Methodist Memories: The Blizzard of 1975
On Friday, January 10, 1975, Omaha's weather changed quickly from 37 degrees and light snow to whiteout conditions. By 10 a.m., city officials were asking businesses to start sending workers home.
One orderly was able to walk to the hospital for Friday's 3-11 p.m. shift, but no nurses were able to arrive. As a result, many nursing service personnel, as well as employees from other departments, worked double shifts to serve the full census of patients. The call was put out to students at the hospital's School of Nursing to help. The 50 to 60 students who helped relieve other employees also gave up their rooms in the Indian Hills Educational Center for employees just coming off duty to use for sleeping.
By the evening rush hour, 10 inches of snow had fallen. Winds gusted to 40 miles per hour or more, and the wind chill fell to 10 to 20 degrees below zero.
The Omaha World-Herald reported that 10,000 cars were abandoned on Omaha metro roads over the weekend, and Westroads Shopping Center provided emergency shelter to 700 people. The storm caused 70 fatalities: 58 from the blizzard in the midwestern states (including 14 deaths in Nebraska) and 12 from tornadoes across the southeast.
At Methodist Hospital, nearly 200 visitors and stranded motorists spent Friday night at Methodist Hospital, Indian Hills and the Eppley Complex. Methodist's cafeterias worked around the clock to provide 6,500 meals from noon Friday to late Sunday.
Nearly every area of the hospital was touched in some way by the storm. Switchboard operators worked double shifts, rested, then returned to answer the thousands of incoming and outgoing calls. Two Shared Service System trucks managed to deliver much-needed linen and other supplies.
Don Conway, grounds supervisor, spent his longest day on the job. Even though Friday was his regular day off, he was at work by noon and worked through to 1 p.m., Saturday, then slept for a few hours and returned to work. Despite impossible driving conditions, Conway was never stuck in the snow.
"I lost track of the amount of trips I made," Conway said. He transported nurses, students, doctors and supplies for pharmacy and pathology between the hospital and Indian Hills and the Eppley Complex.
Methodist Hospital Administrator John W. Estabrook said, "Everyone chipped in with a little bit extra. The cooperation of everyone in a troubled situation made me proud of our employees."
Sources: NMH Pulse Beat, Volume 11, Number 1, 1975, "The Great Blizzard"; Omaha World-Herald, January 10, 2015, "40 Years Ago, a Blanket of Death & Destruction as Blizzard Crippled Omaha."