Today is the 40th anniversary of the peak of the Blizzard of 1978. I have been soliciting stories from Indiana & Ohio Valley viewers for years & I have found that everyone has vivid recollections of it. Everyone has a story of their experiences. I would love to hear them! Post them here on the blog or on my Facebook page.
My parents still talk about it. My dad was at the police academy in Plainfield, Indiana & was snowed in. He could not leave the parking lot. My mother was in Daviess County, Indiana where the pipes froze in the blizzard & the Odon Town Marshall, Pete Sims, had to come & pick her up & take her to my grandmother’s as there was no water for bottles. My middle sister was 4 months old & my oldest, near 4 years old. My dad still remembers driving home from Plainfield after the storm to giant drifts along highways. He drove home to stay one night before going back.
Also, at my elementary school, every grade had two classes with about 20-25 pupils, giving you 40-50 students per grade. The class that had babies born 9-10 months after the blizzard had 3 CLASSES! They all had up to 30 students! There was a baby boom after the blizzard in September 1978.
The Blizzard of 1978 began very modestly.
There were several factors that made it so bad:
- Heavy snowfall of +12″ fell January 16-17 over the Tri-State & this did not melt a large amount up to the 25-26.
- Blizzard snowfall accumulations fell atop this snow, leading to very deep blanket of snow (up to 25″ on the ground in our far northeastern areas)
- Very strong winds accompanied storm, leading to white-outs & extreme blowing & drifting.
- Brutally cold air with the wind led to extreme wind chills.
Anywhere from 1.5” in our far western areas to 12” in our northeast falls on the Tri-State with 9” amounts as far south as Ohio County, Kentucky.
This was a lot of snow in its own right, but it fell on already deep snow pack. By the time this snow was done, there was a remarkable 25” snow depth in the northeast to even 15” in parts of our western Kentucky counties to 7” in our northwest. Much of the area had a 10-13” snow depth.
With howling north & northwest winds of 50-60 mph from the intense, bombing surface low to our northeast with this extra round of snow, the area became under a white-out. Extreme cold temperatures & life-threatening wind chills accompanied the blizzard. This occurred towards the end of the falling snow & especially with lingering snow there after. Roads were completely snowed-in & closed.
Snowfall totals from the storm & snow depth after the storm:
12.0” Crane(25”)….9.0” Beaver Dam(15”)….8.5” Harrisburg(12”)….8.0” Vincennes(14”)….6.6” Evansville Museum(12”)….6.0” Madisonville(12”)….6.0” Fairfield(13”)….6.0” Cannelton(12”)….5.5” Petersburg(11”)….5.0” Dawson Springs(6”)….5.0” Williams(13”)….5.0” 8 Miles South-Southwest of Henderson(10”)….5.0” 5 Mile South of Shoals(11”)….5.0” Tell City(12”)….4.5” 6 Miles Northwest of Carmi(11”)….4.4” Evansville Regional Airport(11”)….4.0” New Harmony(10”)….4.0” Mt. Carmel(11”)….4.0” Haubstadt(11”)….4.0” Newburgh(10”)….3.6” 2 Miles Northeast of Dundee….3.5” Southwest of Belton(8”)….3.1” 2 Miles West of Greenville(10”)….. 6 Miles South-Southeast of Clay City(7”)….1.7” 5 Miles Northwest of Flora(7”)….1.5” McLeansboro(9”)
Although major snowstorms have struck the Tri-State, it appears that December 31, 1863-Jan. 1, 1864…….Blizzard of 1918 & Blizzard of 1978 were exceptional in the surface pressure, high winds & extreme cold. These were true blizzards.
JANUARY 22-23: Upper trough over Desert Southwest began to drop surface pressure, while a strengthening upper trough & clipper began to move southeast out of Alaska to Alberta with increasing Arctic cold. By the 23rd, ridging began to develop over Alaska, dislodging significant Arctic cold building over deep Siberian & Arctic Circle snow pack. It is likely that the Polar Vortex was also becoming loopy & flaccid as stratospheric warming occurred. These warming episodes make the Polar Vortex floppy & flaccid, so significant Arctic outbreaks can take place.
JANUARY 24-afternoon of 25: Upper trough & strengthening surface low over Gulf/Deep South become highly moisture-laden, largely due to low-end El Nino. Subtropical jet was stronger than normal from this. Meanwhile, extreme Arctic Blast only fueled clipper strength over Minnesota to Nebraska.
With temperatures in the 31-36 range, rain/snow/sleet began over the Tri-State on the morning January 25 with little wind. Winds increased during the day of January 25 & rain/sleet/snow changed to all snow with temperatures falling to 30-33 as clipper approached & Gulf low moved to Tennessee.
Evening of JANUARY 25-26: The two systems merged, bombogenesis occurred & the great blizzard blew up. An extreme meteorological event, such as thing had not been seen in the region since 1918. Heavy snow, strong winds, bitter cold all simultaneously occurred. The extreme conditions lasted through January 26 with howling winds & white-out conditions.
The storm was so strong, it wrapped a surface warm front entirely around the center with rain/freezing rain in Michigan with 30s, but 0 & heavy snow in the Ohio Valley. A freak, damaging tornado was spawned in Virginia from the storm.
JANUARY 27: The blizzard, over Ontario/Quebec, still brought extreme cold & strong winds with snow flurries/snow showers. There was no accumulation, however.
Statement from NWS Indianapolis about the blizzard:
AT 345 PM EST ON JANUARY 25TH 1978…INDIANAPOLIS FORECASTERS DENNIS MCCARTHY AND HOBART REEVES ISSUED THE FIRST AND…TO THIS DAY…ONLY BLIZZARD WARNING ENCOMPASSING THE ENTIRE STATE OF INDIANA…UPGRADING THE HEAVY SNOW WARNING ISSUED NEARLY 12 HOURS PRIOR. STILL…FEW PEOPLE COULD FATHOM THE DEVASTATING IMPACT THAT THE COMING ONCE IN A GENERATION BLIZZARD WOULD HAVE ON THEIR LIVES…AS SUCH AN EPIC SNOWSTORM HAD LITTLE EQUAL IN THE CLIMATOLOGICAL RECORD FOR INDIANA.
THE STORM WAS CHARACTERIZED BY A RELATIVELY RARE MERGER OF TWO DISTINCT UPPER LEVEL WAVES…WHICH COMBINED TO CAUSE EXTREME INTENSIFICATION OF A LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM MOVING NORTH FROM THE GULF COAST INTO KENTUCKY AND OHIO. THIS STORM STILL STANDS AS THE LOWEST NON-TROPICAL SURFACE PRESSURE OBSERVED IN THE UNITED STATES.
AT THE TIME THE BLIZZARD WARNING WAS ISSUED…WINDS WERE A MERE 12 MPH. THE WINDS APPROACHED 50 MPH OR MORE BY MIDNIGHT ON THE 26TH…AND CONTINUED TO HOWL THROUGH THE MORNING OF THE 27TH. TEMPERATURES PLUMMETED TO A LOW OF ZERO DEGREES DURING THE STORM…WITH WIND CHILLS APPROACHING -50 DEGREES. SIGNIFICANT SNOWFALL LASTED FOR 31 HOURS AT INDIANAPOLIS…WITH A STORM TOTAL OF 15.5 INCHES BY THE TIME SNOWFALL STOPPED AT 202 AM EST JANUARY 27TH…ON TOP OF THE 5 INCHES THAT WAS ALREADY ON THE GROUND. VISIBILITIES REMAINED BELOW ONE QUARTER MILE FOR 25 HOURS. THE SNOWFALL WAS FOLLOWED BY CONTINUED EXTREME COLD AND HIGH WINDS … HAMPERING RECOVERY AND RELIEF EFFORTS…AND LEAVING MUCH OF INDIANA AND THE REGION CRIPPLED FOR DAYS.
ACROSS THE MIDWEST…OVER 3 FEET OF SNOW FELL IN SOME AREAS…WITH WIND GUSTS APPROACHING 100 MPH. SNOW DRIFTED AS HIGH AS 25 FEET…BURYING HOMES…AND STOPPING A TRAIN ON THE TRACKS IN PUTNAM COUNTY.
NWS INDIANAPOLIS STAFF WERE TRAPPED IN THE OFFICE DURING THE STORM…FOR UP TO 74 HOURS. WHEN ATTEMPTING TO LEAVE…SOME FOUND THE ENGINE COMPARTMENTS OF THEIR VEHICLES PACKED WITH SNOW.
ELSEWHERE ACROSS INDIANA…OTHER NWS STAFF WERE TRAPPED AT THEIR RESPECTIVE OFFICES AS WELL…FOR UP TO THREE DAYS…BEFORE BEING RELIEVED BY COLLEAGUES ARRIVING VIA SNOWMOBILE. EVANSVILLE WAS THE FIRST OFFICE TO EXPERIENCE THE STORM…WITH SPECIALISTS WILLIAM REILLY AND RAY WILLIAMS ON DUTY FOR 18 HOURS…BEFORE BEING RELIEVED BY A NEARLY FROZEN FRANCIS BURNS…WHO WALKED AT LEAST THREE MILES IN THE TERRIBLE CONDITIONS TO REACH THE OFFICE.
THROUGHOUT THE REGION…HIGHWAYS WERE CLOGGED WITH STRANDED MOTORISTS. DOCTORS AND EMERGENCY PERSONNEL WERE FORCED TO REACH PEOPLE ON SKIS AND SNOWMOBILES. THE INDIANA GOVERNOR SENT NATIONAL GUARD TANKS ONTO INTERSTATE 65 TO REMOVE STRANDED SEMIS. INDIANA BELL WAS FORCED TO HALT ALL PHONE TRAFFIC BUT EMERGENCY CALLS. THE MAYOR OF INDIANAPOLIS MADE HIS WAY TO MAJOR MEDIA OUTLETS…TO DELIVER THE NEWS THAT THE BLIZZARD HAD COMPLETELY SHUT DOWN THE CITY AND THE STATE. AT ONE POINT…OFFICIALS WERE FORCED BY THE FEROCITY OF THE STORM TO PULL POLICE OFF THE STREETS.
EVANSVILLE COURIER & PRESS: http://www.courierpress.com/news/local/a-look-back-at-the-whiteout-ep-448796148-327045961.html
1977-78 WINTER IN ILLINOIS: http://www.sws.uiuc.edu/pubdoc/RI/ISWSRI-88.pdf
NWS INDIANAPOLIS: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/images/ind/BlizzardStories.pdf
Thank you all for the pics! More will be up soon!
From the Owensboro High School Yearbook…..write-up from the Class of 1978:
Bonnie Jones: Mom and Dad went on a Mission trip so I stayed with Jim and Linda Malone out on Bunkum Rd. There is a huge hill in front of their house, so with all the snow, you can guess what we were doing !
David Wintergerst: I was commuting to I.U. from home at my parents’ farm. A state trooper made me turn around and head back home as the blizzard got underway. I hated to miss school but I feel the Lord was watching out for us as we lost power for a week and dad was wintering a lot of cattle. Without power to the well the only way to keep them watered was by breaking the ice on the ponds which refroze almost immediately. We had to hand carry sixty bales of hay morning and evening to feed them. I think he would have died trying if I hadn’t been home to help him. It was twenty-five degrees in our warmest room in the house.
Ed Moore: 6 pm I drove myself and a student teacher who was staying with me 5 miles to town to play basketball. We had barely put our shoes on when the State Police came in the gym and told everyone who lived outside town to either go home immediately or stay with someone in town. My parents lived in town and my plan was to stay there, but my house guest thought he needed to work on his lesson plans. I told him he wasn’t going to have any classes to worry about but he insisted on going back home. The second we hit the edge of town with no houses or trees to block the wind visibility went to 0. Couldn’t even see the front of my pickup or the road I was driving on. I managed to drive to where the road turned to my house and drove straight into a snow drift and was stuck. With a full tank of gas we stayed the night in the truck, not even able to see the lights in a house I knew was only 1/4 mile away. Got out and cleaned snow away from the exhaust every 30 minutes all night. At first light I could barely make out the house of a high school classmate of mine 1/4 mile away. I told my guest we needed to make the house because as bad as things were no one was going to be coming for us because the roads were completely impassible. All we had on was gym clothes and jogging suits in the -30 wind chill. I was so exhausted when I got to the door I just fell in. It was 5 days before end-loaders could make the way 5 miles to where the truck was embedded in 10 foot drifts.
Salley Myers: I lived out in the country. Snowed in for 3 days before the county cleaned the road I lived on. On the 4th day Pete Riggins came out on a snowmobile & took me in to stay on Grove st with Bob & Christy Vaught.
Illene Evans: Dad toom his mom to work and lost his car in a snow bank for a week in terre haute
Susie Roach: I was working at Crane and they sent us home before noon. I made it home but Mike was working in Princeton and didn’t make it home for three days. I was stranded with a three year old and a six month old and I ran out of formula. Fortunately Bill Beuhler opened the store and my dad went after formula for me. Next challenge…we lived at the top of a hill with a curve in the middle, and the snow had drifted. I walked down the hill in snow above my waist to meet my dad to get the formula.
Marsha Franklin: Was teaching at a school in northern Indiana called West Central. It started snowing and the school kids were sent home but the teachers were told to stay till the end of the day. On the way home, and I lived in the country, I was banging through snow drifts that were really high. The last one I hit stopped the car on top of it with no wheels touching the ground. I left the keys in the car and walked the 1/4 mile home. A farmer drug my car down to me the next week after the snow stopped. Thought I would freeze (literally).
Mike Malone: I barely remember it, I was 6. I do remember being out of school for two weeks. You can only go sledding and play in the snow so much. We played a lot of board games and my sisters got caught up on soaps. Luckily we never lost power
Warren Korff: The first thing I remember about the Blizzard of ’78 is missing 2 consecutive weeks of school. That was back in the days when we didn’t have to make up missed days.
I also remember six foot snow drifts in our driveway and along our road at Armstrong in Northwestern Vanderburgh County.