Speaking of cold: Blizzard of ‘78

Herb Day - Contributing columnist

While the forecast for the Midwest calls for wind chills dropping to well below zero this week, my thoughts veer in a few different directions.

First, that it is January, and we can expect, well, winter weather, and second, that this too shall pass.

When I was a kid, folks always talked about the devastating snow storm of 1950 when the show was so deep that they walked on the top of the frozen snow which topped fence posts.

Then came the blizzard of Jan. 25-27, 1978, which brought more than 20 actual inches of snow and left snow drifts in some areas as deep as 18 to 25 feet. Now, you don’t hear so much about that 1950 winter.

I didn’t live through the winter of 1950, but I did live through the Blizzard of 1978, and I am not anxious to see that storm topped by any means.

Those who were at home when the storm hit were stranded at home for days and even weeks. Those of us who were away from home when blizzard conditions came calling remained stranded away from home for a long period of time.

I recall the storm beginning as a driving rain that morphed into ice and then blinding snow. Once the storm died down, it was days before many could move vehicles, even if the snow was removed, because of tires being sealed in ice up to the hubs.

Some died as they were stranded in their vehicles and froze to death, and those who survived faced peril in the coming days as fuel to keep heat in homes began to grow scarce, getting food to those stranded was nearly impossible for many days to follow and medical emergencies frequently were met with tragic consequences.

With electric service being crippled in many areas, those who owned battery powered radios tuned to local radio stations like WSRW in Hillsboro as a lifeline.

The station rushed into action, raising money for area life squads to purchase snowmobiles and other life-saving equipment to enable rescuers to reach those stranded in need of heating fuel, food and medical help.

Many local construction companies went to work helping state highway and country highway departments with bulldozers and front-end loaders to help remove snow from highways, secondary and township roads.

However, Mother Nature proved to be a formidable adversary, so governors mobilized National Guard units with ultra large front-end loaders and excavation equipment to expedite rescue efforts.

I found myself stranded at the radio station. However, my mother and younger brother was marooned in our farm house in a remote area of southern Highland County. In danger of running out of fuel oil for heat, once I was able to get close enough, I carried 5-gallon cans filled with fuel on the frozen crust of 12 to 16-foot snow drifts back the long driveway. Food was transported in the same way.

I still recall the sense of relief as the National Guard equipment appeared in the distance removing the mounds of snow making way for vehicles to move about with some degree of slippery normalcy, and the hero’s welcome (with hot coffee, sandwiches, hugs and handshakes) that the Guard members received from nearly every household they liberated.

Local television showed ice so thick on the Ohio River that automobiles successfully crossed from Ohio to Kentucky and back again.

Mounds of snow were piled up for weeks and even months while city, county, state and private companies worked to clear out the centers of streets and ditch lines along the highways and roadways.

The Blizzard of 1978 left an everlasting impression in the minds of anyone who survived it. For those who remembered the snow storms of 1950, it seems that the Blizzard of 78 took center stage when reminiscing about winter’s calamities here in the Midwest.

We’ve had some snow and some storms over the past 41 years, but none as devastating and as memorable, and hopefully none ever to come that will rival the Blizzard of January 1978.

Herb Day is a longtime local radio personality and singer-musician. You can email him at [email protected] and follow his work at www.HerbDayVoices.com.


Herb Day

Contributing columnist