Meteorologist Recalls Ohio's Great Blizzard Of 1978

Ohio National Guard soldiers unload supplies from a helicopter during the blizzard of 1978. [Ohio National Guard / Flickr]
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Forty years ago this week, a massive storm struck Ohio. High winds whipped up snowdrifts and tore down power lines as temperatures plunged. Over two days, the blizzard of 1978 killed 51 people in the state.

Kirk Lombardy was about 12 years old at the time. He recalled going outside to shut the doors of a neighbor’s shed.

“All I remember about it was I was leaning into the wind,” he said, “and I could not fall over because the winds were so strong.”

Now, Lombardy is a meteorologist in the Cleveland office of the National Weather Service.

He said the blizzard was born out of the collision of two storm systems, one from Alberta, Canada, and one from the mouth of the Mississippi River.

“The two storms met right over Ohio,” he said. “When they collided, all the ingredients were together, or came together, and produced a megastorm.”

The storm encompassed Ohio and the surrounding states, he said. Newly fallen snow wasn’t the biggest danger the storm posed. Only about five to 10 inches fell, Lombardy said, but winds blew snow from prior storms into 15-foot drifts.

“The biggest problem was the wind and also the extreme cold temperatures,” he said. “The combination of the two produced wind chills down around minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit. And at those temperatures, skin can freeze almost instantly.”

The storm knocked out power, and several homes collapsed under snowdrifts.

“Just the sheer magnitude of the storm, it prevented resources from getting into the area, especially food and milk,” he said.

People were prepared for the storm, Lombardy said, because there had been several other storms that winter. Today, meteorologists’ computer models are more sophisticated than they were four decades ago.

“We can see these storms sometimes developing out for days,” he said. “A good example is the Superstorm Sandy. We saw that developing at least a week in advance, and it gave plenty of time for preparation.” 

With reporting by Leah Treidler.

An earlier version of this story misspelled Kirk Lombardy's last name. It is Lombardy, not Lombardi.

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