The Great Blizzard of 1978


The Mid-West is in a deep freeze right now. Other parts of the country have gotten snow. I don’t think any records have been broken. Nevertheless cold, blustery messy weather is always a great source of grievance.

Just face facts folks.

The weather is almost always universally crummy because the Weather Gods  hate us. They want us to suffer. Therefore, they never provide optimal temperature or weather conditions in any season!  You see, they  know that there is a primal instinct in human beings to complain.  This instinct  must be sated by something; so they chose weather.

This weekend’s cold spell reminded me of 1978.

The Great Blizzard of 1978.

I kid you not. A real blizzard.

I lived in Dayton at the time. I was driving home from work about 9 p.m. and I heard the weather report and snickered. A blizzard. Yeah!!! It was just the media hyping another storm for ratings I thought. I had not made it home yet when the biggest snow flakes I have ever seen began falling.

According to Wikipedia:

The Great Blizzard of 1978 was a historic blizzard which struck the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes from January 25–27, 1978. The 28.28 inches (958 millibars) barometric pressure measurement recorded in Cleveland, Ohio was the lowest non-tropical atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the mainland United States until the Upper Midwest Storm of October 26, 2010 (28.20″ measured at 5:13PM CDT at Bigfork Municipal Airport, Bigfork, MN).

The lowest central pressure for the 1978 blizzard was 28.05″ (953 mb) measured in southern Ontario a few hours after the aforementioned record in Cleveland.[1] [Emphasis mine.]

According to the website:

The worst winter storm in Ohio history struck before dawn on Thursday, January 26, 1978. The Blizzard of ’78 continued through Thursday and into Friday. Transportation, business, industry, and schools were closed statewide for two days with the normal pace of society not returning to the state for five days.

I read, watched TV, and went to bed around midnight as usual that night. But I was awakened in mid-morning by the howling of the wind. It sounded like one of those scenes from the movie, Dr. Zhivago  (One of my all time favorite books and movies.)where he and Laura were living in an abonded house in the midst of nowhere during winter in Russia. The only thing missing was the howling of  the wolves.

I could not sleep. So I got up, fixed some hot choclate and sat in the dark in my living room with the curtains pulled open to watch the wind whip the snow with terrifying strength.

And the noise. I will never forget the sound of the wind. Ferocious. Angry. Howling.

By early morning when it was light my house and my neighbor’s houses looked like a scene, again, from Dr. Zhivago. The scenes where the snow is so heavy that  it is overhanging the roofs like undulating waves. The snow hanging from the roof was so low, and the snow on the ground was so high, there was barely a few inches gap between them. That was my neighborhood for over a month. It was beautiful.

Back to Ohio History dot org:

[The] rapidly intensifying storm pulled bitterly cold air across Ohio on winds of 50 to 70 mph. These conditions, combined with heavy snow and blowing of deep snow already on the ground, caused extreme blizzard conditions all across Ohio. Enormous snowdrifts covered cars and houses, blocked highways and railways, and closed all airports for two days.

Source The Columbus Dispatch Archives

 You might want to visit the website if you find this kind of stuff interesting. There is a brief TV news clip and more still pictures of  the destruction than the one picture I include here. There are pictures of roads with snow seven feet high on both sides of the road; a picture of grocery carts blown in a parking lot; and much more.

It was even worse in Michigan. Again from Wikipedia:

The Michigan State Police pronounced Traverse City, Michigan “unofficially closed” and warned area residents to stay home. WTCM radio staffer Marty Spaulding, who closed the bayfront location station the previous night at 11 pm was called to re-open it the next day at 6am as regular staffers could not get there due to impassable roads. Upon arriving after a 45 minute walk in waist deep snow from his home a mere 10 city blocks distant, he had to dig down “a foot” to put the key in the front door.

That is how much snow we all had. I had never seen anything like it. I have not seen anything like it since either. 


I drove from Dayton to Upper Sandusky a week after the storm. And I can attest, this is how the roads looked. Telephone poles were covered in snow two-thirds of their height.  It was surreal.

Wikipedia writes:

The Blizzard was the worst in Ohio history where 51 people died as a result of the storm. Over 50,000 members of the Ohio National Guard were called in to make numerous rescues. Police asked citizens who had four-wheel drive vehicles and snowmobiles to transport doctors to the hospital. From January 26 to 27, the entire Ohio Turnpike was shut down for the first time ever.[5] The total effect on transportation in Ohio was described by Major General James C. Clem of the Ohio National Guard as comparable to a nuclear attack[6]


BTW ~ Check out the snowfall chart on Wikipedia in the link above. Note the number of inches that fell in Chicago. Unbelievable!!!

I give you this brief history lesson as a prelude to today’s:

Featured Recipe    Blizzard Chicken Soup

For two days during the Great Blizzard I had to make do with the few food stuffs I had at home. I have always had jobs where I worked long and often unorthodox hours, where I often traveled, and often ate out a lot. That is not a complaint by the way. I loved every minute of it. But that is the way it was. So I did not often have a lot of food stocked up in my pantry.

This is one of the recipes I came up while stuck at home. Well, not this exact version. I have added to it and have learned a new technique to make it better. Actually there is no real version. I made it up as I went along. I think this may have been the very first “recipe” I ever created. In fact, this is the first time I have ever written it down.

I had little in the fridge and little in the pantry. And no stores were open, let alone restaurants. I had some breakfast food in the fridge, bacon and eggs and the like. And I had some left over restaurant food. So I was fine. But much as I love breakfast food even I can’t eat it three times a day.

And when that all ran out I had to actually cook something.

So this is what I came up with.

This is what I had on hand:

1 can of chicken broth

a piece of carrot

a limp celery stalk

a can of whole tomatoes

some leftover rice 

This is what I did:

I diced the veggies and then I tossed everything in a pan, heated it and ate it. And it was pretty darn good. It was many years later I started calling it Blizzard Soup.

I know I shared another Chicken Soup recipe with you. There are just so many versions. But this is the version I make when the temps dive low and there is now on the ground, or during a snow storm. Now I even plan for it. I keep the basics pretty much the same. But I add things that might be lurking in the fridge, like the peas I added today.

I also add some real chicken; usually a chicken thigh or two. Chicken thighs are very tasty and can add a lot of flavor to canned broth.

The biggest difference I make now is what I do to the canned chicken broth. I concentrate it by simmering it down to half.

 This really gives a whole new dimesnsion and depth to the soup.

I did not have any chicken thighs in the house today and was going to go to the store to get some. But then I thought, in the spirit of being stranded like during the blizzard let’s just make the soup today like I did that first time. With whatever is on hand.  I found a half chicken from a BBQ last summer in my freezer. So I used part of that. I did not have any whole tomatoes, but had a can of crushed.

I also increased the ingredients to serve four people.

So with no more ado I present:

The New and Improved Blizzard Chicken Soup
This is what you will need for 4 people:

4 cans of chicken broth

1 or 2 pieces of chicken such as a thigh

1 carrot

1-2 stalks celery

3-4 tablespoons crushed or diced tomatoes

About 2/3 cup instant rice

I had left over peas in the fridge so I am adding that too.

Here is what you do:

Place the chicken in a pan and cover it with the chicken broth. If you have chicken bones in your freezer add some of those too.

Bring the broth to a boil. Turn the heat down and let the broth simmer until the chicken is cooked through. (Juices run clear when cut.)

See all that crud floating on top of the broth in the picture above? That is scum. Skim off the scum that forms on top using a spoon or spatula or both. Scum less. You may have to skim more scum as the cooking progresses.

In the meantime dice the carrot and celery into very small pieces.

When the chicken is done, remove and let cool.

Turn the heat up slightly and simmer until the broth is concentrated or reduced by half. Do not boil. Just a gentle simmer. This makes the flavor so much better. It is not quite homemade stock, but in a blizzard it will do very nicely, thank you very much!

Add the carrots and celery and cook for a few minutes. I like mine to be crisp so I do not over cook. But cook any way you want them. It is your soup!

While the carrots and celery are cooking and when the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and fat and discard. Dice the chicken meat up into tiny pieces.

Add the rice and cook a minute or two.

Then add the chicken, the peas if using, and 2 or 3 tablespoons of the tomatoes.* Mix well and heat through.

Serve with crackers or butter and bread.

*Don’t worry. I am not going to waste the rest of the crushed tomatoes. I still have some Vermouth spaghetti sauce left over from last week. When I reheat it for lunch or dinner this week I will add a few tablespoons of this to make it taste fresh again. There is always a way to use up left overs.

Bon appétit!!!


4 cans of chicken broth                  $2.00

1 or 2 pieces of chicken                  $1.39

1 carrot                                        $0.17

1-2 stalks celery                            $0.22

3-4 tablespoons tomatoes              $0.18

About 1/3  cup instant rice             $0.54

Left over peas

Total cost = $4.50
Cost per person = $1.13

Quote of the Day

As a child my mother’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.

Buddy Hackett


Post updated 12/13 w/add of car pic.

Post updated for repost 1/14/12.

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4 comments to The Great Blizzard of 1978

  • Maybe we’re more used to snow here but we get scenes like that more often than once in a lifetime. A couple of years ago we had a blizzard every weekend for three weeks. I finally bought a snowblower it was that bad.

    The worst storm I remember though was several years ago and close to three feet deep. We get no services to help with snow removal as we’re in the county. It took more than a day of residents clearing a path before anyone could get in or out of our neighborhood. I keep a well stocked pantry…I think these are the reason why! 🙂

    • Roberta

      I think parts of CO do get more snow and storms than Western and Central Ohio. I don’t think that part of Ohio has had a blizzard since. Snowstorms, and lots of snow, but no official blizzard. Contrary to much belief out there, except for the Lake area (Cleveland and east of there), most of Ohio has a moderate climate.So we are ot use to blizzards.

      That is rough getting no service. I keep a well stocked pantry just in case, but also to take advantage of good sales.

  • You and I discussed this last week. Who could forget that blizzard if you were around for it? For us, it was sooo much fun! We bundled our kids up, packed a bag, brought lots of food, and inched our way to friends of ours so we could be stranded together. We pooled resources and had a block party for 3 days! Good times!
    You’re right…it was surreal. It was a feeling of being on a deserted planet. No traffic. No stores open. Cars stranded on the streets. It was a happening!

    • Roberta

      You give the best sentnce to describe the atmosphere for those of us who did not lose much in the ’78 Blizzard ~~~ “It was a happening.” Indeed it was. Thanks for the wonderful, joyous comment, Dawn.