The Blizzard of 1978

The snow is melting and it appears that the worst of winter’s wrath is behind us.  Though this winter season was not too daunting, Dayton is no stranger to severe weather. The most notable is perhaps the Blizzard of 1978. In January and February of 1978, a series of three storms hit the Miami Valley. From Well over three feet of snow fell in Ohio and the 50-60 mph wind gusts created snowdrifts as deep as twenty-five feet. Over a foot of snow fell on January 26th alone; a record that still stands as the single greatest snowfall in a 24-hour period. Cars parked along the street were buried to their roofs in the snow and remained stuck for several weeks and any residents lost power. The total snow accumulation was over 40 inches in Dayton, completely shutting down the area. In some parts of the state the snow remained until early May.

Interstate 75 through was closed for about four days, Dayton police relied on volunteers to help dig out stranded motorists and transport those without power to local shelters set up at schools, churches and municipal buildings. The situation became so severe that Gov. James Rhodes summoned the National Guard to help deliver supplies and rescue those stuck in the snow. National Guardsman Len Dunaway of Dayton said, “The wind had blown snow so hard that even cars with their windows rolled up were filled with snow. We had guys on the expressway with icicles on their faces. I’ve seen movies about blizzards but nothing like this.”

The men’s basketball team of Miami University was stuck on the interstate while returning to Oxford from a game versus the University of Toledo. The team made it to Vandalia’s city jail where they were housed for a few days. Vandalia Patrolman Marvin Smith commented on the sleeping arrangements for the unexpected guests, stating “We moved all our prisoners (three) to one side of the cell block and let them (Miami University players) sleep in the cells on the other side…Of course we left the doors open.”  Before leaving, the team spent four hours helping nurses take care of 150 patients at the Franklin Nursing Home.

Television and radio reporters broadcasted live reports around the clock as the blizzard impacted nearly every facet of life in Dayton. Workers in both the public and private sectors were unable to make it to their jobs for weeks. The postal service, for the first time since the 1913 flood, could not deliver mail. The RTA was unable to put buses on the street and all air traffic was halted at Cox International Airport. Dayton officials estimated that the Blizzard caused over $4 million in damages to city streets.

The local travel bureaus reported that their telephones were ringing endlessly with people wanted to book trips to warmer climates. Cathy Carlson of TV Travel Service stated, “People are calling up and saying, ‘Just get me out of here to anywhere it’s warm!’”  The travel agencies saw record bookings for cruise ships and travel destinations like Hawaii and Acapulco.

Though the Blizzard of 1978 was 33 years ago, it left an impression on the citizens of the Miami Valley.  If you are in town when the snow starts to fall, undoubtedly you will hear someone say, “Well, at least this isn’t as bad as ’78.”


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36 Responses to The Blizzard of 1978

  1. Amy says:

    These pictures really take me back. I can’t believe it was that long ago. Very cool pictures and I love how you added the historical stuff too. The Miami team sleeping in jail is too funny.


  2. Elizabeth Bailey says:

    I remember this vividly!!! I was 13 years old and had to walk across 40 acres of pasture to feed and water the horses at the stable which is now “Tom Cloud Park” (it used to be a boarding stable before it was sold and became a park)- since I lived on a neighboring street I was given the task to check on the horses. The wind was so harsh that the snow was crusted over and i crunched on top of the snow in my snowmobile boots. When I got to the horses and ponies they were fine, but had little icicles all over the whiskers on their muzzles and under their chins. I had to bust through the water buckets because they were frozen solid. The plastic buckets shattered, but the rubber buckets survived the bashing. The horses were so happy to have piles of hay to munch on and buckets of oats and corn to warm them up. I remember that big old bank barn was colder inside than it was outside and so drafty! The horses were kept inside to protect them from sleet, but had to wear their blankets as it was crazy cold inside that old barn! That was one of the physically hardest thing I did as a young girl, but I remember it fondly. I’ll never forgot walking ON TOP of the frozen snow and every few steps my feet crashing through and hitting the ground beneath the foot of snow. That was the longest 40 acre walk I ever took – against the blasts of wind and icy snow in my face. But it’s still a great memory and reminds me how hard I worked as a kid…it was worth it – I loved my pony and my horse!!! When I got home I remember my mom making me a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato good! The best thing – SNOW DAYS!!! NO SCHOOL FOR A WEEK!!!!! Good times! 🙂

    • Lisa says:

      Wow, what a great story! Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth!

    • Jessica says:

      Was doing a search on the Miami basketball team that had to stay in the jail cell, came across this story, and this comment is so great. That’s a quarter of a mile! I love the dedication to the horses. I would do the same thing in a heartbeat.

  3. rod fields says:

    I was stationed at Wright Patterson and living in base housing at Page Manor off Col Glen Hwy,as the article mentioned snow was melting temp was in the 50’s,in those days there was no weather channel or social media so we found out about it on the day,my wife picked me up after work and told me we need to go to the comissary for food it was bumper to bumper carts in and out,my dad called from Indiana and said this is bad and heading your way,it started raining and was still mild after dark,then the temps dropped quickly freezing rain,sleet,then the snow and the wind came,it was so cold stayed below 0 for 2 weeks,Col Glen Hwy was not open for 3 days and then it was like driving thru a tunnel,I will never forget the blizzard of 1978

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks for sharing your recollections, Rod!

    • Marji says:

      I lived in the apartments at the end of Duncan Drive off Zink Rd near the Col Glen Hwy. These were on the hilltop above Wright Patterson AFB. The snow drifts were high up there and any road clearance added even more snow along the roads. My husband was a student at Wright State and I worked at Children’s Hospital. I was leaving for work, the 7am shift, and the wind was blowing so hard that I could barely open the car door. I went back inside to tell my husband I would drive him to school, the wind was too strong to walk on the path through the field. We drove up to Kauffman Ave. and then parked the car in a lot along University Ave. We realized there were no cars on the road, and the lot looked empty, so we turned on the radio. But once we had shut off the engine, it would not restart. Due to the rain the night before, the lot was an ice sheet from the temperature drop. We very carefully walked to the University buildings and soon realized that, although we got inside, school was cancelled. We also found out that there would be no food service for days, it was much worse than we thought. Wright State had an underground tunnel system of access to each building. We were able to get to the medical sciences building where my husband had a key to the student lounge where we could relax a bit. We decided to be brave and walk home through the field because we had just gone grocery shopping and had lots of food. After a bunch of hot chocolate, we took off. It was the stupidest decision I ever made. The snow was hip-high in the field, the wind was blowing over 60 mph. The distance was over two football fields. Part way through we considered going back but decided to keep moving. We had to wrap our heads with only a sliver to see through. I clearly remember the icicles forming on my eyelashes! Man it was cold. We had to hang on to each other to get across due to the wind. We made it but couldn’t even get up the few stairs inside to the apartment before resting. Our feet and fingers were numb, luckily not frostbitten, but a little more time would have been bad. No boots or gloves could handle that cold. The hospital ran on short staff for the week and did not pick me up. We played cards and games with our neighbors and shared our food with them. When we finally got the car, it would turn off at a stop sign and I had to put it in neutral and rev it just to keep it going. It turned out the cold cracked the engine block and that was the end of that car. Later that winter, my husband decided late at night (med students like doctors are the worst patients) that he couldn’t stand the pain in his ankle and needed to go to the hospital. Our second car was buried up beyond the floor. We tried digging it out with only the long windshield ice scraper, him hobbling on crutches. We had to try pushing and as well as changing gears frequently to move the car back and forth for quite awhile. We finally got out, by now it’s 2am and nobody is on the road. Yikes. I left Ohio a few years later and came to the west coast, leaving the snow behind. Many decades later, because the kids love to ski/snowboard, the snow and ice at the Donner Pass in the Lake Tahoe area is pretty treacherous and the drive down from the pass can be nasty. But that winter in Ohio was the worst!

      • Lisa says:

        Wow, what a story! I’m glad you both made it through all right! Thank you for sharing your blizzard memories with us, Marji!

  4. Vicki Hesseling says:

    I was stranded in the blizzard of ’78 with a friend of mine returning from Minnasota. We spent a week in a rest stop off the Ohio Turnpike with 50 truck drivers.

  5. Edward Newman says:

    I can’t believe it’s been 36 years. I was 12 years old and we lived on little rural Toby Road in Preble County. Our house was a half a mile off of route 35 and it took a bulldozer with a backhoe attachment 2 hours to clear a path to our house! The snow was 5 to 6 feet high on both sides of the road when they were done. Food was running low, so we loaded up and stayed at my grandfather’s in Eaton for a couple days after we had a path out. If you’ve never lived there, it’s hard to explain the total lack of attention those little country roads get when it snows! We were snowed in for a week, all the while having to watch Mcdonald’s commercials about having a “Big Mac Attack”! It only made it worse! My Dad made sure we all survived it and now I have it as the standard against which all other snowfalls are measured. Miss ya’ Dad.

  6. lisa besser says:


  7. Brian O'Malley says:

    I was fourteen then and lived in a housing area called Forest Ridge, near Huber Heights, now part of Riverside. The street we lived on was all rutted and potholed from the vehicle tracks in the snow. It was a great bouncing ride in the station wagon! The house next door was a ranch style and the snow had drifted from the roof over into our yard. My brother and I dug tunnels inside the drift and played for days. But, my most vivid memory of the blizzard was the ice that formed on the inside wall, up in the front corner, of my parents bedroom! So much for 70’s home insulation!

  8. RMS says:

    I remember living in on the outskirts of Tipp when this happened. We fortunately had a “buck stove” which was good b/c we had no other source of heat. We also had a well (vs city water) we had to get snow and thaw it so we could refill the toilets after we used them! Snowmobiles were the only way anyone was able to get around. Thank God my brother in law had one!

    All in all?! Time of my life as a kid! I think every kid should get to experience this sort of thing at least once their lifetime! And oh yeah, since you wouldn’t have any power, you wouldn’t have any cell phone service either. Kids of today would freak out if they couldn’t get on the computer or their phones! Ha-Ha! Writing wi pen and paper, card games, what the hell are those Dad?!)

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  10. Erin says:

    I was very young, pregnant and married.At the time we lived near Wayne Ave. I remember my Husband and a friend walking to the IGA on Wayne Ave. Not sure how but it was still operating.I don’t remember us losing power? I remember my Husband burnt up two transmissions getting in and out of the parking space. People fought over parking spots. At that time if you shoveled it out it was yours! I have many memories from then, too many to write down. Memories are all we have.

  11. Howard Huff says:

    I was in the Marine Corps at this time and stationed in Hawaii. I was sitting on the beaches in 80 degree weather drinking Olympia beer and eating Kailua pig. Its a type of pulled pork. All my friends and family were envious of my situation. Communications were down and I had no way to communicate with any one.

  12. Patricia Scott says:

    Married, three young children, worked part time (registered nurse) at Inland,division GM. Called to relieve nurses who had been on duty for days. Nurses had to be in the medical dept. because there were still employees on premises. Company was attempting to get employees home by using snow mobiles. Don’t know how I made it. I was the only vehicle on the roads.

  13. Brian Milyard says:

    I was 7 years old living just a couple miles outside of Brookvile Ohio on Air Hill Rd. We went and picked my mom up from work as the blizzard hit. On the way home, a half mile from home, we came across a car stuck in the middle of the road. My dad stopped and started to help free the car. My mom decided to walk the rest of the way home with my 9 yeard old brother and I. The wind and cold just took your breath away and made it slow going. When the 3 of us got in the house we just collapsed on the floor, boots, coats and all, trying to catch our breath and seeing spots in front of our eyes.
    Ater the storm I remember the car wouldn’t start. Dad popped the hood and the entire engine compartment was full of snow! I remember making tunnels through the snow with my brother and dad. We watched a snow plow try to clear our road. The blade of the plow would hit the snow and stop the truck, sending the back up this big truck up in the air. The driver gave up after 5 mintues. Our dairy farmer neighbor was having to dump his milk on the ground as the semi couldn’t get down our road to pick up the milk. Our neighbor used his tractor and front end loader attachment to clear the road from his farm to the east. Then the next day he cleared the road to the west. The semi could finally pick up the milk but our neighbor he was our hero!
    I also remember walking down the road before it was cleared. I asked my dad what the evenly spaced spots were off the side of the side of the road were. They were the tops of metal fence posts around our neighbors field!

  14. Jean says:

    I lived there and I am doing a search for an old friend Lisa Besser, Would be nice to find her, she has a sister name kris/chris. Thanks for sharing those stories and pic’s.

  15. GEORGE R. WOODS says:

    lived by Burkham Park just just off of Broadway….I remember doing flips off of my grandmother’s house into the snow because it was so thick…
    Built a Snow Fort with my other 3 brothers which we has many days of fun pretending we were under attack from whatever imaginary force we came up with. I remember a Pepsi truck stalled and sat there for days…Needless to say we had lots of Pepsi for months to come.
    I always reflect on that time whenever someone says how bad the snow is here in the Cleveland area now.. I currently reside in Parma so i’m looking forward to plowing the snow in my 100 ft driveway at my new Bungalow

  16. Clara Wienhoff says:

    I remember very well the blizzard of 78. It hit on my 15th birthday. Best present ever! We had no school for two weeks! We had a 1977 black Ford Thunderbird that was buried under the white snow. Could not even tell the car was there? I remember neighbor helping neighbor shovel out and with food. We had snow on the ground it seemed forever that year!

  17. Maureen says:

    I was a student at the University of Dayton. I played lots of board and card games!

  18. Wanda Reichard says:

    I was in labor with my first son February 28th 1978. I had to get to Kettering Memorial. In labor all day waiting for my husband to get home. Thank goodness he a four wheel drive truck, or we wouldn’t have made it out of Trotwood! Israel Maurice Reichard born March 1, 1978, survived 1978 in Ohio!

  19. Jennifer Yanchak says:

    definitely remember the blizzard of 78. i was nine at the time and we lived on Virginia Ave in Dayton. we lost power for a week or two. (thankfully our heat was gas). so us kids had a nice extended vacation from school. we took all the food out of the fridge and put it in a workshop my dad had in the basement under the porch. with the door closed it was pretty cold in there, the freezer items we buried in the snow on the back porch. we had a gas stove in the basement so that’s where mom cooked, and we had to heat water on that stove to wash dishes or clean ourselves. we lit the house at night with karosene lamps. it was amazing how quiet the city was during this time. no cars on the roads and no electric lights anywhere in sight. it was really amazing as a kid.

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