Interviewing Toledo-area people about the Blizzard of 1978, as I did for this story in Sunday's Blade, is always a bit surreal for me. While it's not a matter of being too young to remember that far back, I remember a different storm!
I grew up in suburban New York, in a densely populated, a vest-pocket school district where everybody except mobility-impaired kids walked to school. Like those in neighboring New York itself, our schools rarely closed because of the weather, which could be very frustrating as a kid listening to snowy-morning school-closing notices on the radio and never hearing yours listed. The main factor for us seemed to be whether the teachers who commuted in by car could make it, and most of the time, they were expected to, though there would always be a few subs in when the weather was bad.
In the winter of 1977-78, I was in the sixth grade at my neighborhood elementary school, the last grade before junior high, and I was a member of the Safety Patrol -- older students who served as crossing guards at crosswalks near the building. Going in to that winter I had yet to experience a snow day. It seemed like we were cursed: even when we got a big snow, like the 16 or so inches that fell on Jan. 19-20, 1978, it was a teachers' work day on the 20th!
What Ohioans remember as the Blizzard of 1978 missed metro New York almost entirely. I don't even remember if it rained. We undoubtedly heard about what was happening in the Midwest on the radio or in the papers -- my parents didn't watch much TV, but listened to news radio regularly -- but it was nothing that mattered to an 11-year-old. From historical coverage, I know that Ohio's storm tracked up the St. Lawrence Valley, pummeling lower Canada. That may, in fact, be part of why it was so strong here -- the Atlantic Ocean never got involved. So often when a storm crosses Ohio, a new low-pressure center forms over the ocean southeast of New York, and that new center saps the strength of the low in the Midwest. That's how the blizzard we were supposed to get just after Christmas turned into a big nothing in Toledo while having dumped more than a foot over southern Indiana.
No, the Blizzard of 1978 I remember occurred about 10 days after Ohio's. This one I recall being forecast spot-on; no one expected a rain change-over in New York, just a lot of snow. It showed up on Sunday evening, Feb. 5, and did it ever snow. My brother and I eagerly awaited the report in the morning that the local schools were closed. Yet with my Safety Patrol duty, I also had to be ready to go my station. And as the time to leave approached, my district still wasn't on the closing list on the radio! So off I walked into the snow and wind, bundled up in winter coat and hat and gloves and scarf, wondering what it would take for the ogres in charge to cancel school for once.
When I got to my post right out in front of the building, I was told that school was, in fact, closed. Evidently, though, a lot of other children hadn't gotten word, because quite a few were walking in. All dressed up with nowhere to go, I stuck around for probably half an hour to be their bearer of good news before trudging home for a day of snow forts and shoveling.
School would end up being closed on Tuesday, too, but by Wednesday the impromptu vacation was over, at least in my district. I recall news coverage of the storm's effect on the City, particularly the part about some streets in the Outer Boroughs not getting a single snowplow pass during the first four days. As has sometimes been the case with Toledo storms since I moved here 20 years ago, the authorities blamed that on parked cars blocking the way so plows couldn't get through. Manhattan was pretty much shut down during the two days I was off school, so my parents, who both commuted there by train, were home, but by Wednesday the trains were also running again so their winter vacations were over, too.
I don't recall if we ever got another snow day in that district before my family moved away four years later. Oh, we had snowstorms, all right; my walk to the junior/senior high school crossed a main street with a transit-bus route, and the buses were popular snowball practice for the kids. But the only other big snow I recall during those years happened in April, 1982 -- during Easter Week! All that was cancelled at school was a few baseball games scheduled during the break.