Monday, January 26, 1998
Blizzard of '78 still sends shivers
El Nino preventing any kind of repeat

The Cincinnati Enquirer

It was only 7 inches.

But the savage snowstorm that hit the Tristate 20 years ago this week became known as the Blizzard of '78 and remains revered - and feared - as among the worst winter tempests in Cincinnati history. The Jan. 25-26 storm stretched across the Midwest and the East, crippling parts of many states for days.

Blizzard of '78
  • When: Jan. 25-26.
  • Snowfall: 7 inches in Cincinnati; 13 inches in Dayton; 15 inches in Indianapolis. Drifts across the region measured higher than 12 feet.
  • Temperatures: Deep freeze kept temperatures hovering in the teens and single digits.
  • Wind: Gusts of up to 60 mph.
  • Pressure: A deep low-pressure system resulted in record lows across the region, averaging 28.5 inches of mercury. Columbus measured a record low pressure of 28.47, the lowest ever reached on the U.S. mainland except in hurricanes.
  • Visibility: Near zero at height of storm.
    Source: National Weather Service

  • The snow wasn't the biggest problem.

    Cincinnati got only 7 inches - compared with almost 15 inches that fell just three weeks before. Indianapolis was pounded by 15 inches; and Dayton got 13.

    But wind gusts of up to 60 mph caused drifts big enough to cover cars. Temperatures dipped into the single digits, keeping Tristaters housebound.

    Businesses closed, snowplows strained and stranded passengers filled hotels and airport terminals.

    At the Cincinnati - Northern Kentucky International Airport, college students who were headed to school for spring classes mingled with business travelers, families and hundreds of others waiting for the skies to clear.

    ''I remember getting a call about a guy who had been standing still for several hours,'' said airport spokesman Ted Bushelman, who said the storm was among the worst the airport has encountered.

    ''I went to talk to him, and he pointed to a little baby sleeping nearby. 'If I move,' he told me, 'the light goes in her eyes and she starts to cry.' He wanted the baby's mother, who he didn't even know, to be able to sleep without being awakened by her crying baby. It was like that - people just helped each other, like they understood the situation and would do whatever they could.''

    Cincinnati typically doesn't have very white winters - the snowiest came in 1977-78, when meteorologists measured 53.9 inches of snow, said Steve Rowley, a National Weather Service meteorologist. That's a little more than half the amount places like Flagstaff, Ariz., see - where major storms dump 100 inches or more a year, he said.

    This season's warmer-and-drier-than-usual weather is thanks to El Nino, the cyclical phenomenon of warming Pacific temperatures that disrupts climate patterns.

    While no records have been broken, temperatures last month averaged 2.1 degrees above normal. January also has been warmer, averaging 39.5 degrees - almost 10 degrees above normal.

    ''We won't see a repeat of that blizzard anytime soon,'' Mr. Rowley said.

    Tristaters this week will see soggy skies with low temperatures mostly in the low 30s and highs in the mid- to upper 40s.