Story 6. Skates Pays a Visit on the South
It was early January 1973. The human weather forecasters just didn’t see it coming. Thermo was aware that cold, freezing air was funneling southwestward east of the Appalachians that was linking up with moisture coming northward from the Gulf of Mexico. Meteorologically, this phenomenon occurs in the real world and is referred to as “the wedge”. The South’s worst ice storms occur in the middle of the winter, but Thermo had a feeling that this one would be particularly bad. Thermo turned on his jets and headed towards Atlanta. After landing Thermo took some readings. “Yikes”, he thought. “The temperature here in Piedmont Park is already down to 34, a stiff wind is blowing from the Northeast, and my internal dew point meter reads 27. This spells trouble. I wonder why the human forecasters aren’t calling for an ice storm on the local news broadcasts that I have been monitoring on my antenna?”
In truth, the state of meteorology wasn’t all that great even as late as the 1970’s before the advent of better gridded computer short range model data. Still, those humans should have caught the ice storm that was about to occur in time to better warn the general public. Way up in the swirling, stratoform clouds above the Deep South existed a creature that loved to toy with humans and their animals during the winter. Skates was planning a big ice storm for the South. On the night of the seventh snow began to fall from the clouds from Alabama northeast into the Carolinas. Skates had funneled in just the right amount of warm air at middle levels of the atmosphere for the snow to melt before the precipitation reached the Earth and fall as a mixture of sleet (ice pellets) and rain, which froze instantly on surface objects. The freezing rain and sleet became heavier as the night went on into the next day. The unsuspecting humans were alarmed to hear the crack of pine trees and the flickering of lights leading to power failures.
Thermo flew up into the clouds to see if he could do anything. He had a sickening feeling in the pit of his thermometer that, just like with Camille, he could do nothing. Once he got above the stratus clouds Thermo was shocked to see a thin blade-like, upside down, pyramid shaped diamond figure with an evil looking grin stoking the clouds with water. Skates did not see Thermo at first, but after a couple of minutes whirled around to see the two by four thermometer gawking at him. Skates said, “What are you. I’ve never seen a flying machine that is so small get up here.”
“Hey, you are spying on me!” Thermo said, “Stop icing the South or I will fire my miniature jets to disperse your clouds and melt you…you horrific looking icicle.” Skates did not heed the threat guessing correctly that the little machine was too weak. Skates nearly instantly created sheets of ice from the clouds and tried to incase Thermo. Once more Thermo had to think fast, turn on his jets, and escape another powerful natural foe in full retreat at mac speed. Thermo felt humiliated and very helpless. He hoped to one day face foes like Skates and Phoon and make a difference for the poor humans, but today would not be that eventual day.
After a couple of days of freezing rain mixed with some sleet, power was out for most from the storm, and just about everything was covered in a thick layer of 2-3 inches of ice and sleet. Skates had done his dirty work. School was out for an entire week form north Georgia into the Carolinas. It was over a week before roads were cleared, power was restored, and conditions were back to normal.
In the real world the Great Ice Storm of 1973 across the South occurred from January 7th into the 8th. One to four inches of ice accumulated closing schools and left 300,000 people without power for up to a week. Of course, the storm was not produced by a malevolent ice being, but was a natural event. I was an eleven-year-old child at the time residing in a small town named Tignall, Georgia located about 50 miles due south of Athens in Wilkes county, which was hit very hard by the storm. I remember that due to power outages, people literally stored their frozen food outside to keep it from spoiling. I was pleased to be out of school but quickly got bored just hanging around a fireplace that needed to be stoked with only a couple of books to read. In Tignall the temperature did not get above freezing for nearly a week. As I recall, none of the broadcasters at the time pegged the storm. Most forecasters were only calling for a cold rain to fall across north Georgia. Currently an ice storm of the magnitude of 1973 would be forecast on computer models at the least 48 hours in advance. If such an ice storm were to occur today The Weather Channel forecasters, I’m sure, would not miss or “bust” the forecast.
Should another ice storm of that magnitude happen again in north Georgia, there would be a disaster of epic proportions. For example, the population of metropolitan Atlanta was less than two million people in 1973. As of 2017 this figure was nearly six million people depending upon how many counties are included in the metropolitan area. The power line infrastructure has not changed much since the early 1970’s, so one can imagine the havoc that 2-3 inches of ice and sleet along with below freezing temperatures for a week would produce. Even though global warming is occurring, and world-wide temperatures are averaging about a degree and a half warmer (Fahrenheit) today than in the early 1970’s, it’s too early to write off an ice storm for the Deep South as far south as Atlanta and even further south. To this day, however, I have not witnessed an ice storm as bad as that of 1973, locally.
The text and artwork are copyright Guy Walton.
Artwork is by my friend, Alyssa Josue.