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Snowfall tops January total from famous Blizzard of '78

TNS Regional News • Jan 22, 2014 at 3:07 PM

It was just a small snowfall — 1.6 inches at Toledo Express Airport that started late Monday and was done by sunrise Tuesday — but it was enough to break a record in which the notorious Blizzard of 1978 had a starring role.

January, 2014, is now the snowiest month in Toledo’s recorded history.

Added to snow that fell earlier this month, which was highlighted by 9.4 inches on Jan. 1-2 and 13 inches on Jan. 5-6, the most recent snow brought the January total to 30.9 inches, just one-tenth higher than the record 30.8 of January, 1978.

That snow arrived with another icy plunge to single-digit cold — from 30 degrees at sunset Monday to 4 at sunrise Tuesday at Toledo Express, accompanied by brisk winds that made the air feel well below zero to exposed skin.

After a daytime high Tuesday of 10, the National Weather Service predicted lows today around -7 in metro Toledo, which would mark the city’s seventh subzero morning so far this winter. That’s the most below-zero days in one winter locally since the winter of 2008-09, which had 10; there were just three total during the four winters in between.

A wind-chill advisory was posted for Lucas County and counties to the south and east until 11 a.m. today for wind-chill readings expected to dip as low as -20.

Joe Balderas, who hasn’t forgotten the way a warm rainy night 36 years ago turned into “snow drifts 15 to 20 feet tall” the next morning, was taken aback that the 1978 record had fallen.

“I was surprised to hear we’ve had that much snow, and January isn’t even over,” said Mr. Balderas, now 62. “But it’s different; you see the city keeping up with it, and it doesn’t hit you so hard.”

Brian Mitchell, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Cleveland, also observed how much time is left in the month after reporting the overnight snowfall.

“My calendar says it’s the 21st. We still have a ways to go,” he said.

Weather-service forecasters predicted snow showers today through Thursday that could add an inch or two in the Toledo area. They also said that, except for highs in the 20s during the weekend, local temperatures are predicted to go no higher than in the teens through early next week.

Mr. Balderas, garden and building administrator for the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center Inc., prepares much differently for the weather now than he did when the Blizzard of ’78 hit northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Back then, he didn’t pay much attention to weather reports nor did he heed friends’ warnings.

“When it hit, it looked like somebody threw a white blanket over all my windows,” recalls Mr. Balderas, who now laughs at his naivete. “Some friends used their snowmobiles to bring me supplies: bread, food, beer; probably more beer than anything else.”

When forecasters warned earlier this month of heavy snow followed by temperatures plunging to the teens to below zero — and wind chills to -40 — the wiser Mr. Balderas joined throngs at Toledo-area supermarkets who stocked up on food, milk, and orange juice to tide them over through the storm. He also beefed up his home’s insulation but skipped the beer; he no longer drinks alcohol.

Toledo Police Department Capt. Brad Weis said this month’s record-breaking snowfall hasn’t affected police operations the way 1978’s weather did because the department is better equipped.

Back then, officers on duty during the height of the storm spent the first night in the police station and stayed on the job the next day until members of the Ohio National Guard brought the next shift in to work. On the third day, Jeep donated several four-wheel drive vehicles to the police department so officers could get around.

“The police department had none, or few, four-wheel-drive vehicles back then,” said Captain Weis, who was a rookie patrolman in 1978. “We have plenty of them now; we’ve moved up in the world.”

Unlike the Blizzard of 1978, which had comparable snowfall, the 13-inch snowstorm Jan. 5 and 6 wasn’t preceded by heavy rain that may have lulled some into complacency about how bad it would get. The latest storm also was accompanied by travel-ban declarations from the sheriffs of many northwest Ohio counties, which kept the number of stranded vehicles to a minimum except in Michigan, where state law does not provide for such bans.

“I can remember standing on the expressway, and it looked like a desert with cars buried to their tops,” Captain Weis recalled of the 1978 blizzard. “The city had come to a standstill for a couple of days.”

While cars couldn’t move, Sonya Harper-Williams said she and about a dozen of her friends were ordered by their parents to take their sleds to a central Toledo supermarket to pick up food and supplies for their families. The absence of cars made the streets quiet, she said, but it was still slow going.

“I remember it taking so long because we had so many clothes on,” recalls Ms. Harper-Williams, now 51 but then a St. Ursula Academy sophomore. “It was only two blocks away, but it seemed to take forever. But it was fun because we were with our friends. The snow was really white, and I remember it being really still outside. It was quite pretty. I miss the innocence of those days.”

Crystal Ellis, a retired superintendent of the Toledo Public Schools, said this year’s snowfall seemed deceiving because it fell in smaller, but more frequent, batches.

”That snow in ’78 just fell out of the sky all at once,” Mr. Ellis said. “This winter has been colder than in the past. I don’t recall school closing so many times because of cold weather.”

The winter of 1977-78 still holds Toledo’s record for total season snowfall: 73.1 inches. But this winter has now reached 42.6 inches, and there’s still a lot of winter to go.


By Federico Martinez and David Patch - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

Visit The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) at www.toledoblade.com

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