Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

February 2, 2011

Blizzard of ’78 was big, but ’81 storm was better

GOSHEN — As area weathermen and women taunted us the past couple days about the latest winter blast, I began to wonder something to myself.

“Has it really been 30 years?”

So, I went back to the dusty closet that also serves as archive room here at The Goshen News and pulled open the microfilm room. I ran my fingers along the dated cardboard boxes the chronicle our community’s history in two-month increments dating back to the 1800s.

There it was: January and February 1981.

I loaded the reel into the microfilm machine and began my browse. On Jan. 20, President Ronald Regan was inaugurated. That same day our hostages in Iran were released. I kept going.

Finally, I found what I was looking for. While the great blizzard of 1978 holds a more prominent spot in Goshen’s history, the “blizzard” of 1981 holds a more significant place in my memory.

During the ’78 blizzard my family lived in an apartment on Gra-Roy Drive, nearly across the street from the dam.  I was 6 at the time. About all I remember from that is jumping from my porch into an ocean of snow that was deeper than I was tall.

In 1981 I was 9. My family had moved to east Reynolds Street and I was a third-grader at Chandler Elementary School. On Monday night (Feb. 9) Dick Addis — WNDU’s weatherman of the day, who was always armed with a grease pen and a giant map ­— warned us that a storm was on its way.

With the prospect of a snow day almost certain, I immediately began my lobby to suspend my normal bed time for the night. My mother wasn’t convinced and sent me to bed at 9:30 p.m. anyway.

Back in those days, we would listen to WKAM for our school closings. I twisted the radio dial on as soon as I woke up. To my disappointment Goshen schools did not cancel classes. I looked at my mom in disbelief. She just smiled and said, “I told you.”

It was already snowing as I walked to school. My third-grade class faced Eighth Street and as I sat at my desk I watched with great interest as the snow intensified. Before long the street was covered and the flakes were falling so fast it looked like a haze through the window.

It wasn’t too much longer that Mr. B.J. Miller, our principal at the time, got on the P.A. system and told us all that school was being dismissed early. A cheer erupted that reverberated throughout the building. Soon there was mad dash through the door and into a winter wonderland.

The roads continued to worsen as I ran home with a pack of friends.

“There are very, very bad conditions out there,” Elkhart County Sheriff Dick Bowman told News reporter Rod Rowe earlier that day. “We want people fully aware of what’s going on out there.”

I was fully aware that I wasn’t in school anymore, and that was about all that mattered to me.

Conditions continued to deteriorate and school was canceled again on Wednesday (Feb. 11). My uncle, who lived out on C.R. 27 northeast of town, couldn’t get home after work on Tuesday and had to spend the night with us. He would be there the next three days.

On Wednesday the temperature reached a high of 38 very early. It even rained Tuesday night. But then temperature began to nosedive and the wet roads began to freeze.

My stepdad was a reserve officer for the Goshen Police Department at the time. I remember him warning me that things were going to get bad. He had a police scanner that set on the edge of our “stereo stand.” It blared all night and all day for three straight days.

I learned what at 10-46 (assist motorist) and a 10-50 (vehicle accident) were that week.

By Thursday, the temperatures had fallen below zero and the winds had picked up mightily. School was canceled for the third straight day. But unlike the first two days, when we played outside almost non-stop, it was too miserable to go out of the house.

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