OHIO – Were I come from in Maine we call these storms Nor’easters. Not being able to leave your home for a day or two is pretty common where I grew up. Being prepared for winter with the possibility of being shut in with lots of snow, I tell people one of my childhood memories is being able to “jump out my second story window to dig out my first story,” because the snow was so deep you couldn’t get out the front door.
The Blizzard from 78 seems to be a big storm even for someone that grew up with major storms. This historic winter storm struck the Ohio Valley from Jan. 25-27, 1978. The blizzard dumped vast amounts of snow with near-hurricane-strength wind gusts heaping snow into enormous drifts up to 15 feet tall.
What caused the blizzard of 78 is very similar to what causes huge snow in my small town in Eastern Maine. A term called cyclogenesis is used to describe the natural phenomena that had occurred. A weather cyclone is formed with low pressure mixed with warm and cool air. Basically, the storm swirls around and dumps more snow on you. Cyclogenesis commonly happens more in areas that have large bodies of water Northwest Pacific region, Great Lakes region, and Northeast Atlantic regions.
January 24, 1978, started off as rain and quickly turned to snow. Records claim 40 inches of snow fell, what made it so difficult was the 100 mph winds and frigid temperatures of -51 degrees with wind chill. 40 inches doesn’t sound like a lot according to pictures, but with 100 mph wind snow will accumulate on anything blocking it. It can easily make a car or house disappear. Snow drifts can be immense in that situation.
According to reports, 51 people died because of the blizzard of 1978. 5,000 National Guardsmen were called to help. People who had 4-wheel drives or snowmobiles were asked to transport doctors and emergency staff to destinations. The area shut down for days.
Growing up in Eastern Maine I can tell you I’ve experienced a few of these storms, where your whole day is digging out, plowing out, and pulling out snow. During storms like this everything shuts down, stores, cities, sometimes hospitals. They can make you feel pretty powerless even in a heavy-duty 4 by 4.