The Blizzard of '78 Brought Record Snowfall and High Winds

January 16, 2018

The Blizzard of '78 Brought Record Snowfall and High Winds

Many local news outlets have been running stories lately about the historic Blizzard of ‘77, which happened 40 years ago and was most notable for freezing the Ohio River solid, allowing people to walk over it between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Blizzard of '77 people walk across the Ohio River

Walking across the Ohio River in the aftermath of the Blizzard of '77

The Blizzard of ‘78, however, was much worse in many respects. The 1977 storm was noted more for the severe cold that came with it. According to the National Weather Service, the Greater Cincinnati Airport, as it was then known, recorded a low of minus 25 degrees-- and that’s without the windchill. The ice on the Ohio River was estimated to be 12 inches thick. Classes at Ohio State University were cancelled for the first time in the school’s history, while classes at Miami University in Oxford were canceled for the first time since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

The 1978 storm was primarily a snow event with 12 to 36 inches of snow falling across the Midwest made much worse by the constant wind, with gusts up to 55 mph reported at Indianapolis International Airport and similar readings logged at other weather stations in the region. This resulted in massive snow drifts, which hampered efforts to keep roads clear, while burying houses and cars. As soon as plows opened up a path, snow would blow back across it, quickly making the road impassable.

Plows try to clear the tarmac at Greater Cincinnati Aiport in 1978

The storm hit on Wednesday night, January 25, 1978. Though the term wasn’t in vogue then, it was a perfect storm as moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, carried by the jet stream, collided with an arctic air mass causing what is known as an explosive cyclogenesis, also called a weather bomb.

What was most significant about the Blizzard of ‘78, though, was the near record low barometric pressure recorded. Indeed, it was the third-lowest, non-tropical atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the mainland United States according to the National Weather Service.

Considering the damage, cost, and death toll (51 in Ohio alone), it’s easy to see why the Blizzard of ‘78 is considered to be the more severe of the two storms.

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