Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Great Snow of '73

What if you were to read this headline - "24 inches of snow in 24 hours?" Would you think Erie, PA? Buffalo, NY? Denver, CO?

Actually this was Rimini SC, just north of Lake Marion in the low country between Columbia and Charleston, on February 10, 1973. I know, we couldn't believe it then either.

In Columbia where I lived we just got 17". Slightly different amounts fell in different parts of the city. It was far and away the greatest and most amazing weather event of my life. I can't believe it has been 37 years ago. It seems like yesterday.

Just a little SE of Columbia, in Manning, there was 21". Orangeburg got 21". Greenville - they got 1".

It happened on February 9 and 10, 1973. I was 15 years old, in tenth grade at A. C. Flora High School.

Back then in Columbia we got a pretty decent snowfall about every winter. Three years before, in January of 1970, it snowed so hard and fast that our bus from Crayton Junior High couldn't get us home, and believe it or not the driver let a group of us off in brutally cold windy snowy weather two miles from where we lived. We got lost on the golf course walking home. It was my first whiteout experience - or near whiteout. We weren't dressed for it. It was brutal.

Back to 1973. I believe that we did go to school that February Friday and when it was apparent later what was going to happen we were sent home. I distinctly remember that the the storm had not been forecast. They had called for rain. Even today with advanced tools these events are hard to see more than a few hours out. This was one of those many low pressure systems rising out of the gulf. The incoming cold front which met it was not expected.

The storm came up from the south and west. This was an enormous snow event for southern Alabama and Georgia too. You can get a good overview of the storm here.

The storm hit so fast that thousands of cars were stranded on I-95 and other highways in southern SC. National Guard troops were called out to rescue the people by helicopter. I remember watching the footage on the news at the time. There were multiple fatalities. People froze to death in their cars.

There were reports of drifts 6-8 feet deep, and strong winds. In Columbia where I was there was almost no wind. I remember the night of the 9th watching the snow fall onto our little back porch. We had one of those standard early 60's variety steel railings with a flat inch-wide top. The snow was coming down in enormously huge flakes, falling very very slowly, like little parachutes. The snow was piling straight up on the little rail. I can't remember if our power went out. I would imagine that it did.

So I went to bed that night and it was snowing like crazy. The amazing part is that when I got up the next morning it was STILL snowing like crazy. That had never happened, and has not come close to happening again in Columbia. It snowed 17 inches at my house in 24 hours.

The next morning the snow on those rails was standing up in thin white walls a foot high. I could not believe my eyes looking out side. It was deeply delightful. But even in my joy I couldn't begin to match the sheer gush of happiness that came over my 18 month old Irish Setter Clancey. When we finally went outside together he was running jumping and spinning around with an expression on his face of utter and pure animal happiness. We rolled around and around wrestling, chasing, playing. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

I remember standing straight up and falling backwards - straight back stiff-spined. Plop! The snow would poof out from the impact, and then I would be lying there in a canyon of snow with the snow wall to my right and left quite higher than my head. I did this fall-backwards thing over and over all day.

I tried doing snow angels but my arms and legs were just plowing under the snow!

A cold freeze followed the snow so we were out of school for at least a week. Snow isn't great for the dry cleaning business so my dad wasn't super excited after the first day or so. I remember my grandmother being stranded in her house. Not sure how I got over there but I remember a lot of pine tree limbs down.

Somewhere we have a few little black and white pictures but I can't find them. I do offer for your view amazing footage from that morning Feb 10th 1973 in Sumter SC, 45 minutes east of where I lived. Sumter had the same amount of snow we did. This footage is wonderful.


The Mac said...

Hey Joel - good post! I was too young to be a part of this (just by 3 yrs!) ... but, being from Sumter, there was always stories to be told about the Great Snow!

Alan Gantt said...

Also being from Columbia and a meteorologist wannabee, this was one of the most thrilling events of my pre-adult years. Even in looking through your photos, I was wondering why you didn't include scenes from the great snowstorm. Finally, the cold air didn't retreat northward as the Atlantic moisture pushed into the state (My perfect storm). Although, that snow was not the kind that sticks to trees so it wasn't as pretty as some. The thing I liked about southern snows is that the city does not try to remove it and you can just enjoy its beauty. I actually carried a yardstick to Drew Park and took measurements. I consistently got 20" measurements. I think the official measurement as reported by WIS-TV was 14". It seems there wasn't another measurable snow for the next decade. I guess we got our quota for the decade in one shot. Another interesting point is that the latest measurable snowfall (2")I have experienced was also in Columbia. In the almost thirty years of being in the Washington, DC area there have been no measurable April or May snows. There's something magical about Columbia.

Eric said...

Joel - - Loved your post. I was 7 and remember the snow quite well. I lived in out in the country - Sandy Run Community - between Columbia and Orangeburg. I don't know how much snow we had, but in my memory, it came up to my waist. We were out of school for at least a week. The hard freeze which came after the snow allowed us kids to walk on top of it. I remember taking long walks in the acres of woods behind our house and to our neighbors. My Dad was able to drive us around on his old yellow tractor. I don't think we ever lost our power. I just remember it as a wonderful week. Diana

The Logistician said...

I grew up in Greensboro in the 50s and 60s, leaving to go to college in 1969. My recollection was that it snowed roughly 4-5 times per winter, with about 4 - 6 inches. We always used our sleds, toboggans, or garbage can tops to slide down the hill. We fully missed school on snow days, not go an hour or two later. The fun generally lasted 2 days.

Anonymous said...

Hey, bro. I was 13 and remember hanging out and walking back and forth between our house and that of my first puppylove - Trey.

Hey, you shoud check birth records for November of that year, I bet it soared!

selina said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

Hey Joel, I remember that bus ride in 1970 from Crayton. I believe it dropped us off at either Forest Lake Shopping Center or Trenholm Plaza. Short bus ride. Long walk home.

Joel Gillespie said...

I would love to know who left the last comment!

Anonymous said...

Another Joel. I was in 9th grade in 1970. The last 9th grade class at Crayton.