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40 years ago, 2 days of snow topped 14 inches

Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 4:50 PM
Last updated Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 3:02 PM
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 Forty years ago Saturday, snow began to fall over Augusta.

A view of Broad Street in Augusta during a snowstorm in February 1973.  FILE/STAFF
A view of Broad Street in Augusta during a snowstorm in February 1973.

It was unexpected and, when it finished falling, unrivaled, officially dumping 14 inches of thick, white precipitation.

“It completely locked down the city,” former Police Chief Freddie Lott, a lieutenant at the time, said earlier this week. “People in the South just weren’t prepared for that kind of emergency.”

It was the largest snow to fall in Augusta since 10.5 inches fell Feb. 25-26, 1914.

It all came as a surprise.

The Augusta Chronicle’s published weather forecasts leading up to Feb. 9, 1973, called for windy, clear days with temperatures from the 30s to mid-40s. But then snow started falling that Friday, closing businesses and schools. By day’s end, eight inches had fallen, according to National Weather Service records.

It snowed through night and the next day, Feb. 10, another six inches fell.

In Aiken County, snowfall totaled 18 inches. Other parts of the Southeast saw more than 20.

Lott said the only way the police department got by was by borrowing four-wheel vehicles from civilians and Augusta’s Pontiac and Chevrolet dealers, and buying snow tires.

A tire dealer on Sand Bar Ferry told Lott he had enough snow tires to equip six to eight vehicles.

“We bought all of them,” he said.

For a while that put Augusta police officers at an advantage over other departments, including the state patrol.

Nancy Cisick, then 22, had just moved from Pittsburgh to Augusta to work as a teacher at Gracewood State School and Hospital when the snow that was “a lot even for Pittsburgh standards” came.

She donated her 1965 Chevelle, which was equipped to handle winter weather, to the cause. After a week of plowing through the snow to help get doctors and nurses to work, the car never ran right again, but it was returned with a full tank of gas.

“At 22 it just seemed like the right thing to do,” she said.

Those with tractors did what they could to help. A woman identified as “faithful employee, Dorothy Crowder” in a Feb. 11, 1973, story, drove to her job at the Medical College of Georgia on a tractor. In Aiken County a farmer helped pull out an ambulance after it bogged down while taking a woman in labor to the hospital. The soon-to-be mother made it to the hospital in time, the Chronicle reported.

National guardsmen and Army reserves were called in throughout the Southeast to assist in transporting doctors, nurses, police, telephone and power technicians to work, delivering food and medications to residents and rescuing stranded motorists.

Thousands of motorists were stranded on the interstates after the storm struck.

A May 1973 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the storm resulted in $5 to 50 million in property damage, including snow removal and rescue of stranded people, in Georgia. South Carolina had near $30 million.

Bill Murphey, a state climatologist and chief meteorologist of the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said “a freak combination of a lot of things” had to occur for that amount of snow.

“The bottom line is you needed to have the upper level jet stream and low pressure systems to bomb off the coast to get everything to phase up at the right location in the right timing in order to have that type of snowfall event,” he said Wednesday.

Snowfall is always harder to predict in the Southeast, Murphey said of the lack of notice.

“Even back then forecasts were good and the weather office was really good,” he said. “The lead times were still pretty good for the information they had.”

New computer modules can help forecasters predict extreme weather but nothing can “nail it on the head.” Forecasters aim to give at least 24 hours notice before a snowstorm hits an area.

Pam Tucker, Columbia County’s director of emergency and operations, said she was in 11th grade at Aiken County’s L.B.C. High School when the snowstorm hit.

She recalls playing in the snow and watching the dog disappear into the snow that piled up feet deep near the sides of buildings.

“It was pretty spectacular and beautiful,” she said. “I would sit at night and stare at it for hours. It just kept falling.”

It was the last time she remembers enjoying snow. In her current job, she cringes at news of snowfall.

Murphey said another record-breaking snowfall is not out of the question, but a lot of factors would have to come together.

If a record-breaking snow hit now, Tucker said it would “hands down” be a better situation due to preparedness programs, better meteorological information and the public’s immediate access to weather notifications.

“I try to remember how much fun I had in 1973 and realize that kids growing up now want that too,” Tucker said. “If it happens we’re going to deal with it.”

RankRecorded inchesDate
110.3Feb. 25, 1914
2 & 38Feb. 12, 2010 and Feb. 9, 1973, tied
46.5Feb. 10, 1912
56Feb. 10, 1973
65.4Feb, 12, 1899
75.3Feb. 23, 1901
84.3Jan. 13, 1912
94.2Feb. 6, 1980
104Dec. 29, 1880

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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BamaMan 02/08/13 - 07:19 pm

We had 22" in our yard, Got a yardstick to measure it. My dog also disappeared in the snow. If sure crippled this town, but it was the perfect snow. Wish we could have another one like that.

YeCats 02/11/13 - 11:34 am
What a Friday mourning! I

What a Friday mourning! I was in the 6th grade, at Ursula Collins, and we was looking at them big flakes falling. Our teacher said it wasn't going to last, but it started sticking. Dr. Butler came on the intercom singing, "The weather outside is frighting....". And home they sent us! Don't think we went back to school until Monday week. Only time in my life I built/defended/loss a snow fort.

Cool pictures and story. Wonderful mermories!

justthefacts 02/09/13 - 08:24 am

I was sitting at the DQ on Highland. It was snowing so hard I couldn't see Daniel Village. What a great weekend!

jrbfromga 02/09/13 - 08:45 am
YeCats, I remember too

Sorry, but you apparently didn't learn spelling or grammar at Ursula Collins. I also remember the "Big Snow", it was good the snow was on a Friday, and except for medical/emergency workers, everybody else just hunkered down and enjoyed it, but it was pretty much melted by Monday so we all had a weekend to play.

avidreader 02/09/13 - 10:04 am
What a mess!

In 1973, I was on medical hold, waiting to be discharged from the Army. My boss at Ft. Gordon asked me to help out at University Hospital during the storm because I had a special license to drive a five-ton truck. I spent three days with very little sleep transporting non-ambulatory patients and University medical staff to various destinations around Augusta.

A special heater was installed in the covered bed of the truck. I have to admit that I had a great time. For the first time in my short two-year stint with the Army, I felt like I was actually helping people. Patients, nurses, doctors, and the rest were all extremely thankful. Most offered me hot food or some other sort of snowy-weather apppropriate gift. Many times during my three-day travels, I would stop and help stranded motorists also.

My designated route was Walton Way from west Augusta to University. The truck I was driving managed the big S-curve at the Bon Air without a blip.

I still have photos and a commendation from Augusta's mayor to remind me of this exciting adventure.

Jake 02/09/13 - 03:09 pm
Cool, man, cool

I was living on Roy Rd just off of Wheeler Rd when the snow came. Both of these roads were dirt roads back then. Humana Hospital was under construction but Wheeler Rd was mostly dirt from Walton Way to Belair Rd.
We always got off of work at 11:30am on Fridays and it was starting to come down by then. I cashed my check but decided not to go grocery shopping because of the conditions. I figured, like a lot of folks, that it would soon stop and not stick.
Well, it just kept on coming down. I brought my dog inside that night but he hated not being outside so I let him go back out which was not a problem because he liked to sleep under the house anyway.
The next morning it was still coming down. Now I had to venture out in knee deep snow with the wind blowing hard and get some milk and bread for my family. I felt like a member of the Donner party. My dog followed me and every once in a while he would disappear in a drift. It was eerily quiet and peaceful with no vehicles on the road and everyone pretty much staying put in their houses.
The nearest store was a convenience store at the intersection of Wheeler and Walton Way. I was able to get a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread before they sold out. In the mean time my dog is fighting with other dogs in the parking lot.
We head back and it finally stops snowing and the sun comes out. It was very beautiful to witness the blanket of white everywhere.
We had a pot belly wood stove for heat in our shack (literally) and the flue would glow red when it was stoked up. I made coffee for my wife and myself and hot chocolate for the kids on it. We had lost power but we had plenty of wood and a free-standing gas heater in the bathroom.
I loved the storm. It kind of gave a sense of unity for the community because we were all experiencing the same thing and trying to help each other out as evidenced by some of the above comments and stories.

KSL 02/09/13 - 04:02 pm
My husband and I hiked to a

My husband and I hiked to a gas station we knew sold milk while a neighbor stayed with our 3 year old and 1 year old. The world was so quiet.

dwb619 02/09/13 - 07:00 pm

On the second day, Saturday, we watched as the Army helicopters began picking up travelers stranded on I-20 west of Hiway 25.

foster 01/26/14 - 09:31 pm
73 Snowfall

On that Friday afternoon, I was driving home from Swainsboro. The snow started falling in Wrens. I made it home to Marks Church Road, but I could barely see the road. I stayed up all night watching it. Great memories.

pwren46 02/16/15 - 11:42 am
I was one of the few people

I was one of the few people traveling Burke County roads that day. I had an old WWII military jeep that would go anywhere. The downside was that it had no top and no heater, but it was a lot of fun. I also rescued some motorists with one of our farm tractors.

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