Remembering Cleveland's Infamous Blizzard of 1978

Ralph DiMatteo History

Cleveland Blizzard 1978

January 25th, 1978: A date no Clevelander could ever forget 

It was a day the weather forecasters had been saying was coming, but nothing could have possibly prepared Clevelanders for the blizzard that descended upon the area on Wednesday January 25th, 1978, lasting though Friday, January 27th.

For anyone that lived through it, it was truly Cleveland’s once-in-a-lifetime “perfect storm."

When you think of blizzard, you usually think first of snow, but this particular event was more about the vicious and biting winds that gusted up to 70 miles an hour consistently throughout the day. Actual snowfalls were estimated at between 5-15 inches, a wide range made difficult to accurately measure because the howling winds caused snow to fall literally sideways, creating drifts of 20 feet or better.

Many people may not remember that the storm began as rain, but quickly turned to very heavy and wet snow. Then, combining with the unforgiving winds, driving conditions were made virtually impossible at the peak of things the next day, January 26th. Many drivers spent a few days in their cars wherever they were stranded. Parking lots, side streets, and even closed highways became temporary residences for stranded motorists until enough snow could be cleared for them to move on.

I had the opportunity to listen to some of these personal recollections on Cleveland’s WTAM recently. People told stories of huddling for warmth, walking to local stores the next day to get something to eat or even fuel to keep the car heaters running.

There were also stories about the Ohio National Guard dropping packages on those closed highways that contained food and other supplies until stranded motorists could get on their way.

I grew up in Maple Heights and played on the city’s club hockey team, which gave me a leg up on getting a job working at one of the city’s two outdoor skating rinks in both 1977 and 1978. Considering how you may remember that those are the two worst years on record for snow in the Cleveland area, I believe to this day that that should tell you all you need to know about my luck.

I can vividly remember constantly manning a snow blower to clear space not only outside the rink for access, but off the rink itself because the Zamboni would not have been able to handle to handle that much snow.

Sadly, 51 souls lost their lives because of the storm. The Ohio National Guard activated 5,000 members to assist with rescues and anyone with a four-wheel vehicle were also asked to help with transporting people to hospitals, including doctors and nurses so they could help those injured. Incredibly, from January 26th through the 27th, the Ohio Turnpike was closed completely across the state for the first time ever.

For those of us that lived through it, it’s very surreal to try and explain it to others, because no two people’s memories or experiences about this storm will be exactly the same. For me, it’s enough to have survived it and to be able to tell the incredible tale of Cleveland’s Perfect Storm.

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