This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Great Blizzard of 1978, which killed 51 Ohioans and caused $100 million in damage across the state.
“A hurricane wind with gusts to 90 mph drove into Oberlin,” the front page of the News-Tribune narrated in that week’s edition, “heralding a winter storm that broke all the records… Arriving at the hour it did (around 5 a.m.), it caught most Oberlinians at home and for the most part that is where they stayed for the next 36 hours.”
Roads in and out of the city closed. Seventy-five vehicles were stuck on routes 58, 10, and 20 in drifts that built up over the thick ice formed from the previous day’s rain. Trees were felled and power lines were snapped. An emergency shelter was set up at First Church. Even the post office’s couriers were unable to carry out the swift completion of their appointed rounds for two days.
Snowmobiles and four-wheelers were quickly volunteered for emergency service, including ferrying those without heat to the shelter.
Hoyt and Pat Lackey were among those bleary-eyed souls taken to First Church.
“Their usual home in Kipton had been without heat since the onset of the storm and they spent the next 23 hours huddling under their bed covers, with ‘everything in the house piled on us,’ according to Mrs. Lackey, while they were waiting to be rescued,” the paper reported. “They got little sleep because they were ‘afraid of freezing to death,’ she said. At times they thought that no one would ever come to rescue them because their phone didn’t work either.”
More than 100 people found help at the church shelter, which was run by the Red Cross.
Snow piled up in drifts as high as 15 feet. The Oberlin Inn filled as well with guests and line workers. At Fisher’s grocery store, 400 people sought food and a line wrapped all the way around the inside.
Also known as the White Hurricane, the blizzard remains the highest-ranking winter storm, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Like with hurricanes, the NOAA assesses winter storms on a scale from Category 1 to Category 5. The Blizzard of 1978 was measured at more than twice the power needed to qualify as a Category 5 event.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.