It was 30 years ago this Saturday that Southern Michigan had its big blizzard. The blizzard of 1978 killed 20 people statewide and stranded hundreds for several days. Thousands were without power for around a week. This powerful storm occurred in one of the coldest winters (1977-1978) on record for many areas east of the Rockies. This blizzard was quite similar to the "White Hurricane of 1913" which I will discuss later. Over 100,000 cars were abandoned on Michigan roads.
Two storms on the weather maps going into Friday January 24th. One storm with the arctic air behind it was in Northern Minnesota. Yet another low pressure over east Texas. The first low pressure to the north moved south quickly bringing light snow and very cold air. A winter storm watch was originally posted for that storm on Monday January 23rd. A second winter storm watch was then issued for the southern storm. The watch was from Tuesday night on the 24th into the 25th. Gale warnings were posted for the Great Lakes. Then early on Wednesday morning the winter storm watch was changed to a Heavy Snow Warning. Originally the west and northern part of the state was under the old Traveler's Advisory that was also changed to the Heavy Snow Warning.
The strong low pressure near the Gulf Coast intensified over Georgia. It set record low pressure readings in Georgia and along it's path. The arctic front was moving into the western Great Lakes as this strong low moved northward. It was in West Virginia early on the 26th. At this time it was rain changing to snow in Michigan. The storm tracked to just west of Cleveland at 7 AM. the central pressure dropped to hurricane force at 28.28",falling 40 millibars in just 24 hours. The arctic air meet up with the intense low over Lake Erie further deepening the immense low pressure. Winds gusted to 82 mph and temps feel from the mid 40's to near 5 degrees from 4 AM to 10AM. Even though this storm was centered over the St.Mary's River cities as far away as Cincinnati,Rochester NY, and Wilmington NC,recorded record low pressure readings.
Blizzard warning were posted early on Thursday the 26th from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River Valley. This storm created wind gusts up to 90mph as far away as the Chesapeake Bay area and wind damage in Northern Florida. The lowest pressure of this storm was reached over Lake Huron at 28.05" which would equate to a powerful Hurricane.
Blizzard conditions lasted into noon on Friday the 27th. Snowfall totals were extreme and so was the drifting. Muskegon had 30" of snow. Storm totals were over 19 inches in both Lansing and Grand Rapids. Snow drifts in excess of 6 feet. Lansing set there record lowest pressure at 28.54". A total of 24 inches of snow was measured on the ground to tie the record for most snow cover with the great storm of the same date,January 26-27, in the year 1967.
The previous mentioned "Great White Hurricane of 1913" was a powerful November storm with a central pressure of 28.60" while the 1978 blizzard was even lower at 28.20". The November 12,1913 storm was for some ranks as the states worst. It was mainly a monster storm for the mariners with a death toll of 235 lives. Nearly forty shipwrecks with 8 being large freighters. Ships sank with all hands aboard. It was another early arctic front that helped to intensify this low pressure as well. Snow squalls in combination with wind gusts over 60 mph. Since the wind lasted for over a day, waves grew larger and larger. Waves as high as 35 feet on Lake Huron that were only seconds apart did most of the destruction. Winds were sustained at 60mph for nearly 16 hours and gust of 70 mph and over mixed in. The over 200 sailors washed ashore for weeks in both the Canadian shores of Lake Huron and Oscoda and Port Huron in Michigan. Horror stories are written about the unusual findings in the water. Sailors from one wreck wearing life preservers from another boat. How did this happen. Did one ship help another only to sink later. Did one ship throw life jackets to help others or did the sailor take the jacket from another deceased sailor. The extreme waves scattered the dead and debris hundreds of miles