Challenges documenting the Blizzard of 1978


DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – The storm door blew away as soon as Skip Peterson opened it to leave for work on Jan. 26, 1978.

Peterson is a retired chief photographer at Dayton Daily News. He was working for five years when the Blizzard of 1978 covered Ohio in snow.

“It was so surreal because of the whiteness. There were areas where cars were completely covered in snow because of the blowing wind, people digging out of driveways, and people’s homes were without power,” Peterson said.

The snow was even packed around the engine of his car. He said it took him most of the morning to dig out.

“I actually didn’t get to work until sometime later on Wednesday,” Peterson said. “So, at that point then we were all hands on deck.”

The snow started at midnight. Only three inches accumulated before 6 a.m. Then almost 10 inches of snow fell in a six-hour period.

“The city was paralyzed literally for a couple of days, and then they started clearing the streets and started dumping the snow over at Howell Field by Triangle Park because it was close to the river,” Peterson said. “They were taking truckloads of snow over there. At one point they were taking snow to a bridge and dumping it off the bridge right into the water so they could get rid of it. By the next day, the National Guard was in town helping to plow.”

The peak wind gust was 69 mph according to the Dayton Weather Bureau records at Wright State University. Peterson said he saw snowdrifts 7 feet tall in Kettering and East Dayton.

“If we had the internet the coverage would have been phenomenal, but back then we were processing film making prints and printing newspapers,” Peterson said.

He had to travel back to the office to processes the Tri-X black and white film from his Nikon F 35mm camera.

“We got the newspaper out surprisingly I’m not quite sure how we did it that first day.” Peterson said

He left for work on Wednesday and did not return home until Saturday night.

“We did a special section of nothing but photos on Sunday,” Peterson said. “I had the cover of that section. I do recall that.”

Many of these photos can still be seen at the Special Collections & Archives at Wright State University. Bill Stolz is an archivist for reference and outreach.

“It’s our job to collect and preserve stories like the Great Blizzard of 78 so in the future people, students, historians, journalists, and so on can learn more about what happened in the past,” Stolz said.

He said looking back at history helps people learn from the past and understand where we are today.

“We are so technologically advance today, not to mention equipment, snowplows, cars, all of that are more prepared for this,” Peterson said. “It wouldn’t be nearly as tough to get around today as it was back then.”

“I think this stands out, but that’s the one thing about modern Dayton history,” Stolz said. “I think weather has shaped us with the 1913 flood and then 65 years later we have the great blizzard of 78.”

“In terms of a weather event,” Peterson said, “the only thing I’ve seen worse were the tornadoes.”

Stolz said anyone can find hour by hour weather records from the Dayton Weather Bureau at the Special Collections and Archives.

“We have all kinds of neat things on the blizzard if people are interested,” Stolz said. “We’ve got photos from the Dayton Daily News archive so hundreds of photos taken by the reporters that were out in the field.”

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