The Blizzard of '78

34 years later the storm still holds records

Published On: Jan 25 2012 06:43:42 PM EST   Updated On: Sep 09 2013 05:34:20 PM EDT
MIAMI -

Today marks the 34th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978 that struck the Midwest dropping up to 40 inches of snow across the area. 

I’m originally from Indiana, so you would figure that I would remember that day well.  The problem is that I wouldn’t be born for another six months as my mom was only about two months along. 

So I have only seen the blizzard in pictures and limited video.  It was impressive to say the least.   It was the worst blizzard ever on record for Indiana. 

A blizzard is defined as storms with sustained winds or frequent gust above 35mph combined with considerable blowing or drifting snow reducing visibilities to under a quarter mile for three hours or more.  The Blizzard of ‘78 easily reached these criteria. 

The blizzard began as two distinct unrelated areas of low pressure located in the Northern Plains and one to the south in the Gulf of Mexico.  The two lows merged over Indiana near midnight on the 25th of January.

The day before the blizzard struck, temperatures across Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky were above freezing so the storm started as heaving rain, but quickly turned to snow before 5:00am on January 25th

On January 25th, day one of the blizzard, the National Weather Service issued a heavy snow warning at 4:30am that was later upgraded to a blizzard warning at 3:45pm.  Early on in the day, only 5 inches of snow fell and only an inch was added by 7pm that evening.  The snow became heavy around 10pm that night followed by the arctic blast of cold air that arrived just before midnight with gusts above 35mph creating blizzard conditions. 

The blizzard conditions continued in full force for 24 hours straight.  The Indianapolis International Airport reported a peak wind of 55 mph at 3am on the 26th.  By morning the temperatures had dropped to zero with wind chill values reading 40-50 degrees below zero throughout the day. 

When the blizzard ended during the morning of January 27th most of Central and Southern Indiana was covered in over 20 inches of snow with up to 40 inches over parts of Northern Indiana. 

Several snow fall records were set in Indianapolis.  15.5 inches of snow was the most ever for a single storm and 30.6 inches of snow for January 1978 was the most for any month in the history of the city. 

The heavy snow paralyzed the region.  The governor of Indiana declared a snow emergency for the entire state.  Snow drifts of 10-20 feet made travel impossible.    Poor road conditions shut down the entire Ohio turnpike for the first time ever and the Indiana State Police considered all roads closed. 

The Indianapolis International Airport shut down due to the blizzard leaving almost 400 passengers stranded for over 3 days. 

The University of Michigan and the University of Notre Dame were forced to close for the first time in their history.