At first glance in the U.S. history books, Jan. 12, 1982, looks like any other day in the early eighties. On Jan. 12, 1982, the Dow Jones industrial average closed at 847.70, a first-class stamp cost 20 cents and you could buy a gallon of gasoline for $1.30. Ronald Reagan was president, George H.W. Bush was vice president and the unemployment rate was 7.6 percent. The national debt? A paltry $1.1 trillion.
In Atlanta, however, Jan. 12, 1982, was an extraordinary day.
According to hundreds of readers e-mails, Jan. 12, 1982, will forever be known as the most memorable traffic day in Atlanta history. That was, of course, the day of Atlanta’s infamous “Snow Jam.”
After my column last week, which highlighted the most memorable traffic days in my career, I was bombarded by e-mails from readers who unanimously said that Jan. 12, 1982, was indeed the most memorable driving day. Forgive me for leaving it off my list. But I was only 8 years old and living in Connecticut.
Up to 6 inches of snow fell quickly that afternoon, and without advance warning, commuters faced a horrible drive home.
Captain Herb Emory, the dean of Atlanta traffic, had not yet achieved captain status, and was working as a reporter for the Douglas Neighbor Newspaper. He remembers “Snow Jam” well.
“It was just kaboom! All of a sudden the snow was here. It came so quick. Nobody had a chance to get home,” Emory said. “It was too late. You were already hung up at work. I remember all of the workers at Lockheed left their cars and walked home.”
Emory, who now flies above Atlanta’s traffic jams, remembers his drive home that night very well.
“Several roads were blocked on my way home. Austell Road was blocked. Powder Springs Road was blocked. All of these roads were closed. Normally my commute was 20 minutes. That night it was over four hours.”
Reader Bob Ewing e-mailed his story of Snow Jam.
“All the businesses in Atlanta made a simultaneous decision to allow employees to be sent home/leave at virtually the same time [as the snowstorm hit], causing mayhem on the roads. It took me 3 hours to go from Central City Park downtown to get to the interstate — about six blocks — due to the massive traffic jam and roadway conditions once I was able to leave my office, which was later than most of my fellow co-workers. Many drivers abandoned their cars and walked the remaining distance home out of necessity — including one co-worker from my office in skirt and heels — five miles. Some kind of fun, particularly since many experienced power outages once they got home!”
Can’t get enough of “Snow Jam 1982”? Someone has created a website: snowjam82.com.
Mark Arum’s column appears Mondays. Listen to his traffic reports daily on AM 750 and now 95.5FM News/Talk WSB, and see him each morning on Channel 2 Action News. Connect with Mark by e-mail at email@example.com; Twitter @markarum; or Facebook: markarumWSB.