Snowmageddon 2011. Snowpocalypse 2014. Both winter storms knocked the props out from underneath Atlanta. But it’s been 40 years since the original attention-grabber, Snow Jam ‘82, blew into town, giving “The City Too Busy To Hate” a taste of what it was like being “The City Too Frozen To Function.”

Over three days, from Jan. 12-14, 1982, 4 inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain fell in Atlanta, quickly paralyzing the city. Gov. George Busbee declared a state of emergency, mobilizing the National Guard to help motorists and clear roadways. Ten deaths were attributed to the storm.

“The sky was brilliant red behind the Capitol at sunrise,” Journal reporter Bill Montgomery wrote of Jan. 12. “But by 8 a.m., it had turned gray… It was the prologue to a day of ice and snow that revealed in poignant detail the foibles, failures, comedy and magnificence of man and his machines.”

Credit: AJC Photo Archives

Credit: AJC Photo Archives


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Montgomery went on to detail how Snow Jam played out on that Tuesday afternoon.

  • “About 2:45 p.m., the first white flakes are noticed in downtown Atlanta, and banks and offices turn their employees loose within the hour, to make it home before road conditions are untenable. The snow, alternating with sleet, sticks to sidewalks and streets with a slippery glaze, snarling traffic and turning good intentions to mud.”
  • “5 p.m. As the snarled traffic creeps by outside, day workers in Peachtree Street office buildings await their buses in glass-enclosed office lobbies, while others shiver on the street. They swarm like lemmings at the rare sight of a bus.”

“No one can ever remember it happening before,” the Journal’s Clem Richardson wrote in the Jan. 13 edition. “At one point during the storm (yesterday), officials said nearly all of Atlanta’s 1,425 miles of surface streets plus 200 miles of interstate highway were jammed to a halt.”

Frustrated commuters stuck on the city’s four main interstates pulled over, parked their cars and walked away. Business boomed for Atlanta’s hoteliers, who told the Journal’s Karen Harris that all downtown hotel rooms were booked by 5 p.m. on Jan. 12. A little-known local restaurant, LongHorn Steaks Restaurant & Saloon, founded in Atlanta a year earlier, offered $1 drinks while it snowed. LongHorn served over $700 worth of drinks the first night of Snow Jam and earned a place in local folklore as a result.

Credit: AJC Photo Archives

Credit: AJC Photo Archives

Not all Snow Jam stories are tales of horror. For Tom Hinson, creator of the Snow Jam ‘82 website, collecting anecdotes from the 1982 event has become a labor of love.

Started “on a whim,” the site recounts Atlantans memories with headlines such as “Like sardines on the MARTA bus,” “Hills, ice and inexperienced Snow Jam drivers not a good mix,” “Despite Snow Jam, the wedding did go on!” and “Pennsylvania drivers can handle this. Right?

Hinson’s own Snow Jam memory of giving a ride to a stranded young businessman walking along I-285 with a briefcase has remained fresh in his mind for 40 years. He wonders what happened to his passenger and says he’d love to hear from him.

“You couldn’t help but laugh at the craziness of what was happening all around you,” Hinson said.

By Friday, three days after Snow Jam began, remaining snow and ice around the metro area was the proverbial guest overstaying its welcome.

“The sun came out, for the first time in the Atlanta area since cold Monday,” a Jan. 17 Sunday wrap-up of Snow Jam in the Journal-Constitution said, “and at last the temperature rose above freezing, to 39. Atlanta was starting to thaw out.”


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