COLUMBIA — The snowstorm of 1973 started innocently enough, as a smattering of snow falling across the South.
But as skies darkened on Feb. 9, 1973, and a low front out of the Gulf of Mexico mixed with rain off the East Coast, a winter storm like none anyone here had ever seen before fell across most of South Carolina.
Columbia got 15 inches of snow, while places in the Pee Dee received 2 feet. While some areas in the Upstate got 2 to 5 inches, most of the northwest corner of the state was passed by. The snow kept falling for 24 hours and stayed on the ground for a week.
In the Midlands, as the snow began, a seven-car pileup on Interstate 26 over the Broad River and a five-car pileup at Broad River Road and Interstate 20 snarled traffic. Remarkably, no injuries were reported.
Kids were ecstatic about being out of school.
But with very little snow removal equipment, much of the Palmetto State shut down. Traffic ground to a halt along roadways and interstates. About 30,000 motorists became stranded, many climbing over fences along interstates to walk to the nearest house.
National Guard units and volunteers ran countless missions, working from helicopters and all-terrain vehicles.
After awhile, food and supplies ran low. In some places, the situation became desperate.
Three Winston-Salem teens who hiked to the Holiday Inn motel in Orangeburg had to have their jeans, frozen solid, cut off. Using their hands, guests helped warm the teens feet. The hotel clerk gave them his own room.
Food had to be airlifted to many places along the Interstate 95 corridor. Gov. John West told a number of those who had hunkered down at a Ramada Inn near Manning that the state of South Carolina would not let them go hungry.
Cleanup tab: $30 million
Among the many untold stories of the snowstorm of 73 were the countless acts of compassion and even heroism shown by South Carolinians. Farmers used their tractors to pull drivers out of ditches and off roads. Church members and other volunteers fed or tended to hundreds in emergency shelters. Residents took stranded motorists into their homes.
When it was over, the storm would break longstanding records and claim 14 lives, including eight who died from exposure. Damages and cleanup cost $30 million.
In the years to come, many would recall where they were during the Blizzard of 73, and for a while until Hurricane Hugo blew through 18 years later with a brand of wind and fury all its own the 1973 snowstorm would be known as the Storm of the Century.