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Storm remains frozen in time
Memories of wild week haven't thawed
plow WEB
The winter storm that gripped north Georgia one year ago today left many memorable scenes, including a DOT plow making room along Hwy. 9. - photo by File photo


While temperatures today may top 60 degrees, the conditions were much different a year ago.

On the night of Jan. 9, 2011, north Georgia was blanketed by perhaps the worst winter storm since the infamous blizzard of 1993.

Several inches of snow fell overnight. Over the next couple days, daytime temperatures barely reached above freezing. The result was thick layers of stubborn ice atop snow.

Roads remained slick and impassable in many areas throughout the week. Many businesses where forced to close for days, while residents found themselves trapped at home.

Some found the rare winter shutdown nothing but a nuisance, while others found in it beauty and fun.

“I loved it,” said Nick Crowder, an engineering and technology teacher at South Forsyth High School. “As a native Georgian, we don’t see snow that much. We only get a big snow every 15 or 20 years.”

Heath Martin, who works with the Cumming Utilities Department, agreed.

“We enjoyed it. We played out in the snow on four-wheelers,” he said.

Martin’s co-worker Joda Hobgood had similar memories. Among them were her family’s creative ways to sled.

“You don’t want to know what we used,” she said with a laugh. “My father-in-law got a septic tank lid and used that, and we used the plastic thing from under the washer and dryer.

“My husband ended up in the creek one time. After that, we went to [the hardware store] and got some real sleds to use the next time it snows.”

For many business owners, the week was far less enjoyable.

“Business-wise, [the snow] just crashed it mostly,” said Ron Mooney, who along with wife Frances owns Sawnee Mountain Music on Dahlonega Highway, just north of Cumming.

“We live in an area where we couldn’t even get out to come and open the store.”

Mooney said he tried diligently for several days to thaw his driveway, but the snow and ice just wouldn’t cooperate.

“We live down a 300-foot long driveway that slopes down toward Settendown Creek,” he said. “It’s all shady, so no sun could get to it.”

He “struggled, scraped and put salt on it,” but it was still a couple of days before he was able to get out on a four-wheeler.

“And it was three or four days before we could get Frances out [in a car], and that was just because the little ones next door drove their four-wheelers so much it softened everything up.”

While Mooney’s business sat shuttered, some in the county didn’t have that luxury.

Lynn Jackson, administrator of Northside Hospital-Forsyth, said the week was “an adventure” for her and staff members.

“We don’t get many chances to have snow drills, so this was really a test,” she recalled.

Jackson said many staffers were unable to drive back and forth to their homes that week, so they had to stay in nearby hotels.

“We ran a shuttle back and forth, so they would go and work their shift and then take the shuttle to go and get some rest,” she said. “Since we work around the clock, the hotels were especially helpful to us.

“Since some of our people work overnight, they would have to sleep during the day, when the hotels are usually doing their housekeeping duties.”

Jackson herself stayed at the hospital the entire week, she said, sleeping on a “pullout mattress” in her office.

“Myself and all the administrative team were on site all week. We wanted to be available to help the staff and coordinate everything.

“A hospital is like a mini-city, so when something like this happens there’s a lot that has to be done even in just making sure everyone is fed and has somewhere to sleep.”

Most area school systems, including Forsyth County, also shut down for the entire week. While some teachers like Crowder enjoyed the break, others didn’t.

Crowder’s fellow technology teacher at South, Jim Chamberlain, was working at Lumpkin County High School in Dahlonega at the time, though he lived in Forsyth.

“The streets and roads were covered in ice for four or five days,” Chamberlain recalled. “I was pretty much trapped at home, so it had a significant impact.”

Chamberlain said the timing of the storm was particularly bad for his robotics club students.

“Our robotics season had just started — we held a big kickoff event the day before the storm hit — and we only have six weeks to build our robots,” he said. “A full week is a lot of time to lose during a six-week season.”

While most students enjoyed their time off, many couldn’t grasp why it lasted so long, said South Forsyth culinary arts teacher Dawn Martin.

“When their driveways and neighborhoods cleared up, they couldn’t understand why we were still closed,” she said.

“I live in the north end of the county, so I had a little chuckle and explained to them that a lot of roads up there were still in bad shape.”

Crowder’s own children, sons Barrett and Jack, enjoyed the snow.

“We have a hill in our neighborhood that’s almost perfectly straight up and down, so it was perfect for sledding,” he said.

Regardless of how they passed the time, most people probably don’t want to see another winter storm like it again anytime soon.

“I have to admit that I enjoyed [the week off], but I wouldn’t want to do it every year,” Martin said.

Her co-worker Crowder agreed.

“I liked it, but I understand that it hurt businesses and inconvenienced a lot of people,” he said.

Mooney summed up the likely sentiments of most Southerners when it comes to winter weather.

“I don’t mind maybe an inch or so of nice, soft snow because that just makes everything pretty,” he said. But beyond that I don’t like it much.”