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    Jesse Ferrell

    My Story: 20th Anniversary of the Blizzard of 1993

    By Jesse Ferrell, Meteorologist/Community Director
    4/04/2013, 10:20:53 AM

    Last month was the 20th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1993. I can't believe it's been that long (I also can't believe it took me three weeks to write this blog LOL). The storm (also known as "The Storm of the Century") was one of the top few weather events that dramatically affected my life. According to the Regional Snowfall Index, it remains the #1 most impactful winter storm between 1950 and 2013 - one of only two storms ranked "Extreme." The quick description of the storm from NCDC (where I worked at the time!) is quoted below. A number of exhaustive reports and studies are listed underneath.


    Registering as a Cat 5 storm for the Northeast, Southeast and Ohio Valley regions, this is one of the most devastating storms of the 20th century. It wrecked havoc on the eastern third of the country with record snowfall and deadly tornadoes. It covered one of the largest areas ever recorded in snow affecting over 100 million people and causing billions of dollars in damage. The heaviest snow fell from the southern Appalachians to the Canadian border with some locations reporting over 40 inches. Along the eastern seaboard the totals ranged from 6 to 15 inches. The greatest snow report came from Mt. Leconte in Smoky Mountain National Park, Tenn., where 5 feet of snow buried the mountain. In Syracuse, N.Y., 35.4 inches fell in 24 hours setting the all-time 24-hour snowfall record. The storm is attributed with the largest interruption of air travel due to weather in the United States. In Florida, the storm packed hurricane conditions with a massive storm surge that swept houses out to sea and produced over 27 tornadoes. (Kocin and Uccellini)

    "Registering as a Cat 5 storm for the Northeast, Southeast and Ohio Valley regions, this is one of the most devastating storms of the 20th century. It wrecked havoc on the eastern third of the country with record snowfall and deadly tornadoes. It covered one of the largest areas ever recorded in snow affecting over 100 million people and causing billions of dollars in damage. The greatest snow report came from Mt. Leconte in Smoky Mountain National Park, Tenn., where 5 feet of snow buried the mountain. In Syracuse, N.Y., 35.4 inches fell in 24 hours setting the all-time 24-hour snowfall record. The storm is attributed with the largest interruption of air travel due to weather in the United States. In Florida, the storm packed hurricane conditions with a massive storm surge that swept houses out to sea and produced over 27 tornadoes."


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    Here are a list of AccuWeather articles on the storm:

    - 20th Anniversary: Blizzard of '93: Hundreds Killed, Two Dozen States Impacted - March 15, 2013
    - Blizzard of '93: Why Was it the Storm of the Century? - March 14, 2012

    I've tried to include everything from my past blogs about the storm in this one, but in case I didn't:

    - Remembering the Storm of the Century in 1993 - March 13, 2012
    -Remembering the 1993 Storm of the Century - March 13, 2009
    - FORUMS: "Storm of the Century" Blizzard of 1993


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    This year, I've re-scanned and "remixed" my photos and included some never-before-seen pictures, which you can see on our Photo Gallery and throughout this blog entry. I've also digitized and uploaded some audio files from a micro-cassette recorder that I used during college to document the blizzard (since I didn't yet have a video camera). These recordings really clarify how things went down during my "Spring Break" from UNC-Asheville. Here's a map of the drive I made from college to home:


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    There is about 70 minutes of audio, including my drive from Asheville, N.C., home to Boomer, N.C., on April 12, the local news station and NOAA WeatherRadio's coverage, my commentary on the storm itself, and the aftermath. The clip below contains an infamous quote from WBTV-3's Meteorologist Eric Thomas (who is still at WBTV, 20 years later!) on March 13, 1993:

         "[This is] the storm... not of the century... in the history of man-kind (at least as we know it)... the most powerful storm to ever affect the East Coast of the United States."

    He goes on to say "our Central Pressure here in North Carolina at 12:50 this afternoon was lower than Hurricane Hugo produced as the eye of Hugo moved right over Charlotte."


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    The first section of audio features my commentary on the initial, unbelievable forecast (heralded as the first long-range computer model forecast for a major storm), followed by me talking about snow and storm preps as I'm driving home from UNC-Asheville to Boomer, N.C., on March 12, 1993, (see comments during play for specific highlights).

    Next up is commentary from WBTV-3 Charlotte on storm preparations:

    Cut to the morning of March 13, 1993. Our house is one of hundreds of thousands that have lost power. My dad Frank cranks up the generator and I provide additional commentary about high snow drifts. At one point, my mother and grandmother are discussing the storm over the phone. Recordings from WBTV-3 and NOAA Weather Radio confirm the seriousness of the storm.

    As the days of my "Spring Break" fade away, so does the snow -- but slowly. Additional commentary here from WBTV-3 Charlotte, WeatherRadio, and a report from my rooomate, who got trapped at school in Asheville by 6-foot snow drifts. After that, my report driving back to UNC-Asheville from Boomer, N.C., observing damage along the way:

    Here are the never-before-seen photos that my roommate (who was from France, by the way) took the day after the storm on UNC-A campus:


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    And here are trees down on I-40 as I traveled back to school March 21:


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    I also have hundreds of pages of wide-format DIFAX dot-matrix-printed observations and NWS statements from the storm, which I will not have time to digitize this time around. They are in a 3-inch stack in a binder. Back then, there weren't websites or forums, so these discussions were carried on via the WX-TALK email list and a special distribution list to capture all the storm info called "blizzard-of-1993@think.com." (and that's the first time anyone has said that on the Internet :)).


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    Although I obviously can't show them here, Tim's page has some YouTube videos of the Weather Channel during the storm.


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    This photo of my mom and dad's car stuck in the snow was featured in the "NOAA National Disaster Survey Report: Superstorm of March 1993" report (I was working at NOAA's NCDC at the time of publication). The report is not available online but others are (see below). You can download a ZIP file of all the PDFs and the radar and satellite loop.


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    "    The superstorm surge killed more people by drowning than Hurricane Hugo and Hurricane Andrew combined." -- NWS Service Assessment [PDF]

    - "The Big One!" NCDC Technical Report - Water Equivalent vs. Rain Gauges From March 1993 Blizzard] - Natural Disaster Report - Diagnostic Analysis - NWS Service Assessment - Computer Model Performance - Derecho over Florida & Cuba - State of North Carolina Report (quotes below):

    This video shows the squall line moving through Florida. The Storm of the Century was responsible for 11 tornadoes in the state, along with wind gusts over 100 mph all the way down into Cuba, and a storm surge of nearly 12 feet!

    Following, in between various maps of the storm (many of which were obtained through my college buddy Tim Armstrong's list of Blizzard of 1993 resources) is a list of snowfall amounts and records set during the Blizzard of 1993 (this was right after the storm and may need to be updated).


    1993a


    New Record Lows Set Jackson, Mich. 1 Birmingham, Ala. 2 Mansfield, Ohio 3 Peoria, Ill. 6 Columbus, Ohio 8 Springfield, Mo. 10 Huntsville, Ala. 12 Huntington, W.Va. 13


    1993c


    All-Time Record Low Pressures Set Philadelphia, Pa. 28.43 in. Richmond, Va. 28.51 in. Washington, D.C. 28.54 in. Columbia, S.C. 28.63 in. Greensboro, N.C. 28.64 in. Augusta, Ga. 28.65 in. Greenville, S.C. 28.74 in.

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    Selected Snowfall Amounts Syracuse, N.Y. 36" Albany, N.Y. 27" Portland, Maine 26" State College, Pa. 26" Pittsburgh, Pa. 25" Burlington, Vt. 22" Caribou, Maine 17" Boston, Mass. 13" LaGuardia Apt., NYC 11"

    Here are all of my photos:


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    Following are various images of the storm that I've collected over the years. Many of these were from the aforementioned Blizzard of 1993 resources. The first set of images has "notes" added by me:


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    "Commonly referred to as: "The Storm of the Century." Blizzard conditions prevailed in the western half of the state. Mountain winds reached 101 mph at Flattop Mountain east of Asheville. Snow drifts of 8 to 21 feet were reported. At Asheville Airport, winds peaked from the northwest at 48 mph with gusts to 64 mph at 12 noon on the 13th." -- State of North Carolina Report


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    "The major impact to the western part of the state was from heavy snow accumulation resulting in extensive road blockages, stranded motorists, and in the mountains, lost hikers and campers. Strong winds and heavy snow brought down trees, limbs, and power lines leaving many without heat or electricity or telephone service. At one point, Polk County reported 99% of its electrical customers without power. Statewide and estimated 300,000 homes were left without power and over 160 thousand people were reported to be snowbound by the storm. Over 2,700 traffic accidents were reported during the storm by State Highway Patrol, some resulting in fatalities." -- State of North Carolina Report


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    The backlash of the storm brought extremely cold air into North Carolina late on the 13th and lasting through daybreak on the 15th. Wind chill values colder than minus 20 degrees were felt in western North Carolina on the 13th and 14th. Early on the 15th, the temperatures bottomed at record setting levels for March with 2 degrees at Asheville, 8 at Greensboro, and minus 4 at Waynesville." -- State of North Carolina Report

    "Loss of home heating and the extreme cold resulted in seven deaths and one injury from exposure. All the victims were elderly, 70-years or older. Three of the dead were from Buncombe County, two from Madison County, and two from Clay County. A 93-year old woman in Swain County survived injury from exposure. Elements of the storm contributed to the deaths of seven others with medical problems. These included snow-shoveling heart attack victims. Freezing temperatures caused water pipes to burst and resulted in the death of livestock. The heavy wet snow caved in the roofs of several chicken houses killing the chickens." -- State of North Carolina Report


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    "The Governor declared 25 western counties and 15 eastern counties disaster areas. The Red Cross reported that 55 homes were destroyed and over 3300 others were damaged by the storm. The counties suffering the greatest amount of property damage to homes and businesses are listed as follows: Brunswick, $6.6 million, Dare $4.7 million, Buncombe $ 1.5 million, and between 500 thousand and 1 million dollars in descending order, Transylvania, Columbus, New Hanover, Onslow, McDowell, Pender, Henderson, and Alexander Counties. Other counties named in the state declaration, but having less that $500 thousand of property damage included the following: in the east, Beaufort, Bladen, Carteret, Craven, Currituck, Duplin, Greene, Hyde, Sampson, and Wayne, and in the west, Alleghany, Ashe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Graham, Guilford, Haywood, Iredell, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Polk, Stokes, Surry, Swain, Watauga, Wilkes and Yadkin. It was also estimated that nearly $17 million in public assistance moneys would be needed to cover emergency services and clean up after the storm.-- State of North Carolina Report

    The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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    Jesse Ferrell