Surviving Ohio Valley blizzards

NOT MANY youngsters today hear stories from their grandparents about trudging miles through deep snowdrifts to reach a one-room schoolhouse, but they might hear about blizzards and storms dating back to 1950.

Snowfall such as that predicted early this week, though not as deep, took people to supermarkets and superstores. It was somewhat reminiscent of crowds in the days preceding Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. I remember that my late husband, Cal, used to say, “The American people think they’re going to starve to death.”

Regardless, we’ve had some doozies when it comes to snow, and those standing out in my mind are the Great Thanksgiving Storm of 1950 as well as blizzards in 1978 and 1993.

The Thanksgiving storm in 1950, according to the Ohio History Web site, was the deepest in the state’s history. Although nearly all of Ohio had more than 10 inches of snow, Eastern Ohio – to most people’s regret – outdid the rest of the state.

That Web site, which quotes “Thunder in the Heartland: A Chronicle of Outstanding Weather Events in Ohio” by Dr. Thomas Schmidlin and Jeanne Appelhans Schmidlin, reports 20-30 inches of snow in this area during the storm.

Roger Pickenpaugh in his book, “Blizzard of the Century: The 1950 Thanksgiving Storm in Southeastern Ohio,” relates that 20.7 inches of snow fell in Youngstown in 24 hours, setting a record, while the three-day accumulation in Steubenville totaled 36.3 inches.

The Jefferson County Courthouse couldn’t withstand the snowfall as the heavy snow collapsed the roof, “piling broken timbers, plaster, and steel beams over twenty feet deep in one of the courtrooms. Officials estimated the damage to be about $200,000, including $60,000 worth of books in the law library. Also damaged were seven historic paintings … ,” Pickenpaugh reported.

According to the Ohio History site, the worst storm conditions that year occurred Saturday, Nov. 25, as near-blizzard conditions prevailed throughout the state. Drifts in Eastern Ohio measured 25 feet deep.

Although the memorable storm began early on Friday, Nov. 24, according to reports, there was snow on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, if I recall correctly. The Gatchel family, including me, had gone from Barnesville to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s, and snow was falling in the Washington, Pa., area when we were traveling home.

I can remember how confident I felt, because my brother-in-law was driving and he was used to driving a milk truck over country roads, which weren’t in the best shape in bad weather (and even in good weather, sometimes). I didn’t learn until later that he couldn’t see the road too well because of the falling snow and a vision problem.

That also was the year for the “Blizzard Bowl,” sometimes called the “Snow Bowl,” at the Horseshoe, involving the Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines.

Pickenpaugh reports that officially, 50,503 of a paying 82,700 attended the game but other estimates by those present are 10,000 to 12,000 and possibly about 20,000 spectators. It was a sad day for the Buckeyes, because the Wolverines won 9-3.

Jean Palmer Davies recalls that her parents, Ray and Margaret Palmer, who operated the Barnesville Enterprise, had two tickets for that game, and her father pasted them to the front window of that newspaper, offering them free to anyone interested. There were no takers.

Fast-forwarding to 1976-77 and 1977-78, East Ohioans were faced with some extremely cold days. I’m not sure which year it was, but I recall walking to The Times Leader through drifts of snow with snowy-ice being carried by strong winds. When the precipitation struck my cheek, it felt like glass was cutting it.

We had innumerable stories about the National Guard arriving to help communities troubled by the mounds of snow. According to the Ohio History site, the winters of 1976-77 and 1977-78 were the two coldest winters recorded in Ohio up to that time.

During the January 1978 blizzard, 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,” according to the Web site.

Robert “Bubba” Kapral, managing editor of The Times Leader, was attending Bethany College at that time, and he said when returning from a practicum in the Virgin Islands, he looked down from the airplane in the Pittsburgh area, and it appeared the roadway featured bobsled tracks with mounds of snow on the sides. (I’ll bet he wished he stayed on the islands.)

Then, on Saturday, March 13, 1993, the Ohio Valley was smothered by approximately a foot of snow. That was the day, I was in the office to help Cal with sports and stayed on to help with news when the reporter that day was held up by the snow-clogged highways.

Marion Ruminski, who was St. Clairsville Bureau chief at that time, and I wrote all the major stories for the Sunday, March 14, paper with the main headline announcing, “Wind-whipped storm paralyzes Ohio Valley.” The other headline was: “Adverse weather causes multitude of problems.”

Those problems included transporting a patient from Woodsfield to Barnesville Hospital via two emergency squad vehicles after one went into a ditch. It also affected two weddings with church parking lots being cleared by Dom DeFelice in Shadyside and the street department in Barnesville so the ceremonies could be held.

Neither Ruminski nor Stan Pawloski, who handled the front-page news, could reach their homes that snowy Saturday night.

Fortunately, despite the blizzards, the Ohio River hasn’t suffered the same fate as the River Thames in 1683-84 when it reportedly was frozen solid for two months with the ice being nearly a foot thick in the London area.

Possibly, Eastern Ohio’s weather conditions have improved by today. If not, let’s hope you’re reading this while snuggled in warm afghan.

Pokas can be reached at