Blizzard of 1978

By Joan Baxter

So far this winter several records have been broken due to the extreme cold weather .

Forty years ago today, Greene County and the State of Ohio suffered one of the most devastating events in weather history. What became known as the blizzard of ’78 arrived during the early morning hours.

On Thursday, Jan. 26, the lowest non-tropical atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the United States struck Ohio with winds up to 100 mph in some areas.

Quite a bit of rain had fallen on Wednesday, but by about 3 a.m. on Thursday, the snow started to fall. By morning at least 5 inches of additional snow had fallen, drifting in some places to several feet with wind gusts up to 90 miles per hour and temperatures hovering at 60 degrees below zero.

The National Weather Service reported that this storm had proved to be the strongest to pass over the area since the one hundred years weather records had been kept.

All roads in the county were closed except for four-wheel drive vehicles and those were to be out only for emergencies. Residents were urged to stay home and off the streets which were nearly impassable with the drifting and blowing snow. Visibility was near zero from the swirling snow making for hazardous driving even it is were possible.

Schools and businesses were closed and there were some homes without electric power and therefore had no heat. Bowersville, Jamestown, Spring Valley, Beavercreek, Yellow Springs and Amlin Heights were reporting outages.

Dayton Power and Light officials assured the public that the crews would get to them as soon as possible, but the road conditions made that difficult. Citizens who owned four-wheel drive vehicles were asked to provide transportation to the DPL crews so they could get to work and then the county road crews would attempt to clear the road so that the DPL folks could get through to repair the electric lines.

Temporary shelters were set up. In Xenia the Armory served to provide food and shelter, while in Bowersville and Jamestown, the fire department buildings were open for those in need. Firemen donated food and blankets to those stranded. Bowersville had no electric power, but a generator provided heat. The National Guard, REACT and Red Cross joined forces with the city and county law enforcement and emergency crews in efforts to meet any crises.

The Gazette which prided itself on never having missed a day of publication (including the 1974 tornado) did manage to publish the paper on Thursday afternoon but stated that there would be no delivery until Friday at the earliest.

This snow fall measured 10 inches more than the previous record set in 1942-4.

Blizzard warnings continued all day and Thursday night with blowing and drifting snow with an additional accumulation of up to three inches. Temperatures were as low as 10 below zero.

Gradually, the county roads were cleared, but initially allowing for only one lane of traffic. By Friday night, many of the main arteries had been cleared such as Upper and Lower Bellbrook, Dayton-Xenia Road, Wilberforce-Clifton, Federal Pike and New-German Trebein.

Xenia city streets were being cleared but the main problem being where to place the snow after it had been collected. The decision was made to put it on the then empty downtown renewal site near Main Street between Market and Galloway (later Xenia Towne Square). In the country, snow was pushed into the fields.

In the Cedarville area, police and maintenance crews delivered food to residents as well as water and food for farm animals. Even after electricity was restored, the water pipes were frozen.

In Jamestown and Bowersville, four wheel drive vehicles were used to rescue stranded motorists and residents without electricity or heat.

There were no cell phones, only land lines, so residents were asked to limit their calls to emergencies only.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base sent snow blowers to Clark, Preble and Greene Counties. Two men from the Base operated each of the blowers which made it easier for the road crews to plow the snow.

Police and Fire Departments throughout the county were on alert, some of the staff staying over for double shifts to help those in need.

Snow was not removed in Xenia on Thursday since the wind continued to blow it all back. City Manager Robert Stewart stated that it was too dangerous for road crews to be out. By Friday, all city streets had been plowed at least once.

Governor James Rhodes declared a state of emergency with the state battered by “the worst blizzard in the history of Ohio.” Airports were closed throughout the state due to the high winds and the state offices were closed.

The weather bureau stated that as much as 11 inches of snow fell bringing to total measurement 5o 60.5 for the winter.

Here in the county, officials expected that all roads would be clear by Sunday the 29th.

Gil Whitney, weather specialist for Channel 7, offered certificates to residents stating “I survived the blizzard of 1978.”

Do you still have yours?

By Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.

Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.