Traverse City Record-Eagle

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January 26, 2008

Blizzard of '78 turns 30

Traverse City nearly shut down after storm blanketed region

Traverse City -- Northern Michigan is no stranger to snow and harsh temperatures, but a storm that swept through the area 30 years ago remains one for the record books.

January 1978 brought a blizzard that surged with such force, snow completely buried cars, trapped farm animals in fields and caused the governor to declare a state of emergency.

Most people were confined to where they could walk, snowmobile, ski or snowshoe, but a helicopter provided Leelanau County resident Jim Gilbo and other local officials a bird's eye view.

"You couldn't see any roads. They were all obliterated, they were all white," Gilbo said, adding he could only make out some barns, silos and trees poking through the blanket of snow.

"It was the worst one in recent times and I think anybody that was around would verify that," said Gilbo, who worked for the Leelanau County Road Commission at the time. "The temperatures were about the kind we're having now, so it was doubly difficult because of that. The wind howled for three days; that's what made it so bad for drifts."

Traverse City's snowfall ranged between 22 and 28 inches from 10 a.m. Jan. 26 to 10 a.m. Jan 27.

As many as 34 inches of snow fell in some parts of the state on Jan. 26 and 27, according to the National Climatic Center. Winds reached 50 to 70 miles per hour, creating drifts as high as 50 feet.

A local man died from a heart attack while shoveling snow and a girl was killed when she fell through ice in a creek. A 140-foot training vessel capsized while docked at the Northwestern Michigan College Maritime Academy.

Anyone who had snowplowing equipment chipped in during the storm, said local resident Bill Rosa. He worked for an excavating company and spent countless hours clearing the streets.

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