Snow day? How ‘bout a snow week …

Beth KinnaneFountain City, Our Town Stories

The official word came down around lunch time on Monday: Knox County Schools were called out today and tomorrow because of the snow piling up outside and arctic temperatures on the way. I’m predicting they’re out the rest of the week as temps don’t look to break freezing until Thursday afternoon with more snow possible that night.

From a student’s perspective, nobody wants to waste a good snow on a day you’re already out of school. So at least the kids are getting some extra days tacked onto their long weekend.

This particular system is reminiscent of a wintry spell that came through in the same time frame back in 1982 (The Blizzard of ’93 has gotten enough attention). My older brother and I were students at Central High School with younger siblings at Gresham and Sterchi. We’d barely returned from Christmas vacation when snow and ice and every other form of cold precipitation kept us out of classes interminably.

Jacksboro Pike on Monday afternoon (Photo credit: Beth Kinnane).

Of course, this was over 40 years ago (how’d that happen?) and was back in the days of getting up early in the morning and watching the scroll across the bottom of the TV screen waiting to see if Knoxville City Schools would be closing that day or running on a delay. Before the city schools were absorbed into Knox County Schools, invariably the county got considerably more snow days than the city. It was far more rural in those days with dangerous roads for buses to travel. Oddly though, in that school year of 1981-82, the county had only budgeted for three snow days while the city had budgeted for five. This spell of Old Man Winter blew those budgets out of the igloo.

The inklings of what was to come started on Jan. 10, with a projected low of 5 degrees and warnings to protect delicate shrubs and stay bundled up outdoors. The afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 12, brought snow, sleet and freezing rain to East Tennessee continuing into the next day. Just as that system made its way out another showed up on Friday, Jan. 15. Frigid ground temps kept any accumulated snow from melting in any significant way. By that Friday, Knox County Schools was already one snow day over budget and city schools had only one left.

By Monday Jan. 18, both school systems were still out, along with much of the rest of East Tennessee. Upcoming in-service days for the county were already being changed to attendance days for students. Hoping for some thaw, Knoxville got an ice storm instead, keeping students out yet another day, with the city now converting in-service days to attendance days.

No one could handle driving in snow in 1982, either (Photo Credit: KNS digital archives, Jan. 15, 1982).

How bad was it? Reports of over 150 car wrecks overwhelmed the Knoxville Police Department to the point they just gave up trying to record traffic information. Ditto Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

By Jan. 20, temperatures were finally on the rise. Knox County Superintendent Earl Hoffmeister wasn’t sure if students would attend the next day. The city schools superintendent, Jim Newman, said students would return to classes on an hour delay Thursday, Jan. 21. We’d been out of school for over a week.

My brother and I were over the freezing, wet weather and were ready to get back to Central. We headed out that morning, got in his truck, an old Dodge three-on-the-tree. He turned the key over and … nothing. Absolutely nothing. Like Old Marley, that battery was dead as a doornail. Everyone else in the house had flown the coop, as had every friend we attempted to call to come grab us. There were no cell phones back then.

So, we gathered up and walked the three miles to school that day. We were less than pleasantly received by a lady at the front office (who shall remain nameless) when we checked in: “You already had an extra hour to get here blah blah blah blah blah.” I wasn’t my most polite self when I informed her of our circumstances, and “at least we didn’t just lay out the whole day.”

Enjoy your snow, kids!

Beth Kinnane writes a history feature for It’s published each Tuesday and is one of our best-read features.

Sources: Knoxville News Sentinel digital archives, McClung Historical Collection digital archives.

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