35th Anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78

Do you remember the Blizzard of ’78?  I have seen pictures of my grandmas house with drifts of snow up past the windows and my moms car buried in snow.  My grandpa used to tell stories from when he was working for the power company and tried to drive home in the snow.

This year is the 35th anniversary of that massive storm.  Here is a look at how it formed.

This storm started out as 2 systems.  One system was a mass of cold air surging nearly directly south.  The other, a tropical system forming in the south near the Gulf of Mexico.  These 2 storms merged then intensified VERY quickly.  This is what we in the weather world call a “bomb”.  The system set all time record low pressures along it’s path.  Incredibly it strengthened so quickly that the pressure fell 40 millibars in 24 hours!

Here are some weather maps of this system from the National Weather Service in Northern Indiana.

Upper Atmosphere (500mb) Jan 25th 1978 at 8 am EST – NOAA NWS IWX
Surface Observation Jan 25th 1978 8 am EST – NOAA NWS IWX











These images are from January 25th 1978 at 8 am EST.  The first is of the upper atmosphere at 500 mb.  The second is of the surface observations.  On the first image, notice the blue streaks.  That is upper level winds.  On the second image, notice the 2 low pressure systems marked with red L’s.  This is before the 2 systems merge.  Now take a look at this next image of the upper atmosphere at 8pm that night.

Upper Atmosphere (500mb) Jan 25th 1978 at 8 pm EST – NOAA NWS IWX

Notice that there is only one L  and one streak of blue.  This is when the 2 systems are merged and the new storm is starting to strengthen.  Notice also that the blue streaks are much darker, indicating that the winds are much more powerful.  Now take a look at these 2 images from January 26th 1978 at 8 am.

Upper Atmosphere (500mb) Jan 26th 1978 at 8 am EST – NOAA NWS IWX
Surface Observation Jan 26th 1978 8 am EST – NOAA NWS IWX











The thing to note here is how close together the contour lines are.  The closer together the isobars (lines of equal pressure) are, the stronger the winds.  In a matter of a day the 2 weak systems merged and strengthens so quickly and intensely that reports of 30″-40″ of snow were reported in Northern Indiana with 5-6 foot drifts.  During the height of the storm, snowfall rates of 1″-2″ per hour were reported along with sustained winds of 35-45 mph with even greater wind gusts.  With snow that heavy and winds that strong, visibilities were reported to be near 1/16th of a mile at times.  As the system moved out, the temperatures dropped.  Winds were still whipping across the area.  In fact an 82 mph gust was reported at the Cleveland Airport.  On January 30th Fort Wayne set it’s all time record lowest pressure at 975 mb.

Do you have memories from this historic storm?

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