It’s hard to believe that events I remember from my childhood are already reaching the “20 years ago” mark, but it’s true. And one of the biggest large-scale (and by that, I mean, not specific to myself or my family) memories I have from childhood is what I’ve always thought of as “the Great Snow of ’94.”
That was 20 years ago this weekend. I’ve always remembered that it was the Martin Luther King, Jr., Day holiday weekend. I was 11 years old and in the fifth grade. We all knew when we left school on Friday that we were in for a holiday (MLK Monday is a holiday most places), but little did we know that a blizzard was about to turn our 3-day weekend into a 2-week vacation!
As I did not remember to research this at the local library when I was home for Christmas (which is really too bad, since I was there over a week and had plenty of time to do so!) And I really wanted to include some true historical details about the storm, rather than just my own recollections.
I have had little luck finding information about this snowstorm on the Internet, at least not specifically pertaining to my hometown of Portsmouth, Ohio (on the Ohio River). I have found several links to information about northern Ohio and Louisville, KY (to which I will link at the end). I was just about to give up, when I finally came across Thunder in the Heartland on Google Books. (I knew of this book, and I even own a copy, but unfortunately it’s packed away somewhere.) Thomas Schmidlin’s Thunder in the Heartland: A Chronicle of Outstanding Weather Events in Ohio (Kent State University Press, 1996) is a fantastic source if you want a short overview of any remotely notable weather event from Ohio’s history. And that’s just what I needed! (I was beginning to fear that my memory of “about 2 feet of snow” was a figment of my imagination until I found Schmidlin’s description.)
Here’s an excerpt of what Schmidlin had to say about (what I call) the Great Snow of ’94 (from pages 76-77):
January 1994 was an “old-fashioned” winter month in the upper Ohio Valley, with two exceptionally deep snowfalls followed by record cold on 19 January. Snowfall on Tuesday, 4 January totaled twelve to twenty inches from Marietta to Steubenville…
A greater snowfall arrived on Monday 17 January. This storm left six to ten inches across nearly all of Ohio but, again, the deepest snow was along the Ohio River. Portsmouth received twenty inches of snow, and thirty inches was reported at Lucasville. Twenty-two to twenty-four inches fell in Adams County, with fifteen inches reported in Piketon and Jackson. Snowfall intensities of five inches an hour were measured at Chillicothe.
Highways were closed Monday by deep drifts and abandoned cars in extreme southern Ohio. Nine south-central counties declared snow emergencies Monday morning, banning all but emergency travel and essentially shutting down the region. Temperatuers were cold, so the snow did [p. 77] not stick to trees and there was no widespread disruption of phone and electric service. Businesses assisted residents who could not get out in the deep snow. The pharmacy at Kroger’s in Portsmouth delivered medicine to customers who were unable to travel, according to the Portsmouth Daily Times. Southern Ohio Medical Center [the hospital in Portsmouth] employees were picked up and delivered to the hospital in four-wheel-drive trucks and rescue squads.
Major roads were reopened Tuesday, but rural highways of southern Ohio were blocked and families remained snowbound. The effort to clear side roads continued into Wednesday. Schools were scheduled to be closed Monday for Martin Luther King Day and remained shut all week in southeastern counties by the deep snow and temperatures below -25 degrees…
Snowfall during January totaled 45.5 inches at Newport and 33.3 inches at Marietta. These were among the heaviest snowfalls ever recorded in Ohio outside the Lake Erie snowbelt. At the Parkersburg Airport, five miles south of Marietta, snowfall totaled 40 inches during January 1994. This was a record for any month, exceeding the old record of 35 inches in November 1950. The January snowfall was more than had fallen in the entire past two winters combined in southeastern Ohio.
Wow, after all that detail, the comparatively small amount that my 11-year-old brain saw fit to commit to permanence seems pretty weak. Nevertheless, here are my recollections (and some photos, throughout this entry, which I was thrilled to realize I had on hand at my house, rather than being inaccessible—and possibly difficult to locate—at my parents’ house):
We actually lived in Minford, Ohio, a smaller rural town outside of Portsmouth; it was closer to Lucasville (7 miles away, mentioned in the excerpt as having 30 inches of snow!) than Portsmouth (14 miles away).
I remember that there seemed to be about 2 feet of snow (which is substantiated by the above excerpt); it was over my knees (as illustrated in the included photos!). I remember that simply walking through the snow (which was no easy feat) left these trailing paths like you were in some sort of a maze, because the snow was so high it almost felt like maze walls (maybe I made this association because I always loved doing mazes in those activity books when I was a kid).
When I asked Mom what she remembered about the snowstorms, those paths were the thing that stuck out in her mind, because my youngest sister was only 4 at the time, and following us in the paths we made was the only way she could get through the snow at all!
Another snippet that Mom remembered was how concerned we were about our pet rabbit, a Californian bunny named Pretty (seriously) who lived in a pen (which I think had a wooden house part also) in the backyard. Dad was worried, so he went (er, waded) out to the rabbit house, expecting to find a dead rabbit, but when he finally unburied enough of the thing to see inside, she was just fine in there; the deep snow had created a sort of igloo!
When I read in that excerpt (above) that there were NOT widespread power outages from heavy snow and ice causing downed trees to break the lines, I realized that this was not something I had ever thought about before with relation to that particular snowstorm. I suppose if we HAD experienced a power outage, I would have remembered, as school was out for….two weeks, I think…and that would have been a long damn time to be without electricity when the temperatures were so cold. We had a gas furnace, but if the electric blower isn’t working, it’s still not much use; my parents do have 1 fireplace in the part of the house that we were living in at the time—it was still a work in progress—but I don’t recall if the fireplace itself was installed and working yet! A power outage certainly would have been a disaster in that storm!
We did eventually want to go to the grocery store—and this is the only other particularly vivid memory I have from that storm—but the driveway, like everything else, was covered in 2 feet of snow. I remember my father plowing the driveway with the front-loader on his tractor. (I am thrilled to have a photo of this, which appears to have been taken by my aunt, who lived next-door, as I can see the metal porch supports from their house in the shot.)
Eventually, once the driveway—and the car—was cleared off, I remember getting into my Dad’s old Toyota Corolla and puttering down the highway to the local grocery store (about 1 mile away), only to (if I recall correctly) find that it was still closed due to the snow—I guess the employees couldn’t get there. So much for bread and milk!
I asked my husband what he remembered about the snowstorm, as he was also an 11-year-old in southern Ohio at the time—he actually lived in Lucasville. He seems to recall that he was at the local Boy Scout camp, Camp Oyo, that weekend for a winter camp-out (now known as Okpik, though he says they weren’t calling them that at the time). They were scheduled to go home on Sunday, and they actually did so, although they briefly considered staying another day…which would have had them stranded, as the majority of the snow fell on Monday. Thank goodness they went home when they did! He said he remembers sticking a yard stick into the snow at their house in Lucasville and measuring almost 3 feet of snow (which again meshes with what the book said).
Pitiful selection of relevant items I found online:
- National Weather Service at Louisville (KY): Snow maps, etc. (2010).
- National Weather Service at Louisville (KY): Top Ten Weather Events in Southern Indiana and Central Kentucky (2012).
- WHAS (Louisville, KY): Twenty Year Anniversary of 1994 Snowstorm (2014, 3-minute news video).
- Ohio Weather History (blog): “January 18-19, 1994- Ohio’s Greatest Arctic Outbreak” (undated, somehow).
- Lima (OH) News: “Readers Share 1994 Deep Freeze Memories” (2014).
What are your memories of the Great Snow of ’94? I’d love to hear them! (Please include at least an approximation of where you lived at the time, since geography is important here.)