Remembering The Blizzard of ’78

With 40-mile-per-hour winds keeping me up last night, it’s a good day to talk about the “storm of the century” in Ohio. On January 26, the 30th anniversary of The Blizzard of 1978 passed. You know a storm is a good ‘ol good one when it advances from a common noun (no capitalization) to a proper noun (always capitalized and referred to with respect).

Clearly, the current century has brought us worse storms and catastrophes in other states, but when you’re ten years old – like I was then – and the snow drifts are three times as tall as you, and temps are in the single digits, and you don’t have to go to school for a week, it’s the most thrilling thing that has ever happened in your 3,650 days of living thus far.

I don’t remember the lead-up to the Blizzard. This was before Doppler radar and 24-7 weather channels and weather forecasters who seem to get more airplay than Britney Spears’ and Amy Winehouse’s rehab activities. The newscasters probably reported that some type of big storm was on the way (here’s a UPI story about it and another piece with video) but I was probably busy tearing my hair out over some nightmare math story problem (my memory of fourth grade is punctuated with the Dreaded Story Problem, definitely deserving of proper noun status in my math-addled opinion).

I also don’t remember that portions of I-75 were closed for three days, that more than 35 people died, and that the National Guard and Red Cross stepped in to help thousands across the state. When you’re ten, all you can think about is whether you’ll be off school to go sled riding which will hopefully be followed by a grilled cheese sandwich or a bowl of Chicken and Stars.

What I do remember were hurricane-force winds, snow drifts well above my head, and freezing temperatures that made me wonder if we’d start seeing polar bears in the backyard. I also remember my dad and brother suiting up in snow gear and digging a tunnel in the backyard so our dog, Murphy, could get out the door to pee. Murphy was a black, long-haired dauschund — not the best body type for blizzards.

I also remember sled-riding down our street once the temperatures were less dangerous. This was not a grassy hill, but hard concrete topped by an even harder sheet of ice. With all the snow piled high around driveways, you could bank your sled off the drifts and go airborne — at least when mom and dad weren’t looking. Then there were the days of no school but, somehow, I vaguely remember having homework from Mr. Faith, my homeroom teacher. My guess is that the school called our parents or somehow got word to them about what we should be working on. And because I hated them, I’m sure I had pages worth of Dreaded Story Problems where I was supposed to figure out if the snow drift was 20 feet high and the car could only move five miles per hour how long did it take the car to get around 80 snow drifts? Or something insane and useless like that.

Since my 10-year-old brain only held onto a few memories, I asked my family what they remembered. Here are a few more memories from them, though I’m still waiting for my older brother and sister to thaw out their brains and provide some commentary.

Mom says:

I remember our street being impassable for several days.  Someone – and I can’t remember who – skied down the hill.  I also remember John Herbert coming over on his snowmobile to see if we needed any groceries.  Dr. Canos, the surgeon, had to be picked up out on Hanley Road by some sort of emergency vehicle since the main roads were restricted to all traffic with the exception of emergency vehicles. I guess John, on his snowmobile, was technically breaking the law.

I also remember Dad and David tunneling out a maze from the back door to where we thought Murphy would need to do his business.  Poor dog, he couldn’t find a blade of familiar grass, and while he was traversing the tunnel, you couldn’t even see him since the snow was mounded up on the sides so high.  Do you remember, after the temperatures moderated,
someone sled riding down the small hill with Murphy on the sled?

In spite of the blizzard it really was a time when life slowed down to a rather enjoyable pace.  A nice respite from the usual hustle and bustle.

My sister Mary says:

I remember being off school for what seemed like a long time which was great until they threatened to make us pay back some of the days at the end of the year. Murphy was hard to find in the snow with his little wiener-dog legs. Dad had to shovel a path for him and if he went off the path he had to leap up and then he would sink in the snow.

Do you remember Dave (older brother) putting on his ice skates and skating down the hill?  Kenny put skies on and went skiing. Then I remember watching neighbors as well as dad trying to make it up the hill in a car to get to work. I remember being wet up to your knees from walking in the snow and our Uncle Charlie who lived in Batavia, NY laughing at us because they dealt with huge snow all the time.


#1 dave on 01.30.08 at 8:58 am

My most prominent memory is going down to the Ohio River with my sister and brother-in-law. We walked across the frozen river, and while we were there, someone drove their VW Bug onto the river. Major excitement for a 12-year-old.

#2 Erin on 01.30.08 at 2:14 pm

I was only five, but I vividly remember my mom and dad taking me to walk across the frozen Ohio River, and that it was a really big deal.

#3 Jeannie on 01.30.08 at 8:23 pm

I was only 5 at the time………..all I remember is my dad taking me down to walk across the Ohio River. I still remember how amazed I was at that, and how cool (and cold) it was.

#4 Gina on 01.30.08 at 8:59 pm

I grew up central Indiana and was four at the time, but my mom – every time it snows to this day – still tells the story of when my dad and brother had to walk out in the blizzard to the store.

“They came back with icicles on their faces!” she says, still impressed by it.

Not nearly as cool as someone driving their Bug over the frozen Ohio.

#5 Lisa on 01.31.08 at 1:51 pm

Our family had just moved back to Cincy from 8 years in Chicago about a week before the blizzard. Our family blamed us for bringing the Chicago weather back here. Funny thing about reading this is that my favorite memory was ice skating down our street – glad to see we weren’t the only fools out there doing that!!!

#6 Nancy P. on 02.04.08 at 7:30 pm

I remember walking on the river, and the high piles of snow along the driveway for the longest time. It got down to -25 degrees a couple of nights. Our furnace went out. I took Jeannie and Julie to my parents house, while Mike waited for the Heating repairman.
I thought it was a very scarey time, and about lost my mind that winter with “cabin fever”.

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