Operation Snowfall

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name:
Operation Snowfall
South Carolina
February 10–15, 1973
Emergency: The worst snowstorm in South Carolina history dumped up to 26 inches of snow, stranding motorists and isolating people living in rural areas.
Organizations: 703d Tactical Air Support Squadron; Detachment 9, 44th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron; 1st Helicopter Squadron; and 1st Special Operations Wing
Airlifted: 10 tons of food, blankets, and medicine; snow removal equipment; and more than 1,000 passengers.
Aircraft Used: CH–3 (seven), C–130 (five), and HH–43 (two)

An unusually severe snowstorm struck the southeastern United States on February 9 and 10. The blizzard dropped up to 26 inches of snow on Sumter and Clarendon Counties near Shaw AFB in South Carolina, an area that rarely received snow. The base itself received 17 inches.

Early on Saturday, February 10, Deputy Sheriff William L. Poulos of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Department called Col. Paul P. Hoza, acting Shaw AFB commander, to request emergency four-wheel drive vehicles and operators. Later that day, the Clarendon County Civil Defense Office asked for helicopters to airlift motorists stranded on highways, including Interstate 95 and U.S. Highways 76, 378, 521, and 15.

Maj. Gen. Roger K. Rhodarmer, the commander of the Ninth Air Force, which was headquartered at Shaw AFB, approved the use of the 703d Tactical Air Support Squadron’s CH–3 Jolly Green Giant helicopters for the rescue missions. A CH–3 from the 1st Helicopter Squadron at Andrews AFB in Maryland stranded by the storm at Shaw was also pressed into service. Squadron personnel rescued 27 people and delivered antibiotics to a nursing home. Seven CH–3s were used to rescue people shivering in snowbound automobiles and trucks. Detachment 9 of the 44th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron used a pair of HH–43 helicopters for similar missions.

Two days later, on February 12, Governor John C. West declared a state of emergency and closed some highways to all but emergency vehicles, such as those from Shaw AFB. On February 12 and 13, the CH–3 and HH–43 helicopters airlifted blankets and 2,400 food packets to emergency shelters, some at motels along the highways.

Between February 10 and 15, Air Force helicopters flew 30 missions, conducted 304 landings, and consumed 80 flying hours. They airlifted more than 1,000 passengers—mostly stranded motorists—and transported more than 10.5 tons of food, clothing, and medicine. Five 1st Special Operations Wing C–130 Hercules aircraft flew snow removal equipment and operators from Hurlburt Field at Eglin AFB in Florida to Shaw AFB on February 13. The next day, the base resumed normal flying operations. On Thursday, February 15, Shaw AFB rescue and relief activities concluded as snow was cleared from the major highways.

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