Remembering the Blizzard of January 1978

COLUMBUS (WCMH)–On January 26, 1978, an arctic blizzard raged across the Buckeye State. The storm left nearly $210 million  in damage.

The weather turned mild and damp on January 25, 1978. The high temperature in Columbus rose to 41 degrees, and 0.65 inch of rain fell. Yet there was a harbinger of a change in the air—except no one could have anticipated just how dramatic and deadly.

January 1978 was a very wintry month; a record 28 inches of snow had already fallen in a series of four winter storms–some of that that snow remained on the ground because the temperature was well below freezing for two solid weeks.

Light rain began falling on Tuesday evening, January 25, in central Ohio, when reports of an impending snowstorm blared across the media. No one was sure just how bad it would be, though computer models strongly suggested a wicked storm was brewing.

Then came the downpours, with thunder and lightning, Low pressure was deepening at an explosive rate over the Deep South—with a central pressure comparable to a small hurricane—as the storm raced northeastward directly over eastern Ohio before dawn.

By daybreak on January 26, 1978, Ohioans awoke to a stunning winter scene unlike anything most had ever witnessed—at least since the Blizzard Bowl storm of November 1950, which enveloped the Ohio State football game against Michigan.

A raging blizzard was in progress statewide, whipping 4 to 12 inches of snow into deep drifts as high as the second story homes in the northwestern portion of the state. The wind reached 69 mph at Columbus, and gusted past 100 mph over Lake Erie near Cleveland.

Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes declared a state of emergency, urging residents not to attempt travel in the midst of the blinding snowstorm that gradually tapered off on January 26. Yet the wind continued to whip the snow into mountainous drifts, some as high as 10 to 25 feet.

An estimated 175,000 residents lost electricity for several days, and schools and businesses would remain shuttered for nearly a week. More than 5,000 national guardsmen were called up by Governor James A. Rhodes to help clear 31,000 miles of roadway, and rescue 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.

Fifty-one Ohioans perished in the storm, nearly half while leaving their vehicles that had become stranded. Bitterly cold weather in the days after the storm compounded the unprecedented winter hardships faced in the wake of the Great Blizzard of ’78. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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