At the time of the ‘Storm of the Century’ blizzard in 1993, my wife and I were both students at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. Being college students, we didn’t watch television and seldom accessed weather updates. Cellphones weren’t a ‘thing’ then, either. No one on campus had mentioned the blizzard warning, and since it was Friday, I planned to drive to Alabama to visit my mother and sisters for the weekend. My wife-to-be decided to travel with me.
No snow was falling when we headed south on I-75, but after driving less than five miles on the Interstate, large snowflakes began falling and immediately sticking to the road. Not knowing about the impending blizzard, I recognized we were going to have to turn around and head back to campus. The snow simply became heavier and heavier. I’d never seen so much snow falling so quickly.
Drivers, myself included, had slowed to about 45 mph. I drove a Volkswagen Rabbit and even with front-wheel drive, the car kept sliding, so we exited at the Renfro Valley exit, which is only a fifteen minute drive from Berea. In such a little amount of time, the roads were too bad to drive back to campus safely. Cars were sliding off the Interstate, and I didn’t want to chance getting hit by another vehicle or becoming stuck in the median. We got a room at the Days Inn and I figured road crews would clear the roads overnight.
The next morning, we awakened and discovered more than twenty inches of snow had fallen overnight. Luckily, where we had parked in the hotel lot, the area was partially sheltered without a heavy accumulation snowing us in, and we were able to drive to I-75. However, no pavement was visible. The only evidence of the Interstate was the grooved paths where semi-drivers had kept driving through the night. No highway department crews had worked the roads overnight, and I later learned the Interstate had been closed. We didn’t know, and I drove along the grooves, which seemed more in the middle of the two lanes on each side of the Interstate.
The usual fifteen minute drive took was forty-five to fifty minutes to reach Berea and another ten minutes to walk from the student parking lot to the Alumni Building. It was also ungodly cold and the heater in the car decided NOT to work for most of the drive back. In hindsight, we were far more fortunate than we even understood at the time.
Almost 4,000 motorists were stranded in the storm in Kentucky, along I-75 and I-64. One man had died from the freezing temperatures trying to walk into Corbin from his home.
A lesson remains forever burned in my mind. I tend to check the weather several times each day. And while the weather is never accurately predicted, I don’t like unexpected surprises. On March 12th, 1993, the blizzard took us by surprise. Remember, no cellphones then, and since we didn’t readily have access to the weather, we found ourselves unprepared. Unprepared, but thankfully, we were blessed and protected and made it safely back to campus.