Thursday, March 12, 2020

60 Years Ago, This Month: Crippling Snowstorm Prompts Georgia Guard Response

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

A column of vehicles stages at the Atlanta headquarters of the Georgia National Guard March 9, 1960 prepared to travel to Gainesville, Ga. following heavy snowfall across north Georgia. Georgia Guard Archives.

On March 9, 1960, a snowstorm dropped as much as eight inches of snow over north Georgia. By the time the snow began to fall March 9, many areas of North Georgia were still heavily covered by ice from frozen precipitation that fell the previous week. Temperatures had remained below freezing, thus the falling snow added to the weight of previously accumulated ice. This proved devastating to the poultry region of north Georgia. Approximately 400 chicken houses collapsed under the weight of the ice and snow. Highways became impassable and school buses were unable to bring children home from school.

Aerial reconnaissance conducted by Georgia Army National Guard helicopters revealed wide devastation across north Georgia following a March 9, 1960 snowstorm. In this image, five poultry houses have collapsed from the weight of accumulated snow and ice.  Georgia Guard Archives.
Already pressed by calls for assistance from the previous-week’s ice event, the communications office of the Civil Defense Division of the Georgia Department of Defense was flooded with requests from farmers, ranchers and citizens across north Georgia. With need concentrated in Hall County and its abundant poultry farms, Maj. Gen. George Hearn, Georgia’s Adjutant General, dispatched a convoy of nearly two dozen 2 ½ ton trucks to Gainesville. Departing the Atlanta headquarters of the Georgia National Guard on the afternoon of March 9, the vehicles, under command of Lt. Col. Emmett Plunkett, state maintenance officer, arrived in Hall County that evening. Plunkett established a response headquarters in the Hall County Jail. The Guardsmen, members of the Atlanta-based 201st Ordnance Company, 1st Rocket Howitzer Battalion and 248th Signal Battalion were joined by Soldiers of Gainesville’s Company C, 878th Engineer Battalion who had spent the previous week responding to emergencies prompted by the March 2 ice storm. Elberton’s Headquarters Battery, 4th Gun Battalion provided additional Soldiers and five-ton heavy trucks.

Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers receive a mission brief before conducting emergency response operations n Gainesville, Ga. March 10, 1960. Georgia Guard Archives
The Guardsmen fanned out into Hall County and neighboring Lumpkin, Dawson, White and Habersham Counties rescuing trapped motorists and delivering them to warming shelters. Guard vehicles also assisted in conveying doctors and patients to local hospitals. The Guard’s winch-equipped heavy trucks pulled countless vehicles out of snow drifts in an effort to clear roads. Nevertheless, with commercial trucks bogged down by the wintry conditions, by the night of March 9, Guardsmen began delivering feed from local mills to farms isolated by the snowfall. Through the darkness, the Guardsmen traveled over treacherous mountain roads in freezing temperatures to reach sparsely populated agricultural communities.[i]

Within the first 24 hours, the Guardsmen had conducted more than 200 missions. They continued 24-hour operations through March 11 when they were relieved by a convoy of vehicles and Guardsmen from the Newnan and Jackson armories of the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron. That evening, additional snow fell adding to the urgency of the response operations. Doctors accompanied Guard patrols in rural areas to treat patients who were unable to travel to hospitals and clinics. Food, heating oil and gasoline were transported continuously by Guard vehicles while the Gainesville armory provided hot meals and cots delivered from Atlanta.

In Toccoa and Canton, Guardsmen from local armories made emergencies calls to residents, delivering groceries, feed, hay, medicine and other essentials to remote county residences. Georgia Guard trucks delivered chickens to processing plants, transported live eggs to hatcheries and delivered feed to sustain livestock and poultry populations.

Through relentless effort and coordination with the Georgia State Patrol and first responders, Georgia Guardsmen mitigated human suffering and reduced overall economic impact to the poultry industry. At the height of the operation, Guardsmen operated more than 80 trucks traveling more than 45,000 miles over treacherous roads. More than 900 missions were executed in the Gainesville area alone. Incredibly, despite thousands of hours on the roads, no accidents or injuries were sustained by responding Guardsmen.

[i] "Frigid March Weather Brings Ice & Snow Storms – Crippling Power, Transportation." The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, April 1960, 8.


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