The most extensive and very nearly the most severe blizzard in Michigan history raged January 26, 1978 and into part of Friday January 27. About 20 people died as a direct or indirect result of the storm, most due to heart attacks or traffic accidents. At least one person died of exposure in a stranded automobile. Many were hospitalized for exposure, mostly from homes that lost power and heat. About 100,000 cars were abandoned on Michigan highways, most of them in the southeast part of the state.
~C. R. Snider, National Weather Service Meteorologist in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Today is Michigan’s 179th birthday, but it’s also the anniversary of one of the most significant storms to ever hit the state, the Great Blizzard of 1978. There’s a cool video below with a lot of photos from the storm (thanks Steve for sharing). William Deedler’s article A Great Storm is Upon Michigan says in part:
While there are several contenders for the worst blizzard ever to hit the Great Lakes in relatively modern times (since 1870 when records began in Detroit), the immense and intense Blizzard of January 26-27th 1978 must rank at or near the top along with the Great White Hurricane of 1913 (my link) with its similar track and powerfulness.
…As the Arctic air circulated throughout the storm while it made its way over Lake Huron, the lowest pressure was reached around 950 millibars or a hurricane-like 28.05 inches! “A Great Storm is Upon Michigan” read the headline of the 800 AM EST Special Weather Statement issued by the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Ann Arbor that Thursday /26th/ morning. Heavy snow and blizzard conditions were extensive as wind gusts in excess of 35 mph whipped the snow into huge drifts across much of Southeast Lower Michigan. Other areas of Eastern Michigan, Indiana and Ohio reported near hurricane-force winds, heavy snow and temperatures hovering between zero and 10 above, resulting in extreme blizzard conditions. These conditions later expanded further east into Pennsylvania and West Virginia and prevailed into the night (26-27th) across much of the Eastern Great Lakes, Southern Ontario and the Upper Ohio Valley. With the storm generating copious amounts of snow and very strong winds, whiteout conditions were widespread. All land and air traffic came to a stand still in the affected regions. Several major roads were closed for at least two to three days, if not longer, while clean up got underway. Numerous NWS employees were stranded at work, home, or on the road somewhere between the two. Several employees worked double shifts into at least Friday (some longer) because of the impassable roads with others simply unable to get to work.
The Blizzard Warnings were allowed to die across Michigan during the forenoon hours of Friday, the 27th. Record 24 hour snowfall totals from the storm included, 16.1 inches at Grand Rapids, 15.4 inches at Houghton Lake and 12.2 at Dayton, OH. Snowfalls for the entire storm (25-27th) included a whopping 30.0 inches at Muskegon (some of which was Lake Michigan enhanced), 19.3 inches at Lansing and 19.2 at Grand Rapids. Snowfalls were less over Southeast Lower Michigan (mainly because of the rain that fell for a period) and included 9.9 inches at Flint and 8.2 inches at Detroit.
Read on for more about the storm.