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.
“Nothing has ever matched that storm,” said Tim Rolfe, president of the Wellington Historical Society. “The one in 1993 was bad but it wasn’t like ‘78. There were seven-foot drifts all over the place. We ended up building steps in the snow just to get to the top of them and see what was going on.”
The front page of the Enterprise on Feb. 2 of that year called it “the worst blizzard to sweep across Ohio in a century.”
Our report said “hurricane force winds downed power lines and trees throughout the area” and 3,000 customers of the Lorain-Medina Electric Cooperative were left without power.
The Red Cross set up a shelter at McCormick Middle School but blocked roads stopped the nonprofit from delivering cots and blankets to the site — so police collected blankets and other necessities to help stranded motorists and others.
Snowmobilers and four-wheelers were used to rescue people stuck in the snow or with medical emergencies. The roads grew so bad that even police cruisers were out of service.
When the weather started to clear, Boy Scouts helped dig out downtown sidewalks. Out-of-town mail deliveries were cut off. And many area farmers had to dump milk because collection trucks were unable to make rounds.
“We as kids shoveled out the driveway, but when the town came to plow, it built up a six more feet of snow in front of our driveway,” Rolfe recalls. “It took hours to get it where you could even get in the driveway again.”
His father was a lineman in Oberlin and spent three days working there.
Our sister newspaper, the Oberlin News-Tribune, reported that 75 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.
Hoyt and Pat Lackey were among those bleary-eyed souls taken to a shelter at First Church in Oberlin.
“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.”
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. Jonathan Delozier contributed to this article.