The worst winter storm in a decade, dubbed the “storm of the century,” roared into the county 20 years ago on Friday, March 12, 1993, with 50 mph wind gusts, rain, sleet and snow. The storm, which raged all the way up the East Coast and into Canada, was blamed for more than 100 deaths, six in Georgia.
Precipitation began in Cobb that Friday night in the form of rain and sleet, then turned to snow early on Saturday morning as temperatures continued to drop into the low 30s. The strong winds created a sub-zero wind chill factor throughout most of the day before dipping to 10 to 20 degrees below zero Saturday night.
Weather officials had said that snow accumulation would range from 2 inches at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to 6 inches in the northern suburbs and more than a foot in the North Georgia mountains. But the all-day snow storm on Saturday dumped 4 to 10 inches in the Atlanta-Athens area, 8 to 10 inches in Cobb County and Northwest Georgia, and up to 20 inches in North Georgia’s mountains. Along with the snow, more than 250 trees fell across roads around the county.
A variety of people volunteered time and four-wheel drive vehicles to transport nurses, surgeons and physicians to and from area hospitals during the storm. The Marietta-based Army National Guard, Civil Service Air Patrol, Cobb County Fire Department and the Four-Wheel Drive Club of Atlanta, which had more than 200 members, shuttled medical personnel about the metro area. Many personnel at Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, Smyrna Hospital and Cobb Hospital in Austell volunteered to work 48 and 72 hour shifts.
Cobb and Marietta 911 system operators fielded non-stop phone calls during the storm for audible alarms triggered by the weather, stranded motorists, power outages and street maintenance. From 5 a.m. Saturday to 11 a.m. Sunday, county dispatchers received double their normal amount of police calls and about 10 times their normal amount of fire calls. Over the same period, dispatchers answered 3,350 emergency 911 calls, two-thirds of which were received between 6:30 a.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday.
Dispatchers even received calls from out-of-state residents who wanted someone to feed their animals for them. Marietta dispatchers had to send firemen out to remove animals from several homes. County operators also had to send police to an apartment complex on Saturday night after receiving complaints about residents throwing an outdoor Jacuzzi party in the 20-degree weather.
For two nights, the Salvation Army’s Waterman Street community center housed 85 storm refugees. Most of them were northbound travelers unable to use Interstate 75, which was closed north of Marietta on Saturday and still had icy spots on Sunday. The Marietta Cobb Winter Shelter on Church Street reported a crowd of 70 people, most of whom were homeless.
Countywide, tens of thousands of residents found themselves without power Saturday, although the vast majority was restored by Sunday night.
Wometco Cable said more than half the company’s 200,000 Cobb customers lost reception by about 8 a.m. Saturday with 90 to 95 percent being restored by Sunday afternoon.
Students in the Cobb County School System and City of Marietta schools were off Monday and Tuesday after the storm due to lingering hazardous secondary and subdivision road conditions.
Water was discovered standing in the halls of East Cobb Middle School and the Adult Educational Facility in Smyrna on Tuesday. Water damage at the school caused the air-conditioner coils to burst.
Cobb County Schools superintendent Grace Calhoun said many of the schools had 3 to 4 feet of snow blown up against the doors and had difficulty getting all the parking lots and doorways cleared by Tuesday morning.
Gov. Zell Miller viewed the storm devastation on Sunday in a National Guard helicopter and said most of North Georgia was “paralyzed.” Miller contacted President Bill Clinton and late on Monday, the president agreed to the governor’s request for snow removal aid for Cobb and 39 other hard-hit north Georgia counties. The federal government was expected to pay 75 percent of the snow-plowing costs incurred in the counties over the five-day period.
Damon Poirier is the Newsroom Administrator for the Marietta Daily Journal.
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