Indiana remembers 1978 blizzard 40 years later

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INDIANAPOLIS - On January 25, 1978, the National Weather Service issued its first ever statewide blizzard warning. Over the last 40 years, it hasn't happened again.

The blizzard of 1978 shutdown central Indiana and every corner of the Hoosier State. The storm brought an estimated 15.5 inches of snow to the city, according to NWS. Overall, the storm brought the most snow Indiana had seen over a three-day span since 1910. That year, between February 16 and 18, a total of 16.1 inches of snow dropped on central Indiana.

"My dad was concerned because there was so much snow packed on the roof," said Brennan Garard, who was an elementary school student in 1978. "He went up and shoveled the roof into a huge pile in our front yard."

Garard, who lived near 25th Street and Post Road in '78, said he and a neighbor created tunnels and played in the snow for days.

If another blizzard hit, he would look at it differently as an adult. "It was one of those things that I’m sure my parents were very concerned about the quantity of snow. As a kid, you didn’t have to worry about logistics to where do you put all the snow.  Now I’m old and that’s what I think about."

According to the National Weather Service, other records were set that winter.

The blizzard was part of a 61-day stretch with at least one-inch of snow cover. Then February had the coldest temperature for a month on record.

"It was a winter that stuck around," said Al Shipe, a service hydrologist at NWS. Shipe started working in Indianapolis just a few months prior to the storm.

During the worst part of the storm, some areas in the state saw snow fall at a rate of one to two inches an hour. Wind speeds consistently were at 35 miles an hour, with gusts approaching 55 miles an hour.

Northern Indiana typically gets more snow than the rest of the state, but it even had issues in 1978.

"Along the toll road they were dropping supplies out of helicopters," said Shipe.

Shipe said meteorologists in his office saw two storms approaching the state, and were predicting they would merge into one as they approach Indiana.

He said Indiana was the first to declare a blizzard warning for the state. Illinois and Ohio soon followed.

"[Mayor Bill Hudnut] was saying don’t get on the roads but I don’t think anybody could get on the roads anyway," said Shipe. "The snow varied from a couple inches deep to half way or more up the side of my ranch house, because of the drifts.  Six to eighth foot drifts."

Many who risked driving found themselves getting stuck. Some even needing rescued by the National Guard.

"People who needed to get to the hospital, such as pregnant women, were taken by snowmobiles," Shipe said.

The storm hit Wednesday and conditions didn't improve until the weekend. By Monday, roads had opened and people were able to start returning to work.

That January, 30 inches of snow fell on the city. Another record for the area.

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