow plow until 2 miles from home. He turned onto a small dirt road, made it 1/4 mile and could go no further. He walked home from there, literally rolling on top of the snow because he could walk no more. Fortunately he was wearing his Air Force Arctic severe weather clothing. We were snowed in almost 2 weeks. My husband shoveled a path to the neighbors 1/4 mile away and we went down to play board games and eat snow ice cream. Our son remembers this because the path was more like a tunnel to him. He could only see walls of snow.

  18. Bill Banks says:

    I was in Big Rapids. I lived 4 miles out of town and didn’t, get home for 4 days. I had to stay with my girlfriend (darn). Drifts went to the roof line at the high school. The city stopped plowing at the city limit sign. There was a pile of snow in the road the size of a house. I was young and loved every minute of it.

  19. anthony says:

    i still say we re in for at least 4 more inches next week and your equipment cant show it.

  20. anthony says:

    possibly more

  21. Bruiseviolet (Cedar Springs) says:

    I was a year away from being born when this hit- but love hearing the stores from my mom about how they were all stranded. My dad worked security at North Kent mall and was stuck inside- my uncle had to walk over a mile to get a snow mobile from a friend- and go get my mom at her house and they got my dad from work. TShe said the snow drifts were so high in some places- you could literally walk on the roofs of houses from them.

Leave a Reply