January 20, 1978: A Great Blizzard Strikes West Virginia


On January 20, 1978, one of the worst blizzards in modern history struck West Virginia. It was the result of a Nor’easter that developed the previous day in the Atlantic.

The National Weather Service was caught completely off guard, believing the snow would largely miss the Mountain State and then change to freezing rain and sleet by late afternoon. However, the temperature never rose above freezing. The National Weather Service continually upped the expected storm totals throughout the day—from just a dusting, to two inches, to six inches and higher.

By the time the snow had stopped, West Virginia was blanketed with its heaviest snowfall on record. Two feet had fallen in Charleston and the Kanawha Valley, followed by Huntington with 20 inches, and Wheeling with 18. Preston County, Parkersburg, and Martinsburg all topped out at 16 inches. In Hinton, 15 inches of snow collapsed the roof of a factory.

Roads were shut down for days in parts of the state, as schools and businesses closed. Emergency vehicles plowed the snow into massive ice mounds, many of which didn’t completely melt until the spring thaw.