Remembering The Great Blizzard of 1978

| January 25, 2018

COSHOCTON – Forty years ago many Ohio residents were riding out The Great Blizzard of 1978 that struck the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region.

“It was a time when you were stuck at home for six days or more because the snow was so high,” said Donna Young. “We were lucky to only lose electricity for a short time. Many went to neighbors who had heat or electricity. The National Guard plowed us out.”

According to, the blizzard didn’t just dump snow. It also came with near-hurricane strength wind gusts that caused huge snowdrifts. The weather problems that started on Jan. 25 caused communication lines to be disconnected, transportation to come to a halt and schools to close.

“There was no warning from the weathermen so that you could buy groceries,” Young said.

Les Widder shared that same memory.

“The night before, the temperature was around 45 and snow was melting,” he said. “I was teaching fifth grade at Hayesville School (Hillsdale School District, Ashland County) the day The Blizzard of 1978 hit. Many farmers lost milk because the milk truck drivers could not get through six to eight foot snow drifts that blocked the roads. Therefore, gallons upon gallons of milk went down the drain.”

On it states that agricultural losses from the storm were around $73 million in Ohio and that total included dead livestock, lost production, property damage and milk/egg losses.

“My dad walked through snow waist deep for half a mile to milk the cows and for three days had to dump all the milk down the drain because a milk truck couldn’t get back to the barn,” said Janette Donaker.

Widder said where he was living at the time, snow plows had a hard time clearing the roads since the rain from the day before had frozen so quickly which turned to frozen streams.

“I lived right across from the fire station in Hayesville,” he said. “In the area, many people had snow mobiles. At one point in time, I counted over 30 snow mobiles that were at the firehouse ready to take medicine, groceries, etc. to area residents that were stranded in their homes. Some of the snowmobiles drove to Ashland (eight miles away) to assist the Ashland County Sheriff’s department.”

Mary Robertson was 12-years-old when the storm hit.

“The water pipes froze on King Street but Sixth Street wasn’t frozen so all the residents that lived on King Street were carry buckets back and forth from neighbors on Sixth Street,” she said.

Lori Wright was only 8-months old at the time, but she remembers hearing stories about her dad taking baby food to someone and her mom shoveling out the cops.

Fifty-one people in Ohio died as a result of the storm. The website further explains that, “22 fatalities were from exposure because people left their stranded vehicle or home with no heat; 13 died at home after losing power and heat; two died in buildings that collapsed under the weight of heavy snow; and other deaths were caused by heart-attacks from snow shoveling and falls.

Donaker’s husband’s grandparents were close to being casualties of the storm.

“Alan’s grandparents lived in the house where we live,” she said “They could not get to them for five days and they had no heat. When they finally made it to them they had every blanket in the house on their bed and they were under the covers trying to stay warm. They just made it to them in time.”

Leslie Croft also remembers the blizzard causing problems at home.

“I was in elementary school at Keene,” she said. “We were trapped at our house for several days and our roof had partially blown off. We lived in our basement and only went upstairs to get food and clothes.”

The article says that from Jan. 25-27 of 1978, “snowfall amounts ranged from 4.7 inches in Columbus to 6.9 inches in Cincinnati to 12.9 inches in Dayton.”

“During the blizzard, I was undergoing some medical tests, which required me to be at CCMH every day at 1 p.m. for blood work for 21 days,” said Kathy Thompson. “I had 17 days under my belt when the blizzard hit. I lived up on the Heated Hill, up a steep driveway, but we couldn’t even get the garage door open. It wasn’t an emergency, exactly, but I called the police department (at the time) and they made their way up our driveway, shoveled out the door, and for the next four days, picked me up, dropped me off at the lab at the hospital, and took me home, so I got all 21 days of the blood test. What service. I’ve never forgotten it.”

Audrey Phillips’ memories from the blizzard involve fun times with friends.

“I grew up one mile out on County Road 22,” she said. “My mom would take the ‘pumpkin’ a Nova car into Warsaw and pick up my classmates and we would sled ride, sit by a bonfire, roast marshmallows and hot dogs, and drink lots of hot chocolate.”

At some point in time though, the students had to go back to school.

“I believe that was the year we had some classes on TV, went to Mrs. Forsythe’s house for some classes, and everyone was bussed to South Lawn School,” said Jennifer Bosson. “My memory might be faulty on that but I think half went in the morning and half in the afternoon.”

Some students even had to make up missed school days on the weekend, but it wasn’t all that bad.

“We had to go to school on Saturdays to make up all the days we missed,” Croft said. “I remember the teachers rolling in a big TV on a cart and watching Saturday morning cartoons.”

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Category: People & Places

About the Author ()

I started my journalism career in 2002 with a daily newspaper chain. After various stops with them, I am happy to be back home! I graduated from Coshocton High School in 1998 and received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication in 2002 from Walsh University. I also earned several awards while working for daily papers, including being honored by Coshocton County’s veterans for the stories I wrote about them. I am honored and ready to once again shine a positive light on Coshocton County. I also am the proud mother of a little girl named Sophia!

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