Today marks the anniversary of “The Blizzard of ’78,” the worst blizzard in Michigan recorded history, according to the National Weather Service in Gaylord.
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Across two days – January 26 and January 27, 1978 – snowfall ranged from 10 to 30 inches across Lower Michigan. Wind gusts surged from 50 to 70 mph, and 120,000 vehicles were abandoned on Michigan roads.
My little Volkswagen Bug (inherited from my brother Ward) was one of those vehicles, although fortunately, I was within walking distance from home. I was a senior at Traverse City Central High School, but took violin lessons with my beloved teacher Rosemary Malocsay at Interlochen Arts Academy. I had a lesson that morning, and I have no idea what I was thinking trying to drive out there and back. But hey, I was committed to those violin lessons.
My lesson was in the morning, and by the time I got back on the road to head home from Interlochen, there were white-out conditions and cars all over the roads. You could not see a thing. It took me five hours to go from Interlochen to Old Mission, a trip that normally took less than an hour. By the time I got to Chums Corners, I knew this would not be a short trip. And if any of you are familiar with the heating system in a VW Bug, you know it was not a warm trip either.
I somehow made it all the way through Traverse City and out on the Old Mission Peninsula to the corner of Old Mission Road and Smokey Hollow Road. Back then, there was no stop sign there. Old Mission Road curved around and headed north towards the Old Mission General Store. When I started into that curve, my little VW slid off the road and ended up in the ditch on the left side. Since my house was just around the corner and down by the bay, I grabbed my violin case and hoofed it the rest of the way home.
As I recall, a few days later after the plows had gone by, my brothers got a few guys together and lifted the VW out of the ditch and back onto the road, where we were able to drive it the rest of the way home.
Traverse City also made national news when Record-Eagle photographer John Russell’s photo of the tipped-over and iced-in ship The Allegheny, located at the Maritime Academy in Traverse City, was published in TIME Magazine. With John’s permission, I’ve posted it at the top of this story.
John writes on Facebook: “My office 37 years ago: Marty Lagina stands on the frozen pier at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy on January 29, 1978, viewing the capsized training vessel Allegheny, which capsized from ice buildup during the Blizzard of ’78. This image was on assignment for TIME magazine, who had seen my b&w image on the UPI wire and wanted a color image. Marty and I were lucky – the sky cleared and the wind stopped for about 20 minutes, then the storm began again. I wondered at the time who TIME knew to make that happen…”
Where were YOU during the Blizzard of ’78? Feel free to share stories in the comments section below.