DARKE COUNTY - A blizzard may not be rare to this area over the years; however, many of those living now do remember the Blizzard of 1978.
A write-up in the Akron Beacon Journal revealed this: “The original forecast sounded harmless enough: ‘Rain tonight, possibly mixed with sow at times. Windy and cold Thursday with snow flurries. People who went to bed early missed the bulletins at 9 p.m. Wednesday. They woke up to a screeching nightmare. A monster storm with hurricane 9-force winds slammed into northeast Ohio early Jan. 26, 1978, spreading an icy coat of death and destruction.”
The report went on to state that the blizzard was often called the “Storm of the Century,” killing more than 50 people in Ohio and causing at least $100 million in damage. The historic winter storm struck the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes Jan. 25-27, paralyzing most of the state, including Darke County.
“Storm paralyzes county” read the headline in the Jan. 26 issue of The Daily Advocate. Reporters of stories that day had interviewed the mayor, Howard “Crib” Schlagetter, who reported that four, four-wheel drive trucks and four snowmobiles were being sent throughout the city to help people needing to go to the hospital or requiring other medical aid.
The Greenville City Building and First United Methodist Church took in stranded motorists, and many area residents came to the aid of overworked city employees.
Visibility was near zero and people were commanded to stay in their homes. Power outages left scores of houses without light and heat and there were low food supplies.
County snow plows were out to clear roads so people could get to the grocery or warmer quarters. Surgeries were canceled at the hospital for the duration as two physicians were unable to make it in.
Various rescue services, it was reported, were aided by vehicles which could move through or at least try to move through deep drifts and snowbanks.
A lot of local residents were advised to stay indoors and, according to a write-up in The Daily Advocate on Jan. 27, sunshine and slightly slackened winds that morning gave an appearance of improved weather but roads in Greenville and throughout the county remained treacherous.
Greenville Police Department and the First United Methodist Church in Greenville remained open to aid stranded people. The weather forecast that day for west central Ohio was showing diminishing winds Friday night and Saturday with snow flurries.
Police reported their biggest job was trying to move people who needed to go to emergency jobs. Vital city routes were being cleared by a snow plow in front of a firetruck.
The biggest problem, according to the reports, was electrical outages. People were not only having problems keeping warm but having plumbing issues too. there were also scattered problems throughout the county with telephone lines down due to the high winds.
It was noted that more than once babies were delivered by rescue squad workers. Obstetrics at the hospital was busy, but regularly scheduled surgeries were postponed as were a lot of other activities out in the community.
Readers learned that the storm recovery was underway in Darke County when they picked up the Jan. 30, 1978, edition of The Daily Advocate. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arrived in Greenville via helicopter Monday morning, working with county engineers on getting contractors for snow removal. Forty-one people from the National Guard were on duty in Darke county, clearing the main arteries. The Guard was to shut down Tuesday afternoon if no longer needed.
Main roads were passable with at least one lane open, while some township and county roads were still closed. Private contractors were helping farmers who are working to save livestock.
Police Chief Dwight Williamson ordered police to cite motorists traveling for non-emergency purposes, and Fire Chief Willie Beaver reported that his department had very little difficulty in making runs because most of the streets were passable.
All DP&L customers, according to the Jan. 30 issue, were back in service.
The American Red Cross, it was noted, had 30 to 35 people stranded at the refuge center at First United Methodist Church at the height of the blizzard. Only six remained that morning. Red Cross employees and volunteers provided emergency help to the sick and elderly residents stranded in their homes.
Most industries, it was announced, were back to work, except for Argosy Manufacturing in Versailles, whose business office and maintenance employees returned but production workers hadn’t yet. Darke County residents working at New Idea in Coldwater had not reported to work because of Mercer County Sheriff’s weather advisory.
In the Jan. 31 issue of The Daily Advocate, agriculture losses were reported. Darke County had already had three-fourths of a million dollars in damages and it was said it could run as high as a $2 1/2 to $3 million loss. Darke County Extension Agent John Vermilya reported direct losses locally were mainly to livestock, poultry, milk and eggs.
Because there was no power, milk cows would dry up after four to five days, and many local farmers, who managed to milk their herds, were forced to dump milk during and after the storm because tank truck drivers couldn’t drive through impassable roads.
Mabel Bailey, executive director of the American Red Cross, said the refuge center closed Monday afternoon. except for a past-due pregnant woman who was assigned to a local motel. They had, at their center, stranded people from New York , Lima, Michigan, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Toledo as well as Greenville. Three cooks from the schools prepared the meals.
Grocery stores stayed open throughout the storm; mail, rural and city, deliveries resumed that day; and the police stopped citing motorists. Parents were reminded not to let children play on the mounds of snow or in snow tunnels they dug.
Gil Whitney, a weatherman for Channel 7 at the time, sent “certificates of self-preservation” out to people, certifying that the respective person receiving it “has survived the great Blizzard of 1978, the storm of the century and the greatest snowfall at one time.”
On that certificate was this information: “Jan. 28, 1978. Winds: 69 mph; temperature 3 degrees; wind chill factor -65 degrees; low barometer 28.66 (record); 12-inch snowfall in 124 hours (record); and snow on ground 25.5 inches (record).”