From the Post-Gazette files: Hudson Area Paralyzed by Blizzard of ’78

February 3, 2011 —

How bad WAS the Blizzard of ’78?

St. City Inches
OH Dayton 12.2
MI Detroit 8.2
MI Flint 9.9
MI Grand Rapids 19.2
MI Houghton Lake 15.4
IN Indianapolis 15.5
IN South Bend 36.0
MI Lansing 19.3
MI Muskegon 52.0
MI Traverse City 22-28
IL Chicago 58-60

Unconfirmed local reports put the snow in Lenawee County at about 14 inches.

We still talk about how bad the Blizzard of ’78 was, and there are a lot of stories to amuse those not old enough to remember it. With another big winter storm bearing down on us, those old stories are coming up once again, so we thought it would be fun to dip into the Post-Gazette files just for the sake of comparison.

How bad was the blizzard of ’78? Well, it was bad, and it really was a storm to remember.

The winter of 1978 was one of the coldest since records began for an area that stretched from the Rockies to the Appalachians, and huge blizzards had blown up in January and February as storms dove south and then flipped back up to the north to hit hard. West of the Rockies, it was a relatively mild winter, and in some places, the warmest on record.

The storm of ’78 began on a Thursday, but a winter storm watch was posted as early as Tuesday night for the southern half of the Lower Peninsula for Wednesday and into Thursday. The storm began as two smaller and distinct storms, with a strong low pressure band attached to an arctic air mass entering the Northern Plains by way of Northern Minnesota on Tuesday evening. At the same time, another low pressure system was developing over eastern Texas and Louisiana.

Twenty-four hours later, the two jet streams merged and forced the two systems together in an unusual occurrence over the Ohio Valley known as “phasing,” which usually leads to explosive development of the surface low and the Great Blizzard was no exception.

As the storm headed for Ohio, this resulted in a “storm of unprecedented magnitude”, according to the National Weather Service, which categorized it as a rare severe blizzard, the most severe grade of winter storm. Particularly hard hit were the states of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and southeast Wisconsin where up to 40 inches (102 cm) of snow fell. Winds gusting up to 100 miles per hour (161 km/h) caused drifts that nearly buried some homes. Wind chillvalues reached -60 °F (-51 °C) across much of Ohio where 51 of the total 70 storm-related deaths occurred. The second lowest atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the United States, apart from a tropical system, occurred as the storm passed over Cleveland, Ohio. The barometer fell to 28.28 inches of mercury (958 mbar) on the morning of January 26. The absolute low pressure with this storm was picked up at Sarnia, Ontario at around the same time, where the barometer bottomed out at 28.21 inches (955 mbar).

While forecasts have the oncoming storm as being fairly bad, the barometric pressures are nothing like comparable.

C.R. Snider, National Weather Service Meteorologist in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said on January 30, 1978: “The most extensive and very nearly the most severe blizzard in Michigan history raged January 26, 1978 and into part of Friday January 27. About 20 people died as a direct or indirect result of the storm, most due to heart attacks or traffic accidents. At least one person died of exposure in a stranded automobile. Many were hospitalized for exposure, mostly from homes that lost power and heat. About 100,000 cars were abandoned on Michigan highways, most of them in the southeast part of the state.”

The following report on how the Blizzard of ’78 affected Hudson was taken directly from the February 2, 1978 Hudson Post-Gazette:

By Ed Potter

The monumental task of digging out from one of the worst if not the worst snowstorms in the history of the state continues a week after it began.

Several rural roads are still blocked but the region is making great strides toward getting back to a somewhat normal condition. Reports of eight foot drifts were commonplace.

The record breaking snowstorm began here innocently enough last Wednesday evening but by daybreak it was evident that the weather bureau’s prediction that a blizzard was in store for the Midwest was all too true as the barometer plunged to an all time low. Conditions worsened rapidly throughout the day Thursday and winds gusting to 60 miles an hour whipped the two feet of snow into mountainous drifts. Virtually everything came to a halt.

Hudson was isolated as were most communities in the county for about three days until highway snow plows could get through.

M-34 to Adrian was finally opened Saturday afternoon after snow crews broke through a heavily drifted area near Cadmus. US-127 was blocked locally until highway trucks came through Hudson about 4 p.m. Saturday. Van Vande Zande, whose home is 1.5 miles north of town, said the highway department worked on drifts by his home two to three hours before getting through them.

The storm rivaled, if not exceeding, the great blizzard of 1918 according to older residents of the city.

The real drama resulting from the snowstorm will never be known because it involved so many private citizens whose involvement was done in a spirit of helpfulness for others in need and simply goes unreported.

Citizens were quick to praise the Public Works Department for the superb job it did in keeping the city streets open throughout the storm. It was a Herculean feat. City crews worked around the clock from the time the storm struck until Saturday night when all city streets and even alleys were open. Snow plows were manned by Sheldon Peltier, Raymond Bender, Norm Rowley, and department head John Varga. Carolyn Romain staffed the communications center at the DPW.

Sunday morning the work began on removing the snow from the downtown area. Phil Hartley with three trucks and Harry Rising with another were contracted to help in snow removal from the business district in addition to three city trucks. Literally hundreds of truck loads of snow were taken from the downtown area Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and except for a given block in which the snow was being removed all other streets were negotiable to vehicles.

Nerve center for the city was the fire station. The station was manned continuously from 6 a.m. Thursday until 8 p.m. Sunday.

It began when a few firemen came down to the station at 6 a.m. last Thursday and put chains on the tanker for when it might be needed. By Thursday afternoon the department started making medical runs with medicine in four wheel drive vehicles and on snowmobiles as well as assisting in taking nurses to and from work at Thorn Hospital as well as other personnel.

The wives of firemen maintained kitchen facilities at the station for the entire four days preparing meals and feeding those working with snow removal equipment, firemen, city personnel, police and all others that were in need of a meal.

Medicine was transported as far away as Waldron on snowmobiles and four hweel drive vehicles. The department tried for 4.5 hours to move an ill boy from his home on Kelso Road to Thorn Hospital and aided by snow removal equipment was brought in to the hospital on a snowmobile.

The department also transported a considerable amount of food to people through the cooperation of Bob’s Market House when they were unable to get to the store. The Market House opened Sunday to accommodate the public. A shipment of milk that was needed arrived for Sunday.

In addition to all this the department answered seven or eight ambulance runs to transport people to Thorn plus one to Bixby Saturday evening. An expectant mother was taken from her home at the corner of Munson and Beecher to Thorn in a 4-wheel drive vehicle with the department tanker breaking a trail.

A fire call Thursday evening during the height of the storm to the Shady Lawn Trailer Park where a heat tape had caught fire at the mobile home of Gertrude King sent firemen hurrying as best they could to the scene. At the corner of US-127 and Division Streets they abandoned vehicles and went on foot or by snowmobile the remainder of the way. Dave Tanner, a fireman living at the park, was first at the scene and was able to extinguish the fire with no serious damage reported. City plows meanwhile opened the road to the trailer park in the event the fire trucks would be needed.

In other runs, the department answered a false alarm Sunday evening at 6:34 on State Street. The department was called to the home of Clarence SeGraves on Wilcox Street to investigate a possible gas leak.

A total of 630 man hours were reported by fire department personnel with 20 men on duty working in shifts.

The phone was ringing incessantly by people in need throughout the weekend. “In 23 years I’ve never seen anything like it,” said veteran fireman Dick Camp.

No serious fires or accidents occurred in the Hudson area over the weekend.

Three members of a Prattville area family, a father and two sons, walked from their home near the corner of Waldron and Prattville Roads to Hudson Saturday to see if there was any way to get fuel oil to their home. Firemen were able to transport 50 gallons in a container to the corner and it was pumped into five gallon containers and carried from there to the home. Other requests for fuel oil were also handled by the department.

It was the cooperation of all city departments that worked in close harmony to get the job done. City manager Jerry Freytag was observed Sunday taking a turn at driving a city truck hauling snow, as an example of filling in where there was a need.

It was the close cooperation and dedication to the task that distinguished our community and provided security in time of peril.

The city police department was fully involved throughout the storm and the days following with traffic control, assisting the fire department in organizing and coordinating the dispatching of vehicles such as 4 wheel drive and snowmobiles whose use was voluntarily offered. An officer was on duty around the clock handling messages at the police station and two others were in vehicles to assist stranded motorists or anyone with a need such as transporting people, medication or whatever was needed.

Chief Larry Towne spoke of the cooperation of the general public during the emergency situation. He had praise too for all the officers who volunteered to help out and everyone “who pitched in.” Those who volunteered their services with snowmobiles were particularly appreciated but there were others using them that are “just playing around and were a headache,” the chief said. “During the storm was fine but once the vehicles began to move Saturday evening the stop was put to them on city streets.”

The Hudson area had no power interruptions thankfully but even so the hardship was especially felt in the rural areas were dairy farmers were forced to dump milk because haulers were unable to reach them before Sunday or Monday.

Lenawee County has contracted with private individuals having snow removal equipment to aid in the task of opening roads which is greatly expediting the job.

Don Bills on Kiel Highway called the Post Gazette office Tuesday afternoon and when asked if they would be able to get into Hudson by Wednesday Don replied, “We have as much chance of getting into town tomorrow as getting to New York City.”

Superintendent of Schools Douglas Ferman said Tuesday they were as anxious as anyone to get the schools reopened but until roads are more usable for buses it cannot be done. About 60% of students are transported by bus. One of the difficulties is that roads are restricted to one lane. No school was planned through Wednesday.

Thorn Hospital functioned smoothly thanks to the staff who worked long hours because others were unable to get in, and through the efforts of police and firemen to get personnel back and forth to and from the hospital. Much of January the hospital has been near capacity, said hospital administrator Dave Lipps.

Mail delivery service began to return to normal Tuesday when rural service was resumed on those roads passable by the Hudson Post Office.

Steve Prestidge, Waste Water Treatment Plant supervisor, remained on the job Friday and Saturday by himself. He said that everything was drifted in by Thursday morning. Firemen helped greatly in getting him in and also in getting food to him. He said that all tests were performed as scheduled and also wearily reported one eight foot drift by the primary tanks. Monday Steve was taking some well deserved time off after 14 successive days on the job. Normally it’s 10 days on and four off.

From 6 p.m. Friday Michigan became a disaster area eligible for federal disaster aid proclaimed by President Carter. Firemen, police and the Department of Public Works are units eligible for federal aid, City Manager Freytag said.