Remembering Snow Jam: the Storm That Paralyzed Atlanta 40 Years Ago This Week

Wintertime automatically means snow for much of the country, but in metro Atlanta, where I live, it’s a much rarer occurrence. Occasionally we get a snowstorm that paralyzes the city, and one such storm that has lived on in infamy took place 40 years ago this week. It took on the name Snow Jam, and it still haunts some Atlantans.

The second week of Jan. 1982 brought bitter cold to north Georgia. On Jan. 10, temperatures dipped to a record of -2° F, followed by another record low of -5° F the following night. A line of storms came through, and you know what happens when you mix water and extreme cold.

Just before rush hour on Jan. 12, heavy snow fell and stuck immediately. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and commuters found themselves paralyzed on snowy roads. Many of them simply left their cars where they stopped, while others were involved in accidents.

Columnist Thornton Kennedy recalls the dangerous conditions that the snowstorm brought:

There were car accidents on top of car accidents on top of car accidents. Vehicles were abandoned on the sides of the roads. People walked miles to get to their homes. While there was a thaw the next day, the next evening it froze again. Sheets of ice covered Atlanta. Many went days without power.

Local news footage from that time shows how stranded some people were, as well as how dangerous it was for some people to get their vehicles unstuck.

Snow Jam even affected public transportation:

For people like my family who lived on the outskirts of metro Atlanta, we didn’t have to worry about the traffic — just power outages. The most important thing for me was getting out of school and playing in the snow, although it was so cold we couldn’t spend much time outside at a stretch.

The one thing about Snow Jam that stuck out the most to me (I was nine) was a news report about a little girl close to my age who stumbled onto a live power line that had fallen and lost multiple limbs as a result. It was a harrowing story that stayed with me to this day.

From the Time Machine: The Better (Snow) Angels Of Our Nature

I don’t recall my parents taking any photos that week, so you’ll have to settle for someone else’s memories:

I crowdsourced some Snow Jam memories on Facebook. One friend, Tim, told me how he remembered playing football in the snow, falling into a creek, and warming by a wood stove, while another friend, Tracy, recalled using the back porch as a refrigerator because the power was out and it was so cold outside — and also having to cancel her birthday party due to the snow.

Melissa, another friend of mine, says that when she looks back, she can’t believe we had that much snow, and she still has a picture of the snowman she made that week. One friend, Sharon, said that she had her first car wreck during Snow Jam, while my friend and neighbor Allison recalls being eight months pregnant and living in an apartment during the storm.

My cousin Karol told me that, because of the storm, it took her husband Rusty 12 hours to get home.

“He was stuck on 285 [the interstate highway that serves as a perimeter around Atlanta], actually took three people to their houses, and would get back on 285,” she told me. “He actually slid into a police car during one of those trips. I was stuck at work, my boss brought me to his house, (which he had bought from Billy and Frances) [my maternal grandparents —CQ], and Rusty picked me up there. No power for about 5 days. Crazy, crazy time!”

My friend Amanda remembers driving home from school on the northeastern edge of I-285.

“I was a senior in high school,” she told me. “They let us out at noon and I was a new driver. My sister and I were in our bug near Northlake mall. My sister saw a classmate who had spun out and told me to stop. I told her, no way! We want to make sure we make it home on time. I remember it took a long time to get home.”

Snow Jam wasn’t the only major snowstorm Atlanta has experienced. My mom mentioned to me that when I was a baby, a 1973 storm gripped Atlanta. Another storm in 1983 dropped eight inches of snow on the city but didn’t have the effect that Snow Jam did.

In 1993, a blizzard put metro Atlanta at a standstill. I remember being without power for three or four days. And then, there was the infamous Snowpocalypse incident in Jan. 2014, where a sudden storm left commuters stranded in traffic for hours.

We’re bracing for potential snow and ice this weekend in north Georgia, too. But our modern meteorological tools will help Atlantans be better prepared. And that’s because we’ll never forget Snow Jam.

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