Weekend snowstorm no match for the historic Blizzard of ’78

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH)–The weekend forecast for snow and gusty winds will undoubtedly rekindle memories of another January storm more than 40 years ago in late January that buried Ohio under windblown snow.

This weekend upwards of 6 inches are likely in the Columbus area–more north, less south–along with winds gusting above 30 mph Saturday night and Sunday.

However, even these treacherous conditions will pale in comparison to Ohio’s Storm of the Century on January 26, 1978.

The weather on Jan. 25, 1978, hardly suggested a winter storm of historic proportions was coming to Ohio. The temperature rose to 41 degrees in Columbus and 0.65 inches of rain fell.  At midnight, the mercury still stood at 40 degrees, with light rain and little wind.

Forecasters were warily watching a potent winter storm developing in the northern Gulf of Mexico, which was expected to turn north and move across Ohio before dawn. Yet it was hard to imagine just how harsh conditions would be on Jan. 26 throughout Ohio.

By daybreak, travel had nearly come to a standstill. The snowfall varied from 4 to 12 inches around the state, with the heaviest amounts in the northwest, on top of a considerable amount of snow–28 inches had fallen earlier in the month in a series of three storms in Columbus–a new city snow record for any month.

The howling wind gusted to 69 mph at Columbus, and the barometric pressure dipped below 28.5 inches–comparable to a Category 3 hurricane.

Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes declared a state of emergency, urging residents to stay home. The mountainous drifts were historic–10 to 20. Nearly 6000 people were stranded on Ohio roads. The combination of extreme cold and windblown snow caused the deaths of 51 Ohioans–nearly half died in their stranded vehicles.

Governor Rhodes called the blizzard the “greatest disaster in Ohio history.” An estimated 175,000 residents lost electricity for several days, and schools and businesses would remain shuttered for a week or more. More than 5,000 national guardsmen were ordered into action by Governor James A. Rhodes to help clear 31,000 miles of roadway and attend to trapped victims in their cars and homes.

The Ohio Army National Guard placed the number of Ohioans rescued at more than 10,000 by truck, and another 2,700 were picked up by Ohio Air National Guard helicopter flights.

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