Twenty years ago this week, Forsyth County and much of north Georgia were hit by what was then billed as the “Storm of the Century.”
More than 8 inches of snow fell across the county March 12-13, with drifts in some places up to 2 to 3 feet.
While the snow was pretty to look at, it’s the power outages, fallen trees and hazardous conditions of that weekend that stick out in the memories of longtime residents.
According to Forsyth County News accounts, many area grocery stores ran out of staples. Kroger had no milk left. Other merchants were unable to open because employees couldn’t make it in to work.
Weather forecasts gave residents time to prepare, but snowfall predictions varied widely, from 4 to 16 feet. Northwest Georgia bore the brunt of the mid-March storm, but it still took Forsyth a couple of days to thaw out.
Kevin Wallace and Tommy Coleman were members of what was then an all-volunteer fire department during the “Blizzard of ’93.”
Wallace, now a chief with the agency, and Coleman, who retired from the Atlanta fire department and still works in Forsyth, have vivid memories of that time.
Coleman said the “county wasn’t prepared to clear roads, so getting from point A to point B was a nightmare.”
“We had two fires that night … and in both cases, we had a delay because of the road conditions trying to get there,” Coleman said. “We’d be in better shape now because all of our engines have automated chains on them.”
Wallace recalled how crews had to manually place chains on the fire engines, and even then about three got stuck in the snow.
“It was cold, windy and I remember the snow started out very minor and of course it got worse and worse and worse over time,” Wallace said. “People were generally not expecting the volume of snow that we got because we’ve never had that much here.
“I think once that hit and people saw how much, the amount was surprising.”
Coleman said it snowed “as hard as I ever saw.”
“By 9 p.m. that [first] night, the roads were almost impassable,” he said. “We really had to struggle to get any kind of call.”
Many cars were abandoned on the road, said Coleman, adding to the difficulties firefighters were experiencing.
Traffic on Ga. 400 ground to a halt until the state transportation department was able to help clear some of the roads.
“We had several trucks stranded on some roads trying to get to a call that we couldn’t get to,” Wallace said. “And another truck would have to come from a different direction to try to get there.”
Wayne Lindsey, who was a sergeant with Cumming police in 1993 and a few years later became director of city maintenance, remembered that the blizzard brought challenges for both departments.
“It was real tough on the police department. It was real rough on the maintenance department,” he said.
Road conditions brought on the most challenges, since so many people got stuck that weekend.
“Both [departments] did a lot of transporting of people, convalescing,” he said. “I’m not talking about taking your buddy somewhere, but people who had to be in places like nurses.”
Lindsey shared how he had to take a physician to work.
“I actually stopped on my way in [to work] because a doctor had had an accident, and transported him to the hospital,” Lindsey said. “That’s where he was en route to when he had the accident.”
According to Lindsey, both the police and maintenance departments have many responsibilities during any winter storm, such as removing debris, and the blizzard was no exception.
“But getting these streets cleared was their main concern at the time so that would cut down on the police department’s having to move people here and there,” he said. “Trying to get the roads and streets to where people could move on their own was the main thing.”
Though the “Blizzard of ’93” happened a year before he started the job, Forsyth County Director of Engineering John Cunard said the roads and bridges department is prepared for future such weather events.
The county recently doubled its number of snow plows from two to four, with one new and one replacement machine, Cunard said.
Other equipment to help with winter weather includes seven salt and sand spreaders, three rubber-tire backhoes, 16 dump trucks and more.
“Snow is easier than ice, obviously. You can plow the snow off and then you’re fine and dry,” Cunard said. “But you get that ice layer on there, it’s tougher to deal with.
“I don’t remember the one in ’93, but I can’t imagine it being any worse than that one two years ago because we had the ice and it was around about a week.”
The ice storm of January 2011 may someday be remembered in the same light as the “Storm of the Century.”
Staff writers Alyssa LaRenzie and Crystal Ledford contributed to this report.