CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The Charleston area already had a measurable snowfall in early January when more than five inches fell at Charleston International Airport, but that was nothing compared with the storm which began 45 years ago Friday.
The airport experienced 7.1 inches of snowfall from Feb. 9-11 according to the National Weather Service.
A cold front moved into the southern states on Feb. 8 then moved off the Gulf Coast and into the Gulf of Mexico that night. Low pressure began to develop along the stalled front.
Moderate to heavy snow developed across central Georgia, most of South Carolina and eastern North Carolina by the morning of Feb. 10 with the low strengthening quickly. The snowfall rate rose to one to two inches per hour throughout the day.
"The heaviest fall was at Orangeburg, which recorded 18 inches shortly before the snowing ended there," an Associated Press report said.
Then-Gov. John West declared a state of emergency because of the event. The highest totals measured by the National Weather Service were in Rimini, South Carolina at two feet of snow.
The effects of the storm were widespread, according to the National Weather Service:
School children in Montgomery County, Alabama had to spend a night in their classrooms as snow fell so heavily buses could not safely take them home. In Forsyth County, Georgia around 1,000 travelers sought shelter, most of whom were traveling south toward Florida along Interstate 75. I-75 was closed along an almost-200 mile stretch from central Georgia to near the Florida border, with state troopers estimating there were "thousands of stranded cars" along the highway. In Macon, Georgia every road was closed at the height of the storm and the city's mayor declared a curfew and a state of emergency. The cities of Columbus, Georgia and Phenix City, Alabama suffered similar impacts. Snow drifts up to 8 feet height were reported in central South Carolina and virtually all roads were closed for two to four days. Helicopters were used to airlift food to stranded residents. In Columbia two roofs collapsed due to the weight of the snow. Nighttime temperatures dipped as low as 5 degrees in Columbia, SC after the storm.
The record-setting snowfall, though a pretty sight to see, was deadly. Eight people died and hundreds of people were literally pulled from stranded, snow-covered cars.
The storm cost $30 million in damages to homes, roads and businesses. In 2018 dollars, that would equal $162 million.
The Jan. 3 snowfall this year was the first significant snowfall recorded in the Lowcountry since 2010, and set the third-largest single day-snowfall record in Charleston, behind the record Christmas snowfall set months after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and the second-place snowfall set during the blizzard of 1973.