Latta is a 66-year-old retired autoworker who has a morning routine. His cats awaken him at 5 a.m. to be fed, and he heads down the driveway of his Janesville, Wis., house to get his newspaper and mail.
As the fierce storm blew outside his door early Wednesday morning, Latta pulled a jacket over his sweat suit, donned a baseball cap and pair of gloves, opened his garage door and headed out.
"The snow had drifted probably about three feet and I mistakenly thought I could go down and get my mail and the newspaper," he told AOL News in a telephone interview. "When I got down there, there was no newspaper and all I had in the way of mail was junk mail."
The gusty wind quickly blew the mail from his hand, Latta said.
"And then I started to turn around to get back to the path I had walked through to get down to the mailbox. But I fell down. And I had no luck standing up," Latta said.
"The wind was blowing snow. It was drifting and I just wondered how or if I was going to get back into my house. And I looked and said to myself, well, you're probably going to die out here."
With snowdrifts covering him, Latta was on the ground for about an hour before a snowplow came by. Unable to see him, the plow instead pushed a huge mound of snow over his body, completely burying him.
"That complicated things," Latta told AOL News. "I closed my eyes. And I just laid there. I don't know how long I laid on the ground. And I thought, Well, it won't be that bad because I'll get to see God."
But instead, at around 9 a.m., four hours after Latta first trekked down his driveway, his across-the-street neighbor looked out the window and saw ... something. Was it a small animal moving near the drift, or maybe a trash bag?
Betsy Nelson got out her binoculars. And then she called her next-door neighbors.
"You guys are going to think I'm crazy," she told them, according to the Janesville Gazette. "But I think there's a hand sticking from the snow."
Neighbor Todd Herrington had just finished his shift on the fire squad and was clearing the snow from his driveway. Because of Nelson's call, he headed across the street, found the glove and started digging. He quickly realized it was his Latta, buried from head to toe, snow packed in his eyes and nose.
"I heard him yell, 'It's Joe! It's Joe!'" Nelson told AOL News. She called 911 and quickly headed across the street, she said.
"I thought there was no way he could be alive," Herrington told Madison television station WMTV. "That's all I saw was a face that was like in a snow coffin and stuff, just a face in the snow."
Janesville Police Officer Todd Schumann responded to the call for help. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the police report says an officer was dispatched for a possible DOA, or dead on arrival. Instead, Latta was breathing and conscious but frozen "very stiff and not moving," according to the police report. Schumann said Latta had been trapped under 29 inches of snow.
Latta is unsure how long it was before he lost consciousness, but he remembers being found.
"It was a miracle," he told AOL News. "My eyes were closed and they were talking to me, telling me everything was going to be okay."
An ambulance took him to a nearby hospital, where he was treated and released by that afternoon. Latta called some other neighbors, who brought him home. There, they gave him his shoes, one glove and his baseball cap, which they had found in the drifts.
His cats, he said, were happy to see him and eager for things to get back to normal.
"We do have a routine," Latta said.