COLUMBUS, Ohio — This week marks 44 years since the "Great Blizzard of 1978." The massive winter storm hit the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes Jan. 25-27.
The blizzard dumped vast amounts of snow with near-hurricane-strength wind gusts, heaping snow into enormous drifts up to 15 feet tall. In the end, 70 people died during the storm -- 51 of them in Ohio alone.
The Great Blizzard of 1978 was the result of a relatively rare merger of two distinct upper-level waves — one over Texas and one over the Northern Plains — that caused an explosive intensification of a surface low-pressure system moving north from the Gulf Coast into Ohio.
The storm system produced some of the lowest pressure readings ever recorded in the United States mainland that were not associated with hurricanes.
Visibilities were near zero for much of the storm. Temperatures rapidly plunged from the 30s to bitter-cold single digits in just a few hours. Wind gusts averaged 50 to 70 mph for much of the day on Jan. 26, reaching 69 mph at Dayton and Columbus and 82 mph in Cleveland.
An ore carrier stranded in thick ice on Lake Erie just offshore from Sandusky reported sustained winds of 86 mph with gusts to 111 mph that morning.
Extremely cold wind chills about -50 degrees or lower continued throughout the day, making it especially dangerous to venture outside.
While snowfall was difficult to measure due to the strong winds, official storm-total snowfall amounts from Jan. 25-27 ranged from 4.7 inches in Columbus to 6.9 inches in Cincinnati to 12.9 inches in Dayton.