GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This week is the 45th anniversary of the famous blizzard of 1978. Strong winds blew extremely heavy snow into huge snowdrifts that blocked many roads for days and closed schools for up to two weeks. Notre Dame and Ohio State Universities closed for the first time ever.

After the storm, I stood on a snow drift that I guessed was 14 feet high. Grand Rapids recorded 19″ of snow. The most snow was in Muskegon County, where up to 52″ of snow fell in four days, with 30″ of lake-effect snow following the blizzard.

An estimated 100,000 vehicles were abandoned during the blizzard

Along with the Derecho of May 31, 1998, it was the most disruptive storm of my +48-year career. The blizzard brought everything to a standstill. There were no cell phones and no computers. All people did was stay inside and watch television — and there I was, morning, noon and night. For a while, I was the only meteorologist on TV. Our ratings those few days were huge. Today, we have hundreds of TV channels. In 1978, I believe we had just four TV stations in the market.

Shoveling Snow off a Roof – from Doug Wierenga

I got up on my roof to shovel off the snow, then walked off the roof unto the snow that I had shoveled off. At least four roofs caved in over in Muskegon, including the roof of a Meijer store.

The Blizzard of 1978 made me a household name in West Michigan. After that storm, I couldn’t go into a store without people stopping me so they could tell me their story about the storm. I was supposed to be at a convention of meteorologists in Savannah, Georgia — but, of course, I never made it down there.

Comparison of snow on the side of the road in 1978 and 2014 in Berrien Co.

Snow began falling on Wednesday, Jan. 25. By midnight around 2 1/2″ had accumulated. The snow got heavier after midnight and the wind got stronger. It snowed all day on Thursday. The 16.1″ of snow that fell in Grand Rapids that day remains the biggest midnight-to-midnight snowfall ever.

This was my snow forecast typed on an old Royal typewriter Thursday morning. I think the only other time I forecast that much snow was the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011.

With many roads blocked by snowdrifts, snowmobiles became an important means of getting around.

The center of the Blizzard of ’78 storm was in western West Virginia. It then backed up to the NNW to sit over Port Huron, Michigan. Grand Rapids had its lowest air pressure ever (28.55″) during that storm. The pressure dropped to 28.23″ at Mt. Clemens – the lowest pressure ever recorded in the Midwest. Here’s a weather map from the day of the storm:

Another famous West Michigan Blizzard occurred on Jan. 26, 1967. Read about the 1967 storm here.

I was in high school in 1967. Our school closed in the middle of the day and I remember some guy driving around the high school in a convertible, while everyone (I didn’t) threw snowballs into the car until it was filled with snow.

Some cars were almost buried by the snow.

The Michigan State Police pronounced Traverse City, Michigan, “unofficially closed” and warned area residents to stay home. Traverse City got 28″ of new snow. WTCM radio staffer Marty Spaulding, who closed the bayfront radio station the previous night at 11 p.m., was called to reopen it the next day at 6 a.m. as regular staffers couldn’t get there due to impassable roads. Upon arriving after a 45-minute walk in waist-deep snow from his home 10 city blocks away, he had to dig down “a foot” to put the key in the front door.

There were 70 storm-related fatalities, 51 of them in Ohio. Of those deaths, 13 people were found dead in stuck cars and 13 in unheated homes. More than 125,000 vehicles were abandoned in the storm.

Wind gusts were as high as 70-80 mph in Northern Ohio. Up to 40″ of snow fell in SE Wisconsin with some added lake effect from northeast winds. A Blizzard Warning was issued for the entire state of Indiana.

Five thousand National Guard members were called out to help with snow removal. Officials asked for anyone with a snowmobile to help transport doctors and nurses to hospitals. Winds gusted to 55 mph at Indianapolis, where an Amtrak train was stuck.

Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo was opened as a shelter for stranded motorists and those without power.

Snowplows clearing snow after the Blizzard of 1978

Sometimes plows couldn’t get through the heavy snow, so front-end loaders had to be called in to scoop drifts out of the way. Clearing all the roads took nearly two weeks. The blizzard was followed by the coldest February that Grand Rapids had ever had and the 5th coldest March. It took until April for some of the snow piles to melt.

That winter Muskegon recorded 164.8″ of snow. That’s nearly 14 feet.

Here’s An oddity – both the lowest air pressure ever and the highest air pressure ever in Grand Rapids occurred on the same day of the year. The lowest (28,55″) occurred during the Blizzard of Jan. 26, 1978, and the highest (31.07″) on Jan. 26, 1927. 

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