I have lived through two blizzards. The one I remember, because I experienced it, occurred in 1978. I drove through the remains of it and missed 15 days of school because of it. I might be tempted to join many fellow Ohioans in measuring all snowstorms by The Great Blizzard of ’78, with its humongous snowdrifts, frigid wind chills, and loss of fifty-some lives.
My dad – who bundled up every day that January 44 years ago to move lots of snow around – had his own opinion about the adjective “great” attributed to the storm. He grumbled that people wanting to know about blizzards should have lived through the one in November of 1950.
I was three months shy of being three years old when the huge storm descended upon Champaign County that Thanksgiving weekend. My parents, my younger sister, and I had recently moved from Springhills to the farm on River Road. I can only imagine Mother stoking fires in the two coal stoves of our drafty old farmhouse, while my dad milked twice daily and transported the heavy cans by push cart to the milk house by the back porch.
My imagination has to suffice: over the years I asked few questions about those snowy days – and my parents are no longer here to describe them. In honor of that historic Thanksgiving blizzard 72 years ago I went over the river and through the – actually, I clicked on Google!
The five-day storm, often referred to as The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 and deemed an extratropical cyclone, brought heavy rain to the east side of the mountains and dumped 50”-60” of snow on the west side. Impacting 22 states in the eastern half of the country, it killed 363 people and caused damages of $67 million – $800 million in 2022 terms.
Although helpful to understand the extent of the storm and its meteorological formation, I really wanted to know how it affected the people of Champaign County who were living it. My next stop: the UDC archives, online from the county library.
The holiday itself turned out gloomy, and Friday ushered in record-setting, bone-chilling cold. Local forecasts predicted flurries and moderating temperatures by Sunday evening. Little matter: turkey-stuffed Buckeye fans shifted their attentions to Columbus and the yearly OSU/Michigan football rivalry. The unforgettable contest, however, foreshadowed what had not yet arrived in Urbana and its environs.
The historic Snow Bowl, with a Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl on the line, was played in five-degree temperatures with 40 mph winds. Snow prevented players from clearly seeing lines on the field, if at all. Yards gained totaled 27 during the punt-fest featuring 45 kicks. One safety and a touchdown for the Blue-and-Maize bested a blocked punt and field goal for the Scarlet-and-Gray: 9-3 recorded in the annals of football history.
My next source of information appeared on the front page of Monday’s UDC: BLIZZARD BITES CITY AND COUNTY RESIDENTS. It seems the Snow Bowl came to town Saturday night and hung around all day Sunday. Eighteen inches of white stuff fell between 8 p.m. and 8 p.m., with three additional inches later Sunday evening.
Mayor Robert Humphreys’ top priority: clear the business district for passage of emergency vehicles, policemen, firemen, and hospital personnel. While residents were advised against driving, the city borrowed a four-wheel-drive jeep from Urbana Motor Sales and a six-wheel-drive weapons carrier from the National Guard. Specifically, seven regularly-scheduled Greyhound buses completely clogged Monument Square. Passengers slept in the buses or overnighted on couches, chairs, and floors of downtown hotels. Bus drivers were accommodated in the clubrooms of the Pearce-Kerns American Legion post.
Urbana plants kept running – albeit with minimal shipping. Many rural workers were stranded at home, while employees stranded at work continued their jobs. All county buildings were closed, as were the city schools. County Superintendent Harvey Loudenback exercised his authority to close all county schools for the week.
The main UDC headline on Tuesday proclaimed MOST COUNTY, CITY ROADS OPEN. Translation: 68 and 36 west open / 36 east closed / 55 drifting. Sixty percent of county roads were passable, not including township roads. The snow from the city’s digging-out process was relocated to the fairgrounds.
Human-interest stories began to surface: a service station attendant walked from Woodstock to Mechanicsburg and caught a ride to his job at Marathon in Urbana…ladies stuck at a Country Club luncheon returned to the city via milk truck…rural families took in stranded motorists from the OSU game – several from Michigan…
Pollyanna-ishly, I hope the sixteen families on closed Climer Road near Mechanicsburg were not the only folks who took it all in stride. Neighbors helped a fellow farmer herd his reluctant sheep into the barn. Pigs guzzled the extra milk unable for days to be picked up. Everyone shared food and kindling, just glad it was no worse. They still had their party lines, TV, radio, and books. And, yes, their bread ran out, but they still had baking powder…back when everyone knew their neighbors…
I now have an inkling of the blizzard my father considered the worst…when, at almost three years of age, I most probably pressed my nose against the window and asked Mommy and Daddy about all that snow – during my very first blizzard!
NOTE: I invite anyone with memories-stories-info about the 1950 storm to e-mail them to me at [email protected]. I’d love to share them!