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Looking back: 45 years since the blizzard of '78

It has been almost a half-century since the benchmark blizzard in West Michigan. Meteorologist Michael Behrens takes a look back on that storm.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The big one that everyone compares snowstorms to in West Michigan. The Blizzard of '78 hit our region 45 years ago today. That storm left a mark on our region, and on the country. That mark has never been forgotten. 

The storm brought wind speeds as high as 111 mph and drifts as high as 25 feet to parts of the Great Lakes region. Reports vary, but at least 90 people lost their lives from the blizzard. 

In the state of Michigan, about 20 people lost their lives, most from heart attacks or traffic accidents. Around 100,000 cars were left abandoned in the snow on Michigan highways. 

This system came together from two low pressures that were forming across the nation on January 25th. They combined over the Great Lakes region and underwent bombogenesis as we went into the 26th. This resulted in pressures as low as 28.05" as reported from Ontario, Canada. 

The resulting snowfall and intense winds left feet of snow drifts that paralyzed the region for days, making snowmobiles the best way to get around. Below is a list of snow totals from January 25-28, 1978 in West Michigan. 

Blizzard 1978 Snow Totals:

  • GULL LAKE: 25.9”
  • EVART: 25”
  • MONTAGUE: 24.1”
  • GRAND HAVEN: 24”
  • KALAMAZOO: 24”
  • BALDWIN: 22.8”
  • ALBION: 22”
  • CHARLOTTE: 21.5”
  • HART: 21”
  • HASTINGS: 21”
  • GREENVILLE: 20.8”
  • ALLEGAN: 20.7”
  • JACKSON: 20.4”
  • LOWELL: 19.6”
  • LANSING: 19.6”
  • GRAND LEDGE: 19.6”
  • EAST LANSING: 18.3”
  • SAINT JOHNS: 17.5”
  • BIG RAPIDS: 17.1”
  • LUDINGTON: 17”
  • HARRISON: 16”
  • HESPERIA: 15.5”
  • IONIA: 15”
  • ALMA: 14.5”
  • WILLIAMSTON: 14.3”
  • HOLLAND: 14”
  • SOUTH HAVEN: 7.5”

While these totals are impressive, they are far from the largest 4-day snowfalls in West Michigan. It was all about the wind and snow density that made things so terrible for the region. 

Wet and heavy snowfall, with drifts that covered over buildings and cars, made this storm one that will forever be remembered. 

-- Meteorologist Michael Behrens

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Email me at: MBehrens@13OnYourSide.com

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