COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — 44 years ago today, Ohio had one of its worst blizzards in living memory. On Jan. 26, 1978, the state saw unfathomable severe winter weather– ice, snow, wind and frigid temperatures.
January 1978 already brought several snowstorms that left a record snow cover as deep as 17 inches in Columbus, with a total monthly fall of 28 inches. The worst was yet to come.
The temperature rose to 41 degrees in Columbus on the evening of Jan. 25, 1978, with .65 inch of rain recorded for the calendar day. In the Gulf states, low pressure was developing at an explosive rate, before charging north across the middle Ohio Valley after midnight, turning a chilly rain into a wind-driven snow, coupled with plunging temperatures.
The winter cyclone deepened explosively between midnight and 4 a.m. on Jan. 26, tracking across eastern Ohio, along a line from Portsmouth to Cleveland. The barometric pressure in Columbus tumbled to an all-time record low of 28.46 inches (963.8 millibars) — comparable to a Category 3 hurricane. The lowest pressure in the state was 28.28 inches (957.7 millibars) in Cleveland. A stranded ore carrier in Lake Erie recorded sustained winds of 86 mph, and a gust of 111 mph (National Weather Service, Wilmington, Oh.).
NBC4 Meteorologist Ben Gelber gives a detailed account on the factors that contributed to making the Blizzard of ’78 blizzard the worst winter storm the state has ever experienced.
Motorists stranded in massive snow drifts on Jan. 26 were rescued by National Guard helicopters. Gov. James A. Rhodes called the blizzard the “greatest disaster in Ohio history.” The powerful winter storm took 51 lives in Ohio, according to the National Weather Service.
Snowfalls ranged from 5 to 15 inches, driven into drifts 10 to 25 feet high. Single-digit temperatures on the morning of Jan. 26, 1978, iced over the roads, which were next to impossible to travel on. Nearly 6,000 people were stranded on state roadways. Gov. Rhodes declared a state of emergency and urged Ohio residents to stay home.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol wrote in a tweet remembering the day that drifts were as deep as 25 feet.
(Photos: Ohio History Connection, NWS Wilmington)
The Ohio Army National Guard rescued more than 10,000 Ohioans by truck, Ohio Air National Guard helicopter flights flew 2,700 missions to assist stranded motorists and deliver medical supplies.
The combination of extreme cold and snow blowing in the wind caused the deaths of 51 Ohioans, and nearly half of the victims died while stranded in vehicles. An estimated 175,000 residents lost electricity for several days, and most schools and businesses were shuttered for a week or more.