Saturday, January 18, 2014

Memoirs of a Georgetown Freshman: The Blizzard of January 1994

Read about first semester here.

My girlfriend and I got back to Georgetown over the weekend of January 15th.  A wicked cold front had moved in that day and the temperatures fell to below zero, which is pretty unusual for central Kentucky, even in January.

On Sunday, however, it warmed back up, but that brought predictions of snow, though the predictions were all over the map as to how much we were actually going to receive.  I remember looking out the window late that Sunday night and seeing heavy snow falling in huge flakes and thinking that if it kept up like that for long, we'd get a lot of snow.

On Monday morning, I woke up to what was, basically, the most snow I'd ever seen in my life. We ended up with about 18 inches, and just a few miles north of us in Scott County there was a band of snowfall that reached up to two feet in depth.  In Louisville, which is about an hour west of Georgetown, a record was set for the most snow in a 24-hour period - nearly 16 inches - and it all fell in about 8 hours.  Lexington, which is just 10 or 15 miles south of Georgetown, "only" got about a foot of snow.  All of this snow fell on top of about a quarter-inch of ice.

This is an image from Louisville on that Monday, taken from The Courier-Journal

This once-in-a-generation snowfall was then followed immediately by another arctic cold front that swept sub-zero temperatures back into the region.  Tuesday reached -17 in Lexington, and on Thursday it was -20.  Shelbyville, which is about 45-minutes west of Georgetown, broke the all-time lowest temperature on record for the entire state of Kentucky, registering -37 on that Wednesday.  Remember, these were actual temperatures, not windchill factors.

The entire city of Georgetown was essentially shut down the entire week.  Classes were canceled all week and we were basically all snowed in.  I'm not sure what it's like there today, but in 1994, Georgetown (both college and town) didn't really have any snow-removal equipment - certainly none that could tackle a snowfall that heavy, with ice underneath it.  I can explicitly remember noticing, in front of Anderson Hall, that there was no way to discern where the grass ended and the street began.  It was just a rolling hill of snow as far as the eye could see.  

That first day was really fun and exciting.  We knew it'd be at least a few days before classes resumed, and we were all feeling like 4th-graders on a snow day.  There was a huge snowball fight in the quad - the area of South Campus where all the fraternity and sorority houses were - and I recall that being one of the most enjoyable moments of my entire freshman year.

Picture this scene with a foot-and-a-half of snow and 100 college students playing like children.

Unfortunately, once the arctic temperatures hit the next day, the whole thing quickly became a nightmare.  We all began developing a serious case of cabin fever, and this was drastically complicated by the fact that, due to these never-before-seen temperatures, the generator on campus became overloaded and essentially broke down.  In addition to having no air conditioning, the heat in Anderson Hall never worked very well either, but it stopped entirely that week.  I specifically remember waking up one of those mornings and the temperature in my dorm room was in the 50's.  There was also no hot water.  Additionally, the cafeteria was forced to serve cold cuts and other non-cooked food, all on paper plates.  Even I-75, that runs right past Georgetown, was shut down all week except to emergency vehicles.

A few lucky souls, who owned big 4-wheel drive trucks, were able to make grocery runs (and I think a few really lucky ones actually went and stayed at a hotel), but the majority of us were stuck living like the Donner Party.

It finally started "warming" up towards the end of the week, and the Interstate re-opened, I think, on Thursday, or maybe Friday morning.  My girlfriend and I were so stir-crazy we decided that we were going to drive home to Cincinnati, knowing that it wasn't nearly so bad up there, and figuring that the Interstate must be okay since they had re-opened it.  I literally had to dig my car out of the snow - the drifts were up over the hood.

Making that drive turned out to be a horrible mistake.  I was only 18 and didn't have much experience driving on bad roads anyway, and to this day, those were just about the most treacherous roads I have ever driven on.  The problem was that in some spots, the lanes were clear and wet, so you'd get going 50 or 55 miles per hour, only to reach a spot where the lanes were totally snow or ice covered.  Underneath every overpass the road was a sheet of ice, and there were these enormous, hardened humps of ice in the roadway that you had to dodge like landmines. I've never seen anything like those ice humps since.  Big rigs were all over the place running down on your bumper and passing too close, and it was simply one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.  Thankfully, once we got 30 or 40 miles northward, everything cleared up and it was fine the rest of the way into Cincinnati.

We spent that weekend recovering, and fortunately the roads were all fine into Georgetown by Sunday.  The semester finally resumed, a week late, on Monday the 24th.

1 comment:

Scott said...

I think I got the information wrong about when class started up. The more I think about it, I'm pretty sure class actually resumed on Thursday, January 13, and so we went to two days of class, had the weekend, then the snowstorm hit and school was closed for a week.

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