Storm calls to mind SnowJams of yesteryear

Maybe Atlantans learned their lesson.

During the SnowPocalypse of 2011, drivers stayed home -- for the most part -- and that made all the difference.

"It was much appreciated," said David Spear of the Georgia Department of Transportation, pointing out that accidents were fewer, injuries less severe and fatalities (as of Monday evening) zero. "It was very wise of folks to stay home. It remains to be seen if they’re going to be patient (and stay home Tuesday)."

A willingness to hunker down and stay off the roads made this storm pale in comparison to past SnowJams, even though the accumulation wasn't much less than in past years, said Pam Knox, assistant state climatologist.

"A piece of cake," said Knox, adding that she hopes Tuesday will stay the same.  "I hope people will enjoy staying home making snowmen."

This storm came with plentiful warnings, and Atlantans must have listened. The original SnowJam, Jan. 11, 1982, hit right at rush hour, and caught many unaware. Folks rushed out, got stuck and abandoned their cars in huge numbers, choking the interstates and surface streets.

Eleven years later the scene was repeated. The blizzard of March 1993 dumped more than two feet of snow in some areas and left hundreds of thousands without power. Among those lacking electricity were the Cashin family, of Alpharetta. The timing was bad. Helen Cashin had just been released from the hospital, after donating a kidney to her son Adam.

"I piled up the blankets, we cuddled, I did everything I could" to keep her warm, said her husband, Jack Cashin, 85, owner of the Chukkar Farm Polo Club. "My wife is just a tough lady, she took it very well," he said. "Finally a neighbor of ours with four-wheel drive rescued us for two or three days."

Musician Greg Carageorge, 58, of College Park said the only collision he's ever experienced happened that same week. He was returning from a musical engagement and his Ford station wagon slid down a hill near Piedmont Park, engaging softly with the car in front of him. "The owner of the car was not upset, he insisted I sit in his car while we traded information."

Carageorge notices that Atlanta is much quieter this time, particularly the skies around College Park, in the absence of flights entering or leaving Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

While it's true that Atlantans aren't used to driving in the snow, they are also at a disadvantage in a city with very few snow plows, said Rijn Van Maher. Maher lived in  Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the last six years (snowfall: 400 inches some years),  moving back to town two months ago.

One might say Maher, 28, was born to the element. His mother went into labor during SnowJam ‘82. She made her way across town in a borrowed Peugot and Rijn arrived the next day.

In 1982 Sharon Hottell of Sewanee was working at the Emory Hospital, and had only a few miles to drive home. She ended up abandoning her car -- though not entirely of her own volition. Five men surrounded the car while she was at a stop sign and pushed it off the road, advising her to get out and walk. "It was scary," she remembers. "They had taken their neighborhood into their own hands."

This year is a different story. She stayed home, to start with, and "the only thing I see are deer tracks in my front yard," said Hottell, 50. "People are not attempting to drive."

Whether people will try driving Tuesday is another question. Spear, of the Department of Transportation, hopes they won't, because much of Monday's snow will have turned to ice by Tuesday morning. "It's hard enough to drive on snow," Spear said. "It's virtually impossible to drive on ice."