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Blizzard of '93: Why Was it the Storm of the Century?

By By Meghan Evans, Meteorologist
March 15, 2012, 10:25:54 AM EDT

The Blizzard of '93 killed more than 300 people and dumped more than 20 inches of snow across a wide corridor of the Appalachians and Northeast. Fierce winds blew snow around into massive drifts.

Travel and school were shut down for days, including in the major cities like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. More than a foot of snow fell in these cities before snow changed to sleet, while hurricane-force winds battered the Northeast coast.

Some of the highest snowfall amounts include 42.9 inches in Syracuse, N.Y., 30.9 inches in Beckley, W.Va., and 25.3 inches in Pittsburgh, Pa.

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The storm had such a huge impact because it became very intense rapidly and walloped such a massive area of the East with more than a foot of snow. The storm system strengthened drastically over the Gulf of Mexico on March 12, 1993 and along the mid-Atlantic coast on March 13, 1993.

In fact, a record low pressure of 960 mb, or 28.35 inches Hg, was measured over the Chesapeake Bay.

The record pressure of 960 mb is like a Category 3 hurricane, according to Dale Mohler, expert senior meteorologist.

"The Blizzard of '93 is a good example of a 'snowicane'," Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski added. "It was granddaddy of 'em all."


Several ingredients came together for one of the biggest blizzards ever to rage across the East.

Extremely Strong Jet Stream

A very potent jet stream, or a channel of fast winds around the altitude that planes fly, in place over the Gulf of Mexico set the stage for the powerful storm system to develop. Jet stream winds of more than 170 mph were in place across the Gulf of Mexico.


The polar, Pacific and subtropical jets combined forces to create 170-mph-plus winds.

"It is very unusual to see jet stream winds that high," Expert Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity said. Meteorologists remember forecasting the Blizzard of '93.

Severe Thunderstorms in Gulf of Mexico

A line of severe thunderstorms associated with the storm system first erupted over Texas and then pushed into the Gulf of Mexico and Florida.

High winds and tornadoes ripped across Florida on March 13. At least nine tornadoes tore across Florida, while serious flooding resulted a storm surge along the west coast and torrential rain from the storms.

"One of the biggest things [factors with the Blizzard of '93] was the squall line that developed in the Gulf. The storms fed northward into the storm," Margusity said.

Thunderstorms release heat, referred to as latent heat by meteorologists. The heat added by the thunderstorms helped to drastically lower the pressure, helping the storm system strengthen.

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