Stories Told

Blizzard of ’78

Thirty years ago yesterday the TV weatherman warned of a coming blizzard. By afternoon thirty years ago today, I sat in school watching a wall of white through the window as the storm moved in. School let out early. I leaned hard against the wicked cold winds, stinging snow against my face, as I walked the one block home. The snow froze to my eyelashes and my nostrils; I could barely see and had to breathe through my mouth. Dad wasn’t home yet as the snow accumulated. He arrived very late and on foot, crusted in ice and snow, his car having become stuck somewhere down the street. He said he couldn’t even tell if he was on the road.

The next morning, the radio said, “South Bend is shut down. Schools everywhere are closed.” But the snow wasn’t done falling. When it was stopped sometime the next day, 36 inches had fallen and had drifted as high as 10 feet. It was still dangerously cold outside.

Mom inventoried food while Dad tried to lift the garage door open. He did, with considerable effort, to reveal a wall of snow that blocked the door but for a few inches at the top. Dad issued shovels to my brother and I and we started shoveling snow into the garage. The snow was dense and heavy, tiring to lift. We worked in 20-minute shifts with long rests to get warm, and eventually dug a ramp into the dense snow. Later we walked up that ramp and out onto the snow, dragging our Flexible Flyers behind us, to buy food at a nearby grocery that had opened somehow.

South Bend was paralyzed. People were stuck wherever they were when the storm hit. The same faces were on TV and voices were on the radio for days. Nurses and doctors worked unintended marathon shifts treating whoever could come in, which was good for my mother’s friend who went into labor during the storm and was taken to the hospital by snowmobile. But at home the days dragged by with little to do but keep working on shoveling the driveway. A band of my braces broke; even though Dad cut the wire and packed it with wax, it still cut, and I suffered with it.

The city slowly began to clear the snow from the streets, making 10-foot piles at the curbs. People started to drive, though the streets felt like tunnels. The broadcasters and doctors got to go home. Dad found his car two blocks north in somebody’s front yard, dug it out, and brought it home. We started clearing our sidewalks. Schools opened on a limited schedule two weeks after the storm. Dad was able to go back to work. I made it to the orthodontist.

The city was starting to function again, and so our normal lives were restored slowly in the coming weeks. Eventually, the mountains of snow melted enough that drivers could see what was around each corner. Schools returned to normal schedules. City services resumed. And one day the only remnants of the storm were tall snow piles in shopping-center parking lots. Even those eventually melted, but not until at least late April.

Thirty years later, I still dislike snow.

Last updated on 21 December 2019 by Jim Grey

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One thought on “Blizzard of ’78

  1. Dani says:

    Heh… Mom’s clothes line was completely consumed by drifted snow. Out in the country where houses were 1/2 miles or more apart, the drifts seemed to go on forever. The farmers plowed the country roads otherwise we would have had to waited 2-3 days for the county trucks to come through. Dad would clean the driveways of nearby elderly folks with his 4WD International Harvester then drive it 10 miles into town to pick up groceries for them.
    btw… I loathe snow.

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