Thursday, February 12, 2009
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.