If you were around here back on this date in 1993, you were waking up to one of the greatest storms to ever hit the US, the Storm of The Century. I had never been in a storm like this, so it made for a surreal experience for me, and unfortunately, I took ZERO pictures of the storm itself. I had a heavily wooded back yard, and I remember looking out over the yard while the storm was at its peak. The skies were VERY dark, darker than a normal thunderstorm, I'm guessing because of all of the thick snow that was falling. The winds were howling. I remember thinking this is what I had always dreamed of since I was a kid... when all of a sudden BOOM!!! The sky literally glowed! I'm assuming the eerie glow was because of all the heavy snow that was falling. It wasn't like a regular lightning flash nor was it like a regular clap of thunder. It was muted/muffled for sight and sound. Again... surreal is the only word I can think of that describes that experience. Thunderstorms with snow. I mean really, if you love snow, it doesn't get any better than this. 🙂
So... .let's take a look at this storm a little closer in case you missed it.
From the NWS - (https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/news/1993-snow-storm-of-the-century)
On March 12–14, 1993, a massive storm system bore down on nearly half of the U.S. population. Causing approximately $5.5 billion in damages ($9.8 billion in 2019 dollars), America’s “Storm of the Century,” as it would become known, swept from the Deep South all the way up the East Coast. Before the monster storm system developed over the East, it spun up over Texas, bringing damaging winds and hail to southeastern areas of the Lone Star state the evening of March 11. With a central pressure usually found only in Category 3 hurricanes, the storm spawned tornadoes and left coastal flooding, crippling snow, and bone-chilling cold in its wake. Of the more than 200 weather and climate events with damages exceeding $1 billion since 1980, this storm remains the country’s most costly winter storm to date.
Snowfall amounts were tremendous.
During the height of the storm, snowfall rates of 2–3 inches per hour occurred. New York’s Catskill Mountains along with most of the central and southern Appalachians received at least 2 feet of snow. Wind-driven sleet also fell on parts of the East Coast, with central New Jersey reporting 2.5 inches of sleet on top of 12 inches of snow—creating somewhat of an “ice-cream sandwich” effect. Up to 6 inches of snow even blanketed the Florida Panhandle.
Some particularly notable snowfall totals included:
- 56 inches at Mount LeConte, Tennessee
- 50 inches at Mount Mitchell, North Carolina, with 14-foot drifts
- 44 inches at Snowshoe, West Virginia
- 43 inches at Syracuse, New York
- 36 inches at Latrobe, Pennsylvania, with 10-foot drifts
Over the south, Birmingham received more than a foot of snow, the Atlanta airport received 4.5", while the northern suburbs received more than 10". The Atlanta NWS reported "Total snowfall by late evening averaged 18 to 24 inches from Rome to Clayton with near 30 inches from Fannin to Union Counties. Snow drifts up to 10 feet high were reported". I had around 10" at my house in Dacula, but it was hard to measure since the wind blew it around so much.
Some additional totals from the Wilmington NC NWS office:
Location Amount Mount Mitchell, NC 50 in. Some snow remained on the ground until April 12th Chattanooga, TN 20 in. Asheville, NC 18.2 in. Lake Lure, NC 18 in. Ellijay, GA 17 in. Birmingham, AL 17 in. Lenoir, NC 13 in. Hickory, NC 10 in. Greenville-Spartanburg, SC 9.8 in. Lincolnton, NC 9.2 in. Greensboro, NC 5.7 in. Mobile, AL 3 in. Charlotte, NC 1.6 in. Siler City, NC 1.5 in. Columbia, SC 1.2 in. Raleigh, NC 0.9 in.
Here's the summary from the Atlanta NWS office
In 1993, the 'Storm of the Century' produced record amounts of snow across north Georgia. Wind gusts near 65 mph across extreme north Georgia produced blizzard conditions as visibilities dropped to zero in many areas. Total snowfall by late evening averaged 18 to 24 inches from Rome to Clayton with near 30 inches from Fannin to Union Counties. Snow drifts up to 10 feet high were reported. In Murray, Whitfield and Gordon Counties in northwest Georgia, damage estimates to businesses and homes were over $300 million. Over 120 carpet businesses in northwest Georgia were destroyed or damaged from high wind or the weight of heavy snow. Over 90 chicken houses were destroyed in north Georgia killing at least 1.3 million chickens. Thousands of trees were uprooted with damage costs of wood products and cleanup estimated at $5 to $10 million. Travel across extreme north Georgia, especially along the I-75 corridor, was brought to a standstill for up to a week following the blizzard conditions.
The impacts of the storm went far beyond the snow totals, with tornadoes, extreme winds, storm surge, and record cold. All in all, 318 people died as a result of the storm.
The development of the storm shows how the perfect setup brought the perfect storm.
During March 11 and 12, 1993, temperatures over much of the eastern United States began to drop as an arctic high pressure system built over the Midwest and Great Plains. Concurrently, an extratropical area of low pressure formed over Mexico along a stationary front draped west to east. By the afternoon of March 12, a defined airmass boundary was present along the deepening low. An initial burst of convective precipitation off the southern coast of Texas (facilitated by the transport of tropical moisture into the region) enabled initial intensification of the surface feature on March 12. Supported by a strong split-polar jet stream and a shortwave trough, the nascent system rapidly deepened. The system's central pressure fell to 991 mbar (29.26 inHg) by 00:00 UTC on March 13. A powerful low-level jet over eastern Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico enhanced a cold front extending from the low southward to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Furthermore, the subtropical jet stream was displaced unusually far south, reaching into the Pacific Ocean near Central America and extending toward Honduras and Jamaica. Intense ageostrophic flow was noted over the southern United States, with winds flowing perpendicular to isobars over Louisiana.
As the area of low pressure moved through the central Gulf of Mexico, a short wave trough in the northern branch of the jet stream fused with the system in the southern stream, which further strengthened the surface low. A squall line developed along the system's cold front, which moved rapidly across the eastern Gulf of Mexico through Florida and Cuba. The cyclone's center moved into north-west Florida early on the morning of March 13, with a significant storm surge in the northwestern Florida peninsula that drowned several people.
Barometric pressures recorded during the storm were low. Readings of 976.0 millibars (28.82 inHg) were recorded in Tallahassee, Florida, and even lower readings of 960.0 millibars (28.35 inHg) were observed in New England. Low pressure records for March were set in areas of twelve states along the Eastern Seaboard, with all-time low pressure records set between Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. Snow began to spread over the eastern United States, and a large squall line moved from the Gulf of Mexico into Florida and Cuba. The storm system tracked up the East Coast during Saturday and into Canada by early Monday morning. In the storm's wake, unseasonably cold temperatures were recorded over the next day or two in the Southeast.
James Spann - Part 1
Here are some additional links to more information about the storm:
- Birmingham NWS - https://www.weather.gov/bmx/winter_stormofthecentury
- NWS Overview - https://www.weather.gov/media/ilm/Overview_Kocin_Schumacher_Morales_Uccelini.pdf
- Hourly Automated Surface Maps of the Superstorm of 1993 - http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/arch/cases/930312/sfc/xcn.rxml
- Various Still Satellite Images - http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/arch/cases/930312/sat/vis.rxml
- NC State Climate Office Storm Summary - http://climate.ncsu.edu/climate/winter/event_details?e=129
- NCDC Technical Report - https://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/techrpts/tr9301/tr9301.pdf
- Water Equivalent vs Rain Gauge Measurements from the March 1993 Blizzard - https://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/techrpts/tr9303/tr9303.pdf
- Diagnostic Analysis - https://www.atmos.umd.edu/~dalin/huo-zhangyakum-superstorm-m95.pdf
- National Disaster Survey Report - https://www.weather.gov/media/publications/assessments/Superstorm_March-93.pdf
- "The 'Storm of the Century' or 'Superstorm' Derecho" - https://www.spc.noaa.gov/misc/AbtDerechos/casepages/mar12-131993page.htm
- Wilmington NWS Summary - https://www.weather.gov/ilm/Superstorm93