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Before You Were Here: When campus was snowed in

BY KELLY FRASER

Published November 25, 2008

Last winter was indisputably the snowiest winter in Ann Arbor history. The city recorded more than 85 inches of snow, enough to surpass the previous record of 83.9 inches set during the 2004-2005 season.

FILE PHOTO
West Quad residents celebrate in shorts and T-shirts on a snow day in January 1978. The January storm was one of the worst in Ann Arbor history.

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The title of the single worst blizzard in the city’s history, however, is a more contentious debate.

Weather historians typically narrow the honor down to two top contenders: “the Great White Hurricane of 1913” from Nov. 7 to Nov. 12 and the “Great Blizzard of 1978” from Jan. 25 to Jan. 27.

The 1978 storm, the last time the University called a snow day, blanketed the Ann Arbor area in 19 inches of snow and all but shut down the Midwest from the Ohio Valley to Ontario, Canada.

Both Michigan Gov. William Milliken and Ann Arbor Mayor Albert Wheeler declared a state of emergency as roads became impassable.

The University was forced to first postpone and then suspend classes for two days.

The snow also prevented food deliveries to the dining halls and piled so high on the Diag that the Engineering Arch was almost sealed off.

The Michigan Daily, which was the only daily paper in Michigan to continue publishing during the blizzard, reported that most students “looked forward to a Norman Rockwell sort of day” curled up indoors — but this wasn’t the case for everyone.

Students rushed to find sleds and cafeteria trays for sledding. Bivouac on State Street reported that it quickly ran out of rental skis.

About 15 West Quad hallmates, living up to their nickname “the Zoo,” stripped down to shorts and T-shirts and ran barefoot sprints across State Street in front of the Union.

“We’re just trying to prove that it’s all in the head,” said one of the runners.

Meanwhile, a handful adventurous students threw a beach party complete with “snowbathers” and a Beach Boys soundtrack.

The hosts explained the party saying, “If (University President)Robben Fleming can call off school, that’s good enough reason to have a beach party.”

On Jan. 30, C.R. Snider of the National Weather Service in Ann Arbor said that 20 deaths had been attributed directly to the snowfall and more than 100,000 cars were abandoned on state highways during the three-day blizzard.


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