WEATHER: The Big Freeze

  • Share
  • Read Later

(7 of 8)

President Jimmy Carter could not have left his home state at a better time. The Chattahoochee River in northeast Georgia was choked with invading ice. Studying the strange landscape, Mountaineer Lanier Chambers declared: "It is so cold, my imagination is frozen." The Georgia Power Co. instituted 30-to 60-minute blackouts throughout the state. In Atlanta, which dipped to 1°, patrons wore their overcoats while dining at the posh Peachtree Plaza Hotel.

"It's the roughest winter that anyone can remember since nineteen-and-eighteen," observed Newspaper Editor Mary Ann Oakley in Providence, Ky., a coal-mining town (pop. 4,270) numbed by temperatures down to —20°. As ice and snow made the winding roads impassable, the children have been able to attend school only three days this month. When the town's water supply was blocked by a frozen valve, the National Guard trucked in water to the fire station, where residents lined up with jugs for their 2-gal. rations. In their mutual need, the townspeople found a new spirit of closeness. "Everybody is working as one big family," said Municipal Inspector Randy McCully.

The chill extended across the Florida panhandle, where the biggest problem was the shortage of natural gas. Utilities Director Tom Smith in Tallahassee suggested that residents should take a bath only every other day. Frostproof (pop. 2,814) belied its name, recording 27°. But the real novelty was snow—snow as far south as Miami and Boca Raton. "I feel sorry for these people working on a $100-a-day suntan," said Alex Ballora, pool manager at Key Biscayne's Sonesta Hotel. "What do you say when a guest comes up and asks you for an electric blanket?"

Worried citrus-fruit growers still could not tell whether firing up nighttime heaters had done much to save their groves. Some 55 million boxes of oranges (out of an estimated 211-million-box crop) were lost, forecasting a likely price rise. Temperatures as low as 30° at Fort Lauderdale and 23° in Homestead killed pole beans, watermelons and tomatoes. It was the worst frost in 37 years. The weather was causing even Floridians to pack up and head south. Puerto Rico reported an influx of tourists from Miami—but high winds made even San Juan's 78° seem too cool. Wise vacationers fleeing the cold headed west rather than south: Phoenix and Tucson offered their usual winter warmth, San Diego baked and beached in a delightful 86°—a high for the date.

Along the Gulf Coast, a 4-in. snow hit parts of Mississippi, which was undergoing its coldest winter in 17 years. Jackson had a record number of auto accidents as motorists unfamiliar with icy driving banged up their cars. The speaker of Mississippi's house of representatives dispatched a four-wheel-drive truck to round up stranded legislators.

Texas was having its worst January ever recorded. In Dallas the temperature hit 12° and the flow of natural gas in one of the nation's petroleum-richest states was curtailed to heavy industrial users. High winds aggravated the cold. Texans say they use logging chains fastened to stout posts as wind gauges—and this month the chains have been flying flat-out.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8