Weather service characterized the blizzard of 1978 as ‘nearly the most severe blizzard’ in Michigan history

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Drifts dwarf a Tecumseh Herald van along Billmeyer Highway in January 1978. Herald file photo by Kent Downing.

As February 2014 comes to a close in Michigan, the winter weather of 2014 has many thinking about the winter of 1978 when snow and cold paralyzed the region. The snow totals for 2014 are currently on track to beat the records set in 1978.

“According to the National Weather Service, Lenawee County is sitting right at 75 inches,” said Curtis Parsons, Lenawee County Emergency Management Coordinator.

Total snowfall for the winter of 1978 was 73.1 inches for the Toledo area, and Lenawee County has passed that mark with two or more weeks of winter weather expected for the region.

What people remember most about 1978 is the blizzard that struck the area beginning on Jan. 26 and ending mid-day on Jan. 27. According to Tecumseh Herald reports, the storm began with freezing rain which lasted for two hours, and then the snow hit.

After the skies cleared, there was 15 inches of snow on the ground. With winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour, the snow blew into drifts of 10 feet.

The United States National Guard arrived in Tecumseh on Friday to provide emergency assistance. The six men who worked in the street department for the city worked from 5 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26 through 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28, with only two brief breaks.

The Herald reported, “Three plows, grader and two loaders were not enough to keep up with the blowing snow, and additional men and equipment of Brady Sand and Gravel were employed, a cost that the city hopes to recover in Federal aid.”

Tecumseh Fire Dept. had six medical technicians working as well as a driver. From Thursday through Saturday, there were 11 emergency runs, which included one fatal heart attack from snow shoveling.

Eight people were evacuated from their homes. Emergency crews were assisted by area residents who owned snowmobiles.

The phone company reported that from Wednesday through Sunday there were 1.5 million telephone calls made in Lenawee County. Loss of power was a problem for approximately 200 households on Occidental and Green Highway on Jan. 27 from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. The cause was tree limbs weighted down with snow that came down on wires by the Fisher Body plant.

Although there was some rural mail delivery, delivery in town was suspended until Monday, Jan. 30. Schools were closed for more than a week.

For Charles and Joyce Case of Tipton, the blizzard came right around the time they were expecting the birth of twins. On Saturday, Jan. 28, at 10 a.m., neighbors took Case by snowmobile to US 12 and were met by the Sand Lake rescue vehicle.

Case was transported to the home of relatives on Occidental Hwy. in Tecumseh. She was admitted to Herrick Hospital at 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29. Michael Lee (5 lbs. 12 oz.) was born at 3:24 a.m. Sunday and his brother Steven Robert (6 lb. 5 oz.) was born at 3:25 a.m.

C.R. Snider from the National Weather Service in Ann Arbor reported on Monday, Jan. 30:

“The most extensive and very nearly the most severe blizzard in Michigan history raged throughout Thursday, January 26, 1978 and into part of Friday, January 27. About 20 people died as a direct or indirect result of the storm, most due to heart attacks or traffic accidents. At least one person died of exposure in a stranded automobile. Many were hospitalized for exposure, mostly from homes that lost power and heat. About 100,000 cars were abandoned on Michigan highways, most of them in the southeast part of the state.”

William R. Deedler, a weather historian for the National Weather Service provided an analysis of the storm at www.goo.gl/CQ6FWI.

He said, “The massive storm actually began as two smaller but distinct storms. A strong low pressure with an attending arctic airmass was entering the Northern Plains by way of Northern Minnesota on Tuesday evening (24th). At the same time, another developing low-pressure system was taking shape over the eastern Texas/Louisiana area.”

“As the low moved out over Lake Erie, the Arctic cold front over Southeast Lower Michigan was pulled sharply east into its mammoth cyclonic circulation. Any residual rain over Southeast Lower Michigan quickly changed to heavy snow and blowing snow during the pre- dawn hours of the 26th. As the Arctic front plowed through the Cleveland area, the wind gusted to an incredible 82 mph! As the Arctic air flooded the Cleveland area, the temperature dropped from a relatively balmy 44 degrees at 4 a.m. EST to a bitterly cold 7 degrees by 10 a.m. EST.”

“Heavy snow and blizzard conditions were extensive as wind gusts in excess of 35 mph whipped the snow into huge drifts across much of Southeast Lower Michigan. Other areas of Eastern Michigan, Indiana and Ohio reported near hurricane-force winds, heavy snow and temperatures hovering between zero and 10 above, resulting in extreme blizzard conditions.”




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