The Blizzard of 1978

The snow is melting and it appears that the worst of winter’s wrath is behind us.  Though this winter season was not too daunting, Dayton is no stranger to severe weather. The most notable is perhaps the Blizzard of 1978. In January and February of 1978, a series of three storms hit the Miami Valley. From Well over three feet of snow fell in Ohio and the 50-60 mph wind gusts created snowdrifts as deep as twenty-five feet. Over a foot of snow fell on January 26th alone; a record that still stands as the single greatest snowfall in a 24-hour period. Cars parked along the street were buried to their roofs in the snow and remained stuck for several weeks and any residents lost power. The total snow accumulation was over 40 inches in Dayton, completely shutting down the area. In some parts of the state the snow remained until early May.

Interstate 75 through was closed for about four days, Dayton police relied on volunteers to help dig out stranded motorists and transport those without power to local shelters set up at schools, churches and municipal buildings. The situation became so severe that Gov. James Rhodes summoned the National Guard to help deliver supplies and rescue those stuck in the snow. National Guardsman Len Dunaway of Dayton said, “The wind had blown snow so hard that even cars with their windows rolled up were filled with snow. We had guys on the expressway with icicles on their faces. I’ve seen movies about blizzards but nothing like this.”

The men’s basketball team of Miami University was stuck on the interstate while returning to Oxford from a game versus the University of Toledo. The team made it to Vandalia’s city jail where they were housed for a few days. Vandalia Patrolman Marvin Smith commented on the sleeping arrangements for the unexpected guests, stating “We moved all our prisoners (three) to one side of the cell block and let them (Miami University players) sleep in the cells on the other side…Of course we left the doors open.”  Before leaving, the team spent four hours helping nurses take care of 150 patients at the Franklin Nursing Home.

Television and radio reporters broadcasted live reports around the clock as the blizzard impacted nearly every facet of life in Dayton. Workers in both the public and private sectors were unable to make it to their jobs for weeks. The postal service, for the first time since the 1913 flood, could not deliver mail. The RTA was unable to put buses on the street and all air traffic was halted at Cox International Airport. Dayton officials estimated that the Blizzard caused over $4 million in damages to city streets.

The local travel bureaus reported that their telephones were ringing endlessly with people wanted to book trips to warmer climates. Cathy Carlson of TV Travel Service stated, “People are calling up and saying, ‘Just get me out of here to anywhere it’s warm!’”  The travel agencies saw record bookings for cruise ships and travel destinations like Hawaii and Acapulco.

Though the Blizzard of 1978 was many years ago, it left an impression on the citizens of the Miami Valley.  If you are in town when the snow starts to fall, undoubtedly you will hear someone say, “Well, at least this isn’t as bad as ’78.”

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