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Blizzard of ’78 brought chilly attitudes to campus

Senior Staff Writer

Published: Friday, December 7, 2012

Updated: Friday, December 7, 2012 00:12

This article is part of a series The Miami Student is running about the University Archives. All information in the following article was obtained from the University Archives with the help of University Archivist Bob Schmidt.

With the holidays just around the corner, Oxford residents have been lucky—or unlucky, depending on whom you ask—to have avoided any snowfall and the accompanying icy conditions that make present-shopping and holiday traveling unpleasant. But if history is any indication, the worst is yet to come; the worst snowstorm on record at Miami University occurred after the holidays.

The Blizzard of 1978 blew through the Midwest Jan. 26, leaving behind a thick layer of ice underneath seven inches of snow in Oxford, and 60-70 mile per hour winds that caused a wind chill of nearly negative 40 degrees. The result: Miami students received their first day off of school in 14 years—the first since the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy.

The National Weather Service deemed the storm, which was formed by two converging low-pressure systems, a “severe blizzard.” Highways across Ohio became impassable, and cars and homes were buried under snowdrifts. More than 50 people in Ohio died as a result of the storm.

The storm was part of one of the snowiest winters on record, as the Cincinnati area reported 53 inches of snow the winter of 1977-1978. The year prior, 47 inches were recorded, as well as a record low temperature of -25 degrees with a -65 degree wind chill. The closest amount of snow recorded in recent years was 38 inches in the winter of 2009-2010.

Pranksters at Miami posted a sign outside then-Miami President Phillip Shriver’s house that read, “Welcome to Siberia,” in protest of not receiving more time off school.

The storm intensified effects of the already-in-process national coal-miners strike. Icy roads made it difficult for coal trucks to reach their destinations. James Rhodes, then the governor of Ohio, decreed that all state agencies reduce their electrical consumption by 25 percent. In addition, Cincinnati Gas & Electric Company asked its 500 largest customers, including Miami, to reduce its electricity use due to lack of coal supply.

At Miami, this meant drastic reductions in electricity. All academic buildings except Laws Hall and McGuffey Hall were to be closed from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., turning off all lights and heat during that time period. Libraries reduced their hours. Evening classes were consolidated into the buildings that would remain open. Streetlights were turned off, and the use of electric heaters, hotplates, coffeemakers, hair dryers and refrigerators was prohibited in residence halls and offices.

Despite these measures, the university remained open except for the two days following the blizzard. President Shriver said calling school off in unpleasant weather was a “new habit.” He was right, as Miami would not be called off again until Jan. 19, 1994.

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