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20 years later: The storm of the century and one precious wedding photo

6:44 AM, Mar 14, 2013   |    comments
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Dana and Joanne Thomas, March 13, 1993 (Photo Courtesy of the Family)

ATLANTA -- If you were living here 20 years ago, you probably remember the Great and Terrible Blizzard on the weekend of Mar. 12-14, 1993.

The "Storm of the Century" they called it.

It paralyzed north Georgia for days and left us with memories both tragic and sweet.

We have had worse snowstorms in metro Atlanta. We have had worse windstorms.

But on Saturday, Mar. 13, 1993, it was this combination that crippled us -- all at once, two to three feet of snow blew into north Georgia, along with near-hurricane force winds and 20-degree-blow-zero wind chills.

It seems like only yesterday.

Mar. 13, 1993 was also Joanne and Dana Thomas's wedding day.

"There was kind of a rumor that it would snow a little bit the night before," Joanne recalled Wednesday from their home in Sandy Springs.

But as she and her bridesmaids crowded into her car to try to drive to the church Saturday morning (Joanne's car was the only one not buried under snow drifts), "It's like we were in Antarctica, trying to track our way."

The powerful wind gusts pushed the blinding snow into chest-high drifts so rapidly, snow plows could not keep the roads clear.

Joanne's car got stuck three times, and the 20-minute drive to the church in northwest Atlanta took 90 minutes.

"I had six people in my car, I had my curlers on, the dress was in the back of the car, had my pajamas on, driving to the church to get ready for the ceremony, and when we get stuck the third time, right on Johnson Ferry, I get out of my car, curlers, jumping up and down, 'I'm getting married, I need help,' you know my curlers are falling off on the street," she said.

Only a few of the wedding guests could get to the church.

"We had 200 people invited. There were 18 total. The church had no power, no phone, we had no photographer, we had no flowers."

Joanne and Dana went ahead with the afternoon ceremony. They had spent a year planning their wedding to take place on what would turn out to be the worst day of the year to have it.

"I never cried, but when I was told that the flowers weren't coming, that's when I started to tear up. But then my mother started to cry. I said, 'Oh, don't cry, don't cry, don't cry, it's fine,' so I -- just a little pool of tears and then I sucked them back in to prevent her from crying."

The conditions outside continued to deteriorate, becoming life-threatening.

Even though the "official" snowfall amount, measured at the airport, was only four inches, the levels a few miles to the north, and extending to the mountains, were measured in feet.

The storm killed 15 people in Georgia alone, and caused upwards of $15 million worth of property damage.

More than 500,000 Georgia Power customers were without electricity for up to two weeks.

Drivers on the interstates were stuck and stranded and shivering for days, in areas too isolated for them to walk to warmth.

And in the midst of so many difficulties and tragedies, and while, by contrast, many others were able to have fun sledding and making snowmen and throwing snowballs, Dana and Joanne Thomas trudged through the Antarctica that was Atlanta that weekend to start their new life together.

"I wouldn't have traded it for the world, it's a fun story to tell, and I'm happy to tell it today 20 years later -- just crystal clear memories."

After the ceremony, as they were leaving the church, Joanne's father, James Gust, aimed his camera.

"You know, we had no photographer, so he took one picture. It was priceless. Outside in the snow, snowballs, big snowflakes behind us. We have that one, great picture."

And they also have, 20 years later, each other, and two teenaged sons.

The blizzard of Mar. 13, 1993 -- still with us in many ways a generation later, like it was yesterday.

"I wouldn't change a thing," Joanna said. "And by Wednesday the snow had all melted and we went to Hawaii for two weeks."

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