Forty years ago, we were digging out of the worst blizzard ever recorded in southwest Ohio.
If you’re old enough to remember 1978, you remember that blizzard.
The entire area was shut down. The shutdown lasted for days and days. Schools, stores, streets; hardly anything moved unless it had four-wheel drive or a wide tread that scooted you over the snow.
Weather forecasting has changed considerably since 1978. As I recall, we expected some freezing rain, turning to snow, but for the most part, we were caught totally off-guard. I don’t recall anyone predicting the greatest drop in atmospheric pressure ever recorded in Ohio.
No one predicted the wind and snow that piled into drifts that dwarfed cars, trucks and buildings. Overnight, our city and county were caught in the middle of the worst blizzard ever to hit Ohio.
It started on a very sad note for many us. Mr. Ralph Meade had been the administrator of Clinton Memorial Hospital for many years. He was the man who hired me to be the director of Respiratory Therapy at CMH. He was a tall, quiet man, respected by everyone who met him. Many of us owed him a professional debt that could never be repaid.
Sadly, Mr. Meade died just a few days before the blizzard struck. His funeral was held the afternoon before disaster hit this area. We were hardly prepared for what was to come.
We had carpooled to Hamilton for Mr. Meade’s funeral. Jim Brown was driving. Just as we started home, the temperature dropped. A fine drizzle turned into sleet and freezing rain. It became very slick on the way home.
Fortunately, we were all able to get to our cars and get home before the streets turned to a solid sheet of ice.
Oh … but, the next morning.
That night, the howling of a thousand wolves was the sound of wind-driven ice and snow pelting the houses in Wilmington. As the wind and snow increased, the temperature decreased.
What was happening throughout the county was incredible. Wind-whipped, snow drifts grew to unbelievable heights. Many cars that couldn’t maneuver through the blinding white-out, pulled off the interstate and disappeared under the all-consuming, drifting snow.
I fought a losing battle of shoveling my driveway, but I had to get to my job at the hospital.
Finally, I just went for broke.
My little Pinto station wagon must have been perfectly balanced for battering through drifts. There was hardly any traffic, so I didn’t stop. I just kept those little wheels spinning toward Clinton Memorial. Against the odds, not only did I make it, but I was able to pick up an employee on the way.
It’s a good thing we made it in. There was no leaving for several days. The patients needed us.
Four-wheel drive vehicles and snowmobiles were used to bring in doctors, nurses and therapists who were stranded, but desperately needed. We all found empty patient rooms and examining rooms where we could “nest” for the next several days. We hunkered down to make the best of a really bad situation.
Department managers gathered. We had to assess the situation and make assignments. We all knew that it would not be ‘business as normal.’ It certainly was not.
The food delivery truck that was supposed to supply the kitchen with food and necessities was stranded somewhere on State Route 73. It just made it off the interstate but could go no farther.
I told them that my little Pinto wagon made it fairly easily. So, I volunteered to make a Kroger run. That was exciting. The management at Kroger almost denied my cart full of milk, sugar and flour because they feared I was hoarding. I had to show my CMH ID card to get checked out. It was hazardous and slow-going, but I made it back.
Thankfully, our patients were doing well So, after making my food delivery, I stayed in the kitchen to help make lunch. I was assigned the job of making chocolate pudding. The powder used to make the pudding came in a huge, huge bag. My thought was, “Oh, what the heck. Let’s use it all.”
The biggest blender and the biggest bowl I’ve ever seen were used to whip up the biggest batch of chocolate pudding I’ve ever seen. We had enough pudding for every patient, employee and visitor to have as much as they wanted. The only thing we had more of was … snow.
Several times, I’ve advised readers to get prepared and stay prepared for the worst wintry weather Ol’ Mother Nature can throw our way.
If you remember 1978, you know what I’m talking about. Have plenty of canned soup on hand. Have an alternative heat source available. Be prepared to bundle up and shelter-in-place.
You might also want to stock up on chocolate pudding.
Trust me. You can’t have enough chocolate pudding.
Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and a local resident of more than 40 years.