The Snowstorm of 1977 and the Coldest Winter Thus Far
The following articles all come from the Feb. 2, 1977, issue of the Lowell Tribune:
Area paralyzed by snow, cold, and winds
Rural and suburban areas of Northwest Indiana were virtually immobilized last week as below zero temperatures, repeated snowfalls, and blustery winds combined to terrorize residents throughout the Midwestern United States.
While larger towns and cities in Indiana and neighboring states shivered in frigid temperatures and kept snowplows active, they were for the most part, sheltered from the effects of high winds which whipped through outlying areas, drifting snow and reducing visibility to zero.
Lowell, Cedar Lake, Schneider, Shelby, and other area towns were isolated most of Wednesday, Jan. 26, and again on Friday, Jan. 28.
It began snowing in Lowell about 9 a.m. on Wednesday and the biting winds immediately stirred the snowflakes up and swept them across roads and open areas. Schools began to close at about 10 a.m., but many buses were forced to remain at the schools while officials hoped for weather conditions to clear. Most students from Tri-Creek elementary schools, Hanover Community Schools, North Newton Schools, and other Northwest Indiana area schools were safely home by early afternoon, but some buses were delayed as they became stuck in snow drifts and behind stalled vehicles.
After numerous individuals and county and state snowplows aided the buses, children were delivered home. A few drivers and students in rural areas were forced to seek refuge in farmhouses and did not proceed home until Thursday morning.
About 150 Tri-Creek students and several dozen teachers and staff members had a somewhat different experience Wednesday night as they were snowbound at Lowell Senior High School and Lowell Middle School, unable to even begin traveling to outlying areas of the school district.
By Thursday morning weather conditions had improved as the snow stopped and winds died down, and plows were able to clear main arteries as abandoned cars and trucks were removed.
Although there was a gigantic chain reaction accident in Illinois on I-57 just south of U.S. 30 which involved over 100 vehicles and injured two dozen people, there were no major accidents in the Lowell-Cedar Lake area Wednesday.
Both I-65 and U.S. 41 were closed for several hours during the day and motorists were advised to drive only when absolutely necessary. Many other north-south roads fell victim to the drifting and became impassable, including Morse St. (Lowell-Cedar Lake Rd.) and Parrish Ave.
Wind and Snow Return
Just as area residents were beginning to dig out their driveways and venture out on to roadways, Mother Nature dealt another blow to the Calumet Region and much of the Midwest, calling back swirling snow and 40 mile per hour winds to paralyze the area on Friday.
Residents in the Lowell-Cedar Lake area awoke Friday to a fantasy-like scene of frosty whiteness as winds with gusts up to 50 miles per hour whipped the new and old snow into even higher drifts and peaks. Local, county, and state police quickly warned citizens of blizzard conditions and instructed that no vehicles other than emergency equipment should be on the road.
Although there were minor inconveniences in some areas, major tragedies were seemingly avoided as most residents simply stayed home instead of tempting fate by taking to the icy and snow-obliterated streets.
Closed to traffic for the second time during the week were I-65 from U.S. 30 south to Indianapolis, U.S. 41 south of U.S. 30, and State Road 55 from U.S. 30 to Crown Point. Also shut off was Broadway south of 93rd Ave., Nine-Mile Stretch, Parrish, Cline, and Morse St. in south Lake County.
"Extreme high winds and drifting have closed all north-south roads and reduced some east-west roads to one lane," reported Lt. Bernie Vasilko of the Lake County Sheriff's Dept. Friday afternoon. "All roads between Cedar Lake and Lowell are closed."
Vasilko noted that wind gusts were reaching 40 to 50 miles per hour and that with the wind chill factor temperatures had plunged to between -30 and -50 in outlying areas. "Frostbite will occur in moments, and any travelers who must get out are urged to travel with a full tank of gas," he added. "Some drifts are up to six feet."
The county police reported no major accidents and noted that road crews were striving to keep open paths to hospitals and other emergency facilities.
Dorothy Gwyn of the Lowell Police noted that the three officers on duty Friday in addition to Chief Callahan were "mainly helping stranded motorists and keeping cars off the roads, " since no emergencies or serious accidents were reported. "We have been very lucky," she added.
Although the Youche Country Club Road (Marshall St.) was plowed open for some time Friday it drifted shut again and county snowplows were continually trying to open a path for emergency vehicles heading to St. Anthony Medical Center.
"We have not had any ambulance or fire calls today," stated Tri-Creek Paramedic Jack Eskridge when contacted at the Lowell Fire Station Friday afternoon. "We have talked with county highway officials and if an emergency does arise we will call them and try to get a snow plow in the area to precede us if necessary at St. Anthony's or to a fire."
Eskridge and about six other men were on call at the station "to help anyone who needs help." Three deliveries of medicine were made, one to an infant, another to a man south of Lowell, and the last to a child in Cedar Lake. Snowmobiles were utilized for the trips, and were also available at the Lake Dale Fire Station and Shelby Fire Station.
Cedar Lake Police reported no accidents or emergencies in town and no roads closed, although Chief Edwin Moody advised all motorists to stay off the roads. One delivery of medicine was made in Cedar Lake by David Angle, who used his own snowmobile.
All schools, most government offices including all federal buildings, both Lowell and Cedar Lake Town Halls, and the Lowell Post Office closed, and many private businesses followed that lead.
Both Bryan Manufacturing and Globe Industries closed on Friday, and numerous stores and businesses in Lowell, Cedar Lake, and outlying areas were closed. In some cases it was a matter of owners and emplyees being unable to reach their businesses, and in other cases there was simply no point in opening stores when no shoppers were venturing out.
Some service stations and pharmacies were open for emergency service, and most large supermarkets were also open.
At Costas Foods in Lowell, employee Dee Nance reported that a skeleton crew of "eight or nine" were manning the store, and that business was brisk.
"Most people seem to be afraid of being snowed in, and they are buying an awful lot, "she said. "There are no shortages now, but if this continues and we stay open there might be."
Nance also noted that of the nine or ten deliveries expected Friday, only two bread trucks arrived safely. "We will just keep working and see how it goes," she said.
At Wilco Food Center in Lowell, Store Manager Dan DeVault reported no shortages (as of Friday) and agreed that shoppers were stocking up for a long siege.
"The customers are buying lots of merchandise, but we are sell-stocked since a semi-load came in today and I took a truckload of bread products this morning."
The Director of Nursing at St. Anthony Medical Center reported no problems with emergency patients being unable to reach the hospital, although he said that some patients' dismissals were delayed due to the extreme weather conditions.
" Some employees have worked extra shifts, and we did put up 30 or 35 employees in the new wing of the St. Anthony Home Wednesday night when they were unable to get home," said the director.
In neighboring areas, Purdue University Calumet Campus and Purdue University in Lafayette were both closed for the weekend, as was Indiana University Northwest.
All high school sports activities set for Friday or Saturday were cancelled or postponed, and many practices, meetings, and social activities were postponed.
The Lowell American Legion Post 101 Ball for Past Commanders and Auxiliary Presidents was postponed, as was the musical benefit performance for the Tri-Creek Ambulance Service at the Lowell Middle School. Both events were set for Saturday night.
Although some roads were opened by Saturday morning, winds again played havoc in open areas, and it took road crews many hours to clear some six and seven foot drifts. I-65 remained closed Saturday, and U.S. 41 south of Lowell was also impassable.
More cancellations and closings were reported on Saturday, several area churches cancelled services due to the road conditions and bitter temperatures.
In addition, at least one wedding in the Lowell area scheduled for Saturday morning was postponed. It's a good bet that young couple will remember the winter of 1977, already termed the coldest in Indiana since record-keeping began in the 1870's.
Tri-Creek students hold impromptu slumber party
It may have been an anxious night for some parents and school administrators, but to the young people it was a giant slumber party, as about 150 Tri-Creek students and several dozen teachers and staff members spent last Wednesday night, January 26, at Lowell Middle School and Lowell Senior High School.
Although all Tri-Creek Schools were closed at mid-morning as weather conditions worsened, by mid-afternoon it was becoming apparent that some buses would be unable to follow their routes to outlying areas of Lowell.
It was about 5 p.m. when Tri-Creek School Superintendent John Kuruzovich made the final decision to keep the students in the two schools overnight, and a contingency plan for that situation was put into effect immediately. Cooks were called back to the schools to prepare meals for those staying, and teachers and administrators continued calls to parents notifying them of the situation. Local residents were asked to bring blankets and other provisions to the schools, and the Lowell Police assisted in delivering those items in some cases.
Some parents did drive to the school during the evening to pick up their children, and the final count of students staying was appoximately 150, with 91 at the Middle School and about 60 at the high school.
"I really appreciate all the help we received from the students, parents, staff members, police, local and county highway departments, and just everyone who responded so wonderfully," said Kuruzovich at Thursday night's School Board meeting. "There may have been some anxious moments for me and for some parents, but the kids had a ball."
Kuruzovich noted that during the day "the conditions were so acute that we almost had to react by the minute; the weather was changing that quickly." Buses were sent out as soon as it was determined they could get through, but as the weatther worsened some were stranded by drifting snow or abandoned vehicles. School snow plows, equipment from private individuals, and county highway department equipment was used to free some vehicles, added Tri-Creek Building and Transportation Director James Cooper. "We did have one bus driver that got home at 11 a.m. Thursday morning, and the last one reached home at 1 p.m. today," said Cooper Thursday night.
"Thankfully no one was hurt, and I think it is a credit to our school corporation staff, parents, and others who helped, concluded Kuruzovich.
Once it became apparent that they were marooned for the night, the students and teachers in the schools settled in for an evening of fun and games.
The high school swimming pool was opened under supervision, and the gyms were opened for basketball games, ping-pong contests, jumping on trampolines, volleyball, and other sports.
A television set was provided at the high school and the dinner meal was served to all. About a dozen elementary school students at the Middle School were treated to movies, and popcorn was served as a snack to the students.
"The activities were all supervised by staff members and everything went smoothly," Kuruzovich added.
By Thursday morning most major roads were open and buses began transporting the stranded students home after breakfast was served. Most were delivered to their homes, although some were taken to Shelby and Center School to be reunited with parents.
By mid-morning the school halls were silent and empty, although one reminder of the past evening remained. Tacked to the wall at the Middle School was the following poem, penned by an unknown author but signed by 80 overnight guests:
Lowell's magna storm,
Jan. 26-27, 1977:
T'was the night of the snow storm, and all through the school
Every creature was stirring, but the teachers were cool.
All the buses were hung in the ditches with snow,
with hopes that trucks would soon give them a tow.
The children nestled on balconies, floors;
with visions of Big Macs coming through the doors.
And kids in their T-shirts, teachers in jeans,
threw the biggest slumber party Lowell's ever seen.
When all of a sudden there came such a clatter,
Mr. Kuruzovich came in to see what was the matter.
He threw open the gym doors and what did he see,
but 100 kids going out of their tree.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a tray full of popcorn all buttered and smeared,
With a little ole story called Winnie-the-Pooh,
because we had nothing better to do.
More rapid than eagles, the phone calls they came,
Mr. Daley whistled and shouted and called them by name.
"Now Turkey, now Yoyo, now Ding Dong and Ying Yang,
on Bozo, on Dum Dum and rest of the gang,
to the top of the bleachers, to the commons to eat,
Now back to the gym to get with the beat."
So up to the balconies the kids they all flew,
with sneakers a-flying and hearts pumping too.
And then in a twinkling, we heard with a roar,
annoncing and bouncing and playing galore,
Like Robinson Crusoe, we were stranded that night,
but brave souls we were to weather our plight.