Blizzard of 1978

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

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  • by Sandy Slone Location: Osgood,In on Apr 10, 2013 at 06:22 PM
    I remember this storm for the rest of my life! I was pregnant, I went into labor Jan. 23,1978@ 10:45 that morning and delivered @ 11:45 the doctor had to remove the cord wrapped around my babies neck. That night weather got so bad I was stranded at Greensburg,In. hospital. no one could make it from Osgood to Greensburg! I was so lucky to go into labor before the worst came! I had just turned 16 in November! I was all new and scarry! God was with me on that day!! AMEN
  • by Robin Location: Seattle on Feb 10, 2013 at 11:06 PM
    My mother always told me that it was 46 degrees below zero on the day I was born. (1/26/78 Alexandria, MN)She drove herself into the hospital since my father was at work and my grandmother THOUGHT she remembered how to drive a stick..until she needed to. Thanks to this article, I now understand just what the conditions may have been like while she tried to drive herself into the hospital on that day.
  • by Victor Location: St. Johns Mi on Feb 8, 2013 at 07:59 PM
    I was 12 and we lived in Williamston Mi. We had an uphill driveway that difted level (6-7 feet). We had to dig a passage way so we could get a starting point for the snow thrower on our tractor. I also remember digging tunnels in the drifts all around our house. It is hard to explain that much snow to my kids when we never even come close to seeing that much now.
  • by Lexi Location: united states on Nov 7, 2011 at 06:30 PM
    I really liked this it made it ALOT eaiser to find the information because its all in this so i don't have to keep switching websites and it made it really easy for my project
  • by Jackie Hughes Location: Abilene, TX on Feb 17, 2011 at 07:10 AM
    I was 6 years old and living in Lansing. I was in the 1st grade and it seemed like the schools were shut down forever. When school was back in session, I remember walking through a tunnel-like maze to get to school. The snow banks on the sidewalks were well over my head. It amazes me how many of us were so young and remember this crazy storm!
  • by Julie Location: Wisconsin on Feb 1, 2011 at 07:52 PM
    I remember that Blizzard well. I was a senior in high school! We lived up near Traverse City and it took my Dad 1-1/2 hours to drive what normally took 20 minutes home from work. His fellow workers had to stay at our home because the road was drifted shut. In the morning all you could see was the top of the cabs on their 4 wheel drive pickups. Took one of those huge V-plows 45 minutes to get through that corner! Very exciting. We too, were off school for the better part of a week when that Blizzard hit. We live too far north in Wisconsin to get any of this storm. Enjoy it and make the most of it. It will someday become a treasured memory!
  • by Dawn Lewis Justice Location: Three Oaks Mi on Feb 1, 2011 at 01:59 PM
    I was 5 years old and remember that storm!! The snow had drifted over the top our front door! We went to the back door & had to dig our way out! I lived in a rual area. The local farmers all had called got took orders for things we needed from the grocery store, got on their snow mobiles & brought them to us!! I remember having to crawl accross the snow it was so deep. If you tried to walk you would sink over your head!!
  • by rachel Location: ga on Jan 10, 2011 at 03:10 PM
    how much cloud cover,wind direction and temperture was it those days? do u know?
  • by Laurie Steltenpohl Location: Jackson, Michigan on Dec 11, 2010 at 10:18 PM
    I was 11, and remember soo much snow, people getting around by skiing. I will always remember not being able to get out of our home. Now on this nite in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, seeing the second worst snowfall of my life, I look back at my memories on Morrell St. in Jackson, and smile...
  • by Vicky Location: Fairgrove on Jan 30, 2010 at 07:22 AM
    I'll never forget! We lived in Fairgrove and went to Cairo for lunch on Wednesday. When it started to snow we came home. We didn't leave the house until Monday and then it was to get our 4 wheel drive and go to the hospital in Cairo. Our daughter was born then. My mother in Missouri was calling me 4 and 5 times a day to make sure I hadn't gone in to labor. She was afraid our baby would be born at home with just our 2 sons, age 11 and 12, to help. GOOD TIMES! After that, we moved south and our daughter has never experienced a Michigan winter.
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