40 Years Later: Remembering the 1978 Blizzard

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich .-- Thursday marks 40 years since the start of the 1978 blizzard that left West Michigan buried in snow.

The blizzard began on January 25 and lasted for days, dumping record-numbers of snowfall. The blizzard blasted Grand Rapids and the lake shore for two days, dumping lots of snow with wind gusts around 40 miles per hour.

And weather experts say the storm was very unusual with extreme low pressure. “The barometer pressure was, I think, 28.26 inches," ” Says Ernie Ostuno, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids. "Which is comparable to the low pressure you’ll see in hurricanes. So it was really unusual and incredibly intense storm."

The snow drifts were relentless, spawned by the strong winds. “There were some snow drifts 5 to 8 feet,” says Ostuno, “and, in some cases, even higher than that, some of the worst snow drifting that we’ve ever seen.”

And temperatures stayed in the teens after the storm, so all the snow hung around for weeks.

“It set the daily record for snowfall in Grand Rapids, which still exists: 16 inches of snow in one day,” says Ernie Ostuno with the National Weather Service.  “We had gusts as high as 40 miles an hour. Very heavy snow, drifting snow.”

Other locations recorded deep snow:

  • 33.8 inches in Muskegon
  • 30.0 inches in Bloomingdale
  • 28.0 inches in Grand Haven
  • 24.0 inches in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

Officials say some snow drifts measured up to eight feet tall.  Many people recall people riding snowmobiles to get to the grocery store.

Ostuno says the blizzard set the benchmark for other storms in West Michigan to measure up to.

“This one is still the benchmark in what we call ‘explosive’ deepening of a low pressure center,” said Ostuno. “So you had very heavy snow drifts across the roads. Several feet. The plows were ineffective, because as they went through, the snow would drift right back over the roads.”

The blizzard of 2011 came close to measuring up to the 1978 blizzard, but Ostuno says it lacked the strong winds that the earlier weather system had.



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  • rory

    I remember it well. I was in high school in Clarkston, MI (Think Pine Knob) at the time. Two points;
    – Folks don’t remember the BITTER cold. -22 actual temperature for several mornings in a row.
    – Two months later in March, we had a terrible ice storm after a weekend long rain event suddenly froze and stayed frozen for a week at least. No one had power anywhere. It was a week before the power came back on.
    Triple Whammy, the snow, the cold, the ice later in March.

  • Laughing Out Loud

    There was the Upper Michigan Blizzard of 1938, where snow drifts reached the height of utility poles, so maybe they were 40 years off?

    In ’78, a National Guard V-Plow was used to cut through our road, a former logging trail. The family was hunkered down for a week. After the road was cleared, Dad and I ventured out to find eleven-foot snow banks and were amazed at how still everything was. You could probably hear a pin drop at fifty feet.