The blizzard of 1978 was 43 years ago and is known as the historic winter storm that would set records in the Midwest.

“The Great Blizzard” of ‘78 brought vast snowfalls, fog, sleet and hurricane-strength wind gusts to Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and southeastern Wisconsin that would leave the Midwest paralyzed, including residents across Franklin County.

It was the storm no one expected despite the warnings issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) in Indianapolis. For the Midwest and FC residents, it had already been a snowy winter, and according to the Brookville Democrat on Tuesday, January 24, 1978, there were still 11 inches of snow on the ground in Franklin County. Regardless of the large amounts of accumulated snow, the article started out hopeful.

“The weatherman has given signs of relinquishing his wintery grip, at least for a few days, on Tuesday of this week with schools in the county resuming classes for the first time since Monday of last week.”
The article continued with reports of the county’s roadway conditions.
“Most county roads are in driving condition, although a heavy snow cover still exists, and driving with caution is a foregone conclusion when one takes to the highway.”

The hopeful sentiment about better weather conditions in Franklin County continued as the article did.

“The temperature reached 35 degrees on Monday (first time in 15 days that the thermometer was above freezing) and although a forecast for rain or light snow was predicted for Tuesday and Wednesday, rising temperatures should commence a thawing of our overabundance of white stuff.”
Only one line in the entire article foreshadowed what was really to come on Wednesday and Thursday.
“At this time of writing (11:45 a.m. Tuesday), we are informed schools were closed at noon as rain began to fall.”

Meanwhile, a system full of moisture, with subtropical jet streams, was developing over the southern United States. At the same time, a separate and unrelated system with polar jet streams was present over the Upper Midwest. The meeting of these two developing systems would change how Hoosiers would gauge a “bad winter” to this day.
Roughly 15 hours after the school dismissal was reported on Tuesday, in the early morning hours of Wednesday, came a heavy snow warning issued by the NWS as the rain turned to heavy snow and sleet by 7 a.m. Wednesday morning. Wednesday afternoon, that warning would be upgraded to the first-ever blizzard warning issued for the entire state of Indiana. Winds reached 48 mph by 1 a.m. on Wednesday according to the NWS and would continue through Thursday and Friday.

Snow drifts of 20 to 25 feet tall, frequent whiteouts and zero visibility for motorists were reported. Heavy snow and wind weren’t the only dangers Hoosiers were facing amid the storm though. By Thursday morning, temperatures had dropped to zero, and wind chills remained at 40 to 50 below zero most of the day, causing it to feel like it was -24 degrees. The risk of frostbite occurring in these weather conditions is within 30 minutes of being exposed to extreme weather conditions.

Ironically, the local article with talk of a winter weather break was scheduled to be issued to Brookville Democrat and American subscribers on Thursday, January 26, during the blizzard. Meanwhile Indiana’s governor declared a snow emergency for the entire state Thursday morning. The Indiana State Police considered all roads closed by that afternoon.
According to the NWS, President Carter declared a federal disaster in Ohio on the 26th and in Indiana on the 27th. It also stated in the report by NWS what leaders of the states impacted were doing to help.

“Meanwhile, area governors activated the National Guard in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana to help clear roadways, restore power, perform emergency rescues and evacuations, deliver food and medicine and transport medical personnel to hospitals.”

Upon the governor’s request, National Guard tanks were sent to I-65 to remove stranded semis. Indiana Bell halted all phone traffic but emergency calls; the hurricane winds left most Hoosiers without electricity, and across Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, the death toll was rising and would eventually stop at 70.

As shocking as the state’s reports are to read for a generation that has never experienced a winter like the one over 40 years ago, Franklin County residents can recall what they were facing during the “Great Blizzard” of 1978 as if it were yesterday.
Paula White and her husband Dave White lived on Highway 1 just south of Blooming Grove at the time, giving them a front-row seat to view the cars that were stranded on Hwy 1.

“I remember Dave waking up and telling me to look at the cars stopped on the highway,” Paula said. “We could see that it was snowing, but we had no idea that the cars were not moving because they couldn’t. About that time, we heard a loud pounding on our door. It was Roger Roberts. He was coming back from Ford and hit a snowbank that his 4-wheel drive truck wouldn’t go through. He told us that there were four guys in a van trying to stay warm with a Coleman heater, and he wondered if they could come in.”
Paula’s answer was “of course,” and the men started coming in. There ended up being 20 stranded travelers just trying to get home from work seeking refuge in the Whites’ home.

“Their coats were wet, and they were freezing,” Paula continued. “I threw coats in the dryer and got out as many extra blankets and pillows that we owned. You couldn’t walk through the living room and dining room without stepping on someone.”
The next morning Paula began to fix breakfast for her 20 house guests, but due to only having eight plates, she had to cook in shifts. While she was preparing food, a group of men accompanied Dave as he went to feed his cattle, which turned out to be quite a job since the barn electric was off. They had to climb to the top of the silo and fork down the silage to 400 head of cattle.

The cattle were important, but another group accompanied Dave to an even more critical task outside the home - checking on Dave’s grandmother, who lived next door.

“She (Dave’s grand-mother) lived with Bud (Dave’s brother), but he and Marilyn were in Florida,” Paula explained. “She was without electricity, so these wonderful men carried her down Bud’s driveway, down Highway 1 and up or driveway to get her to our house.”

Paula noted it would have been a shorter distance to cross the lot between their house and Bud’s house to get to Dave’s grandmother, but the snow was chest deep all the way across the lot, forcing a longer route.

Paula cooked lunch again in shifts to the grateful house guests before something happened that would send some of the men on another outing.
“The cigarettes ran out,” Paula said. “That was bad. Dave King lived two fields away and was sure he could walk home.”
Even with extra coats and bread bags on their feet, they were forced to stop halfway at an animal shelter and again seek refuge. As Paula began to worry about running out of food, relief came in the form of a bulldozer.
“The guys were on their way home,” Paula said. “And Grandma stayed a week.”

Paul Chaney lived in Hidden Valley in Brookville and worked at the Brookville Kroger, where Red Life Church is now.
“In Hidden Valley, the streets were drifted 10 feet deep in places,” Chaney said. “We (Kroger employees) didn’t expect much business but were really busy. When asked why they came in, customers said ‘We just wanted to see if we could make it.’”

On the other side of the county, one mile outside of Buena Vista, Gregg Burris recalled what it was like at his family’s farm.
“The milk truck couldn’t get our milk from our dairy for a week,” Burris said. “Left first grade at Andersonville school for Christmas break and didn’t go back until February something. The roads were like tunnels with snow 10 feet high on both sides, and the Crain family used their bulldozers to get the roads opened.”
For others, like Nedra McClure, who also lived on Highway 1 with her parents, it was a matter of life and death for a family without power.

“I was in sixth grade, our electric had been out for a long time,” McClure said. “We had a wood stove for warmth. We heard a loud knock on our door, and it was a man, Scott Vonderheide, with his baby daughter wrapped in a big blanket. He said he came to our house because he saw smoke from the chimney. He had never met our family before. He had walked from back Lucas Road through the deep drifts of snow for help with his baby. He left her with us and said ‘I will go back and get my wife, Dala,’ who was a teacher at Laurel Elementary and bring her here to get warm. I loved having a real baby for several days until their electric was back on.”
Over by Oak Forest, Jennifer Profitt grew up on her family’s farm. During the blizzard, her family had no water for 13 weeks due to frozen pipes. The Profitt family did their best to make it an adventure, though. Profitt wrote letters to her classmates during the 34 days of school she missed and called it an “exciting time.”

Ray Kersey recalled his mother trying to go to work in the days that followed the blizzard.

“My mom worked at Melben products in Harrison then,” Kersey said. “She was determined to go to work that day. Dad told her she was crazy, but she went out and tried. We had a ‘71 Maverick Grabber with a 302 motor and dual exhaust with cherry bomb mufflers. We watched her out the window and I can still hear those cackling and the tires spinning. She never moved more than two feet either way. She came back in and said, ‘Well I can tell them I couldn’t get out of my driveway now.’ Ended up every store and business in the county was shut down.”

Many other stories can be recalled by Franklin County locals. Stories about heartwarming rescue missions and delivery services to those in need, along with stories of entertainment during the aftermath that included building tunnels and walking across frozen rivers for fun.
The Brookville Democrat provided a recap of the infamous storm, too, the following week in its Feb. 2 edition - confirming the stories recalled by residents are true.

“Mother Nature’s latest outburst of winter weather, termed by many as the worst snow blizzard in their time, comparable to the 1918 frigid blast, slowed activity almost to a standstill Thursday and Friday,” the front-page article reads. “The very brief return of pupils to school on Tuesday morning was ended at noon the same day when freezing rain began to fall. School was canceled indefinitely on Monday of this week.

“Precipitation amounting to 1.27 inches (half rain and half snow) continued to fall Wednesday and above freezing temperatures had melted the snow to a depth of seven inches, only to pile to a high of 14 inches on Thursday, according to Merrel Walker, area U.S. Weather Bureau observer.

“Strong winds of 40-50 mile an hour proportions commenced early Wednesday evening, with heavy snow turning highways into a frozen nightmare by morning, with the temperature plummeting to zero and a raging blizzard that drifted shut most roads throughout the county.”

The Democrat closed the story of the 1978 blizzard with another weather forecast.

“Continued cold weather for the remainder of the week is the forecast, so a melt-off of the huge piles of snow is not anticipated very soon.”
That weather statement provided by the Democrat proved to be accurate and that January will not soon be forgotten by those who lived through it.