Remembering the Great Blizzard of 1978 - WNEM TV 5

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Remembering the Great Blizzard of 1978

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Today, Thursday January 26, 1978 and into parts of Friday January 27 marks the day which The Great Blizzard of 1978 occurred in history for Michigan. The National Weather Service describes the blizzard, as one with the most extensive and nearly the most severe blizzard in Michigan history.

The storm began as a result of two weather systems. One traveling north from the Gulf of Mexico and one traveling southeast from the High Plains, which eventually merged over the Great Lakes region. The merging of the two systems created a lot of rising air in the atmosphere which helped strengthened the storm system as it continued to move over the Great Lakes. The intensity of the storm prompted the National Weather Service to issue blizzard warnings during the evening hours on the 26th of January back in 1978.

Snowfall totals from this system were measured in feet in some spots. In about 15 hours, snowfall totals were less over Southeast Lower Michigan (mainly because of the rain that fell for a brief period before) but it still included 9.9 inches at Flint and 8.2 inches at Detroit.

This systems intensity was close to hurricane-force winds (50-70 MPH) and snow drifts as high as 20 feet in some areas across Michigan. High winds knocked down trees and power lines, leaving many homes without heat and without power.

Unfortunately 20 people died as a direct or indirect result of the storm. Most were due to heart attacks or traffic accidents. At least one person died of exposure in a stranded automobile. Many were hospitalized for exposure to the extreme cold --- mostly from homes that lost power and heat. On top of that, about 100,000 cars were abandoned on Michigan highways, most of them in the southeast part of the state.

After the storm, school closures lasted for a week or more, and snow-bound families rushed into grocery stores for supplies and children bundled up to play in the snow.

Along with the intense winter storm, the Winter of 1977-78 is written down in the record books for the coldest winters on record. For Detroit it was the seventh coldest winter, Flint's fifth coldest and Saginaw's sixth. 

This 40 year anniversary date marks the day that the Great Lakes region received one of the worst snowstorms on record.

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