Thursday, January 26, 2017


    WARM JANUARIES in Ohio can make some people nervous; at least if they experienced first-hand the great winter storm of 1978. That landmark storm was preceded by such unusually warm weather as we have experienced here in the January 2017. 
    Dubbed by weather people as a "Hurricane With Snow," the storm blew in with a vengeance on January 26 of 1978. Minimal in snowfall, at least compared to the 1950 blizzard, this monster was characterized by its explosive entry with Category 3 hurricane-force winds which created mountainous drifting.
    Air pressure fell to 28.28--the lowest ever in Ohio at the time--and temperatures plunged by 30 degrees in the first two hours. The  U. S. Mail service stopped for the first time since 1950, and the full length of the Ohio turnpike, as well as  transportation, business, industry and schools, closed statewide.
    THE PRE-STORM THREAT had been well-defined by weather people, and schools were prudently "pre-closed," but citizens were disbelieving in the midst of spring-like rains. I was one of the "disbelievers."  
    Sometime between 3 and 4 a.m., I got out of bed to let a restless dog outside. As I returned to bed,  I mumbled to my husband, "It's raining. Way too warm for snow. Where's the storm?" As if on cue, the wind and cold howled in with startling force, covering our windows instantly with ice.
    For days and nights, it didn't seem the wind would ever stop. It screamed and shook our homes without relief, and neither animal nor human could sleep in peace. "You have to wonder how long a house can stand this," a normally stalwart neighbor said to me.
    Blue lightning slashed back and forth from snapped power lines. Damage from wind was widespread, with signs blown down, windows broken, and communications disrupted. The air was full of storm-propelled debris. A massive crane at the Perry Power Plant was toppled ...
    As with many such emergencies, comfort came in the form of people helping people. For travelers caught in perilous conditions, civilians came with snowmobiles to aid in rescue. Private homes were opened for stranded strangers, and neighbors checked on neighbors. In a nearby county, one town had been embroiled in a road-workers' strike, and volunteers drove in to offer help in the emergency; there was more help offered than there were pieces of equipment for the work. (If I recall correctly, the workers too returned for the duration).
    Governor Rhodes sent out the National Guard with people, 4WD vehicles, ambulances, road graders and bulldozers. When that was not enough, President Jimmy Carter declared Ohio a Federal Disaster Area, sending federal troops and the entire 18th Airborne Corps from Fort Bragg. He added heavy equipment, personnel carriers and fuel tankers ...
    THIS BITTER STORM had come during a string of record-breaking winters. Another dangerous January blizzard had occurred just one year before, almost to the day, on January 28, 1977. In that year, we had so many other problems that the storm seemed almost like an after-thought to many people.  
    It had been a winter of  extreme and unrelenting cold. The Ohio river had made its own weather history by freezing shore-to-shore.   Serious natural gas shortages had led to periodic and rotating shutdown of factories. Recession was looming... With the blizzard, our schools and stores were merely added to the list of closures. 
    Here, too, help was needed from National Guard, police, firefighters and citizens; and as always, that help was freely given. Even the international high-wire walker Karl Wallenda had found his courage tested. He was driving on Route 2 in Lake County, travelling to perform in Mentor, when his car spun out of control. Fortunately he survived without injury, and when he recovered his wits, he would tell news people that, "I have never been so nervous on the high wire as I was that day during the blizzard in Lake County."
    AN INTERNATIONAL THEORY emerged earlier that year at a meeting in London--not of global warming but of a gradual return to the Ice Age. It scared our school kids. "Just wait," we reassured them. "In 15 or 20 years, someone will say the world is on its way to destruction by heat! Weather cycles come and go. " (We were not believed).
    Those same climate  people would later promote their theory as "Global Warming" and even later call it  "Climate Change" and "Climate Disruption" to explain the back-and-forth cyclical nature of the climate.
    In the meantime, let's just say, "The more things change, the more things stay the same." We have not seen our last great winter blizzard.
    Weather is weather; and if it were completely stable, we would not need our weather forecasters.