Matt Babich was 12 when this picture was taken after the Great Blizzard of 1978 hit metro Detroit. Here he is, snow shovel in hand, standing next to a 1971 Dodge Demon on Masonic Boulevard in Warren.

Matt Babich was 12 when this picture was taken after the Great Blizzard of 1978 hit metro Detroit. Here he is, snow shovel in hand, standing next to a 1971 Dodge Demon on Masonic Boulevard in Warren.

Photo provided by Matt Babich


Residents share memories of the Great Blizzard of 1978

By: Maria Allard | Metro | Published February 5, 2021

 This photo was taken in January 1978 of Karen Hill Long and her dad John Hill, who died in 2004. Dog Coa-coa also has passed. The family lived on Republic Street and Van Dyke Avenue in Warren. In the photo, Karen Hill Long was home for Christmas break from college not long before the Great Blizzard of 1978.

This photo was taken in January 1978 of Karen Hill Long and her dad John Hill, who died in 2004. Dog Coa-coa also has passed. The family lived on Republic Street and Van Dyke Avenue in Warren. In the photo, Karen Hill Long was home for Christmas break from college not long before the Great Blizzard of 1978.

Photo provided by Karen Hill Long

METRO DETROIT — Talk about a snow day.

Forty-three years ago, the Great Blizzard of 1978 blanketed metro Detroit, the state and other parts of the U.S. The snowstorm made history, closed down schools, businesses and stores. Snowplows steered through snow piles, families dug themselves out of snowdrifts, cars were buried and electricity went out.

There are reports of residents snowmobiling to convenience stores, and people unable to get home for hours. Neighbors helped each other shovel snow, and many made the most of the winter wonderland with their toboggans and ice skates.

According to the National Weather Service at weather.gov, the snow began falling in southeastern Michigan the evening of Jan. 25, a Wednesday, and continued well into the next day. Lansing received 19.3 inches of snow, while Detroit received 8.2 inches and Flint received 9.9 inches. Snowfalls reportedly were less over southeastern Michigan, mainly because of the rain that fell for a period. However, locals recalling the blizzard on Facebook mentioned 19 inches of snowfall in the Detroit suburbs and memories of even higher snowdrifts in which residents shoveled snow from rooftops and were stuck at home. 

The blizzard “was the result of a relatively rare merger of two distinct upper-level waves, one over Texas and one over the Northern Plains, that caused an explosive intensification of a surface low pressure system moving north from the Gulf Coast into Kentucky and Ohio.”

Christine Hayes-Romines, who now lives in sunny Florida, remembers everything was shut down and spent the day outside, bumper hitching cars and sledding.

Although people were advised to stayx off the roads, Susan Hiltz and friends Edith Kaptur-Burns, Bob Bowden and Chris Grobbel made other plans: skiing at Alpine Valley in White Lake. Somehow, the 1977 Center Line High School graduates managed to make it all the way to the slopes despite the snowy aftermath.

“We hopped into the car and went skiing. We had a blast,” Hiltz, 61, recalled. “We left in the early afternoon and we skied all day. We all worked and our workplaces were shut down because of the snow.”

It’s a cherished memory for the friends, all age 19 at the time.

“It was one of those great memories you make when you’re young,” said Hiltz, of Macomb Township. “We talk about it all the time.”

Beth Brehm’s wedding day was Jan. 28. The Baptist church where she tied the knot was in Royal Oak. She drove on Eight Mile Road with family to get there.

“It felt like you were in a tunnel. The snow drifts were so high,” the Warren resident said.

Brehm’s brother didn’t make it in from California, because Detroit Metropolitan Airport had closed. Her sister, unfortunately, also missed the nuptials from Ohio. Of the 150 invited guests, only 75 attended ready to celebrate.

“I thought that was pretty good,” Brehm said. Even the band showed up for the reception. The bride wasn’t feeling well during the wedding, but recovered quickly when landing in Florida Jan. 30 for her honeymoon, away from all the snow and cold.

Sheryl Murray, a 25-year-old Warren resident at the time, had been dating her future husband Dave for about six months. Although it was “snowing very hard and a blizzard was forecasted,” the couple went on a date in Dave’s 1968 Chevrolet Camaro to the Galaxy Drive-In Theater on Dequindre and 10 Mile roads.

“We only lived about two miles from there so we thought it wouldn’t take that long. It took forever. Of course, in our young minds we thought the theater would be open when we got there,” Murray, now of Sterling Heights, said via email. “Boy, were we surprised when it was closed because of the snowstorm. We were so young and innocent in those days. We ended up going to the Clock restaurant down the street which was still open.  As dangerous as that night was, it was still one of the best dates ever.  It was definitely a night to remember.”

 

Oh, baby!
At 8 p.m. Jan 25, 1978, a pregnant Sandy Fouchey went into labor. Her water broke, and she and her husband, Dave, left their Center Line residence and drove over to Holy Cross Hospital in Detroit. Their daughter Erin Fouchey was born less than five hours later at 12:37 a.m.

Fouchey, now of Chesterfield Township, remembers leaving for the hospital at 9 p.m. before the snow and ice started. She also remembers hearing sounds of the icy rain outside her hospital room window. According to Fouchey, “everyone was excited for the first granddaughter and niece. Finally on Sunday my sister came to visit. Monday afternoon my parents came to pick us up, as my husband was working.”

Kara Kovalchik lived in Warren at the time. She was 18 and worked full time at the F. Jos. Lamb Company on Nine Mile and Mound roads. Her two younger brothers were all excited about having a snow day.

Kovalchik, now of Rochester Hills, wasn’t sure if she was supposed to report to work. When she called in, “a frantic woman answered, recognized my voice and pleaded with me to come to work because the switchboard was going crazy.” Because the streets weren’t plowed yet,  Kovalchik “pulled on some heavy-duty winter gear and walked to work.” The usual 20-minute walk took over an hour.

“Very few people showed up that day, so I spent my time taking messages and chatting with callers from warmer states who were shocked that the company was closed on a non-holiday,” she said in an email. “I’d tell them about the blizzard, describe the scene outside of my window, how even the snow plows were having difficulty navigating the roads, and would inevitably get the same exclamation ‘Wow, I don’t know why you folks up north live there. That’s just crazy.’”

On a positive note, the company president was on site that day and paid Kovalchik time and a half for the day, plus a paid day off.

Karen Benzing Levosky was 19 and a sophomore at Michigan State University. She remembers classes shutting down for two days, and every liquor store in town ran out of beer.

Rich Clark, a junior at Cousino Senior High in Warren, has fond memories of the blizzard. The oldest of four, he was always the first out of bed.

“I would get up early to listen to the radio for closings, to feed our cats, to shovel snow as needed, and to take out trash on Fridays, all my normal routine,” Clark wrote in an email. “The snow came in quick and heavy, and by 10 a.m. we were outside to push our own and our neighbors’ cars out of the street as there’d been snow emergency orders posted. We expected plows to come through, but that didn’t happen that day.”

Instead, the family’s shovels and snowblowers came out, “but it was near impossible to keep up with the pace of the downfall, and it lasted pretty much most of the day, with a little bit of a lull around late afternoon on Thursday.”

Clark remembers snowdrifts reaching as high as his mid-thighs. Friday was set aside to clear walkways and the driveway, and get the family’s garage open so Clark’s dad could operate his business. Clark and his siblings spent most of the weekend sledding at Saint John Cemetery in Fraser.

Heather Price, 6 at the time, remembers a friend’s dad leaving for work, returning hours later. His wife thought he was sent home because of the weather, but it turned out he had only made it around the block in his Warren neighborhood before making it back home.