Blogs > N-H Media Lab and Archive

Following the happenings of The News-Herald Community Media Lab, as well as the library and archive, where we're digging to find historic people, places, events and things to see how much the times have changed or how much they have stayed the same.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Blizzard of '78: Frigid temps AND feet of snow

Just a few weeks after the governor declared a state of emergency in Lake County in January 1978, things really got bad.

The blizzard of '78 pounded the area Jan. 26-27. A wind gust as high as 82 mph was recorded at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

Tragically, 51 people died in Ohio as a result of the storm.

So perhaps we should count ourselves lucky that this week's blast of arctic weather didn't prove as deadly.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Another early January we thought the weather was bad ...

This week's frigid temps and blustering snows have all of us shivering more than usual.

And almost without exception chatter around town has been about which communities got socked with the most snow, which roads were the slickest and which events had been canceled due to weather.

In other words a typical January in Lake and Geauga counties.

How many of you remember early January 1978 when the National Guard was called in? Little did we know this was just a taste of what that January had in store for us.

Next week we'll look back at coverage of the Great Blizzard of 1978.

From the Jan. 10, 1978, News-Herald:
ONE OF THE THOSE DAYS - Wind-whipped snow drives across Stevens Boulevard in Eastlake yesterday as Ohio Bell Telephone Co. linemen Herb Maness of Mentor and Jim Dagman of Eastlake work to restore phone service that had been knocked out by the strom (News-Herald photo by Chris Hartman)

Gov. Rhodes calls out Guard

County declared disaster area

Gov. James A. Rhodes this morning declared Lake County a disaster area and dispatched the National Guard to aid in rescue operations during the second day of a severe blizzard.

National Guard units from Painesville and Willoughby were called at 7:30 a.m. to assist Lake County Disaster Services officials headquartered in Madison, one of the hardest hit areas.

Near-zero temperatures, gusting winds of up to 40 miles an hour and snow drifts from 12 to 15 feet forced closing of several major roads, stranded motorists, caused power outages in many parts of the county and forced all schools to close in Lake and Geauga counties.

The Lake County Chapter of the American Red Cross set up emergency shelters at Northeastern Ohio General Hospital in Madison, St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Concord Twp., Eastlake Community Center and the Mentor fire station on Civic Center Boulevard.

Most residents who sought aid at the centers were without electricity or telephone service.

An explosion at a Western Reserve Telephone Co. substation in Madison Village knocked out telephone service for about 7,500 Madison area residents and injured three persons.

Lake County Commission Chairman Robert Martin reached the governor this morning and pleaded for emergency assistance.

Martin spent most of the night with Al Stewart, Disaster Services Agency director, at his headquarters at the county fairgrounds in Painesville.

"I've been up most of the night, answering calls and making more," Martin said this morning just after talking with the National Guard.

"I've been trying to reach the governor's office since 6 a.m. I kept trying and trying and finally I made it at about 7:30.

"I did talk to the governor and he put me in touch with Dave Weir (Ohio Department of Transportation director). Dave put me in touch with the National Guard.

"The National Guard will come here and coordinate its efforts through the sheriff's department and Disaster Services, helping stranded motorists and performing whatever services are needed."

Martin said Sheriff Edwin H. Cunningham and Chief Deputy Richard Amiott at 7:30 a.m. picked up County Administrator Charles A. Crown at his Concord Twp. home.

Road crews throughout the two-county area fought a losing battle. Gusting winds made plowing and salting of roads ineffective.

Roads declared impassable by emergency crews at various times during the storm included Interstate 90 and Routes 20, 91, 2 and 84 between Painesville and Mentor. Mentor Avenue was restricted to one lane during the height of the storm before dawn.

Lake County Road Department worker Sterling Sterl this morning said about 30 county workers were on double shifts manning the county's 20 snow plows most of the night.

Several plows became stuck in the snow and slowed operations as they were freed by other vehicles, Sterl said.

Eastlake officials said about a third of their residents were without electric power for several hours yesterday.

The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. reported about 700 customers in Madison Twp. and Village were without power for about an hour starting at 8 p.m.

About 12 customers along Vrooman Road in Leroy Twp. also lost power last night. Several isolated customers lost power throughout the area as lines were broken by falling tree branches and high winds.

CEI officials said the Eastlake blackout was caused by wind blowing wires bare and short-circuiting the system. Service was disrupted several times until the damaged wires were found at 8 p.m.

Scores of fender-benders were reported throughout the area as motorists struggled through icy streets and drifting snow. Police issued the standard "if possible, stay at home," advice today.

The biggest accident occurred shortly after noon yesterday in Wickliffe, with a 13-car pileup forcing the closing of westbound I-90 in the city. No serious injuries were reported.

Wickliffe Police Chief Andrew Zambory blamed the pileup on icy roads and wrote a letter to the Ohio Department of Transportation criticizing state snow removal and salting efforts on the highway.

"It was unbelievable, just like an accordion," Zambory said. The westbound lanes were closed for more than three hours. A truck carrying flammable liquids jackknifed near the tieup, but did not spill.

"It was the most cars we ever had pile up in an accident," said Zambory, a 25-year police veteran. "The cars were flying all over the place."

Less than an hour after I-90 reopened in Wickliffe, another truck jackknifed in the westbound lanes near the Euclid Avenue exit. It took police another hour to clear the scene to reopen the highway a second time.

Stranded cars blocked sidestreets and main arteries in several communities, stymying snow removal efforts.

"The roads are hopelessly blocked with abandoned cars. Our plows and men cannot get through," Eastlake Mayor Morris Becker said.

The mayor said towing firms reported they were between five and 12 hours behind and added city workers, in some instances, were pushing cars off the main arteries.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed," said Willoughby Hills Fire Capt. William Moster. The department received only one call last night - a 4 a.m. request for help from a doctor who could not get his car out of his driveway. The doctor, who was needed for an emergency operation at West End Hospital in Willoughby, was quickly driven by firemen to the hospital.

Heavy winds ripped electrical wires down in several cities. Willoughby firemen worked 40 minutes yesterday afternoon to remove a wire which fell atop a parked car on Erie Street.

The hazardous road conditions failed to stop Eastlake firemen from quick response to two calls last night from persons complaining of chest pains. In both instances, firemen brought the victims back from complete arrest - no breathing, pulse or heartbeat.

The victims, a 78-year-old man and an 84-year-old woman, were in West End Hospital today. The men who brought the pair back from the dead were Battalion Chief Fred Roberts, Lt. Jack Grove, Capt. Robert Bolin, and Firemen Wally Roberts, Terry Noland and Doug Cummings.

A Lost Nation Airport official said today the Willoughby airport's runways are clear, but visibility is poor. "We will take an airplane if it is an emergency," the official said.

A Hopkins International Airport control tower official in Cleveland told The News-Herald runways, taxiways and ramps are clear and in good shape. He said it reopened at 8 a.m. today.

Visibility this morning also was a factor there. about 1,200 persons reportedly were stranded at that airport last night.

The National Weather Service said conditions have not been bad enough at the airport for the storm to be classified as a blizzard.

"Blizzard conditions call for visibility of less than a quarter mile, winds more than 35 miles and hour and temperatures lower than 10 degrees," said Carl Ewald, aviation meteorologist at the National Weather Service at Cleveland Hopkins Airport.

"Here at the airport, the visibility has remained at about a half-mile although local conditions elsewhere have been worse," he said.

He said last year's one-day January blizzard was worse, but of shorter duration.

Winds up to 35 miles an hour are to continue today and will be accompanied by temperatures of no more than 10 degrees, he said. There will be an additional one to three inches with greater accumulation in southern Lake and Geauga counties. Severe drifting and blowing of snow is expected to continue.

The bright bluish flashes of light many Lake County residents have reported seeing yesterday and today are lightening caused by extremely unstable conditions over Lake Erie. With the water temperature in the low 30s and much colder air passing over it, some thundershowers with snow have occurred over and near Lake Erie.

Wind chill factor is expected to remain at about 40 below zero throughout the day.

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