The Blizzard of '93
Described as one of the largest and most intense storms in a century, the March 12-14,1993 blizzard paralyzed the eastern seaboard with record cold, snow, and wind. Southern cities not accustomed to severe winter weather like Birmingham, Alabama, Atlanta, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee were buried by paralyzing snows and frozen by unseasonable cold. The severe cold following the storm preserved much of the snow, prolonging travel nightmares for a couple days over the south where most roads were never plowed. The combined effects of high wind and heavy wet snow downed thousands of miles of power lines leaving millions of people in the dark for up to a week in some cases over the south.
High wind, well in excess of hurricane force, smashed the gulf coast, Appalachians, and eastern seaboard. 99 mph wind gusts were measured by equipment on oil drilling platforms off the Louisiana coast as the storm began intensifying Friday evening, March 12. Winds estimated up to120 mph blasted the Florida west coast early Saturday, March 13, producing a six to ten foot storm surge. Winds up to 100 mph over the mountains of North Carolina Saturday afternoon, March 13, drifted snow to depths of five to ten feet. And, 81 mph winds measured at Boston's Logan International airport Saturday evening, March 13, closed the facility and aided in the shut down of the city.
As heavy snow continued to cripple the deep south, Tennessee and Ohio valleys, as well as the Appalachians Friday night March 12, a tornado outbreak developed and devastated parts of Florida. An estimated twenty seven damaging tornadoes touched down across the state killing four people and injuring many others. The tornadoes, in conjunction with damaging straight line winds from the parent severe thunderstorms, and the massive storm surge along the west coast, inflicted millions of dollars in property damage. In fact, this storm turned out to be one of the costliest non-tropical storms in Florida's history.
Snow began over upstate New
York and New England between 6:00 and 7:00 am Saturday, March 13. Light
snow steadily increased in intensity as the blizzard strengthened and
raced through the Mid Atlantic states. Bonafide blizzard conditions (winds
sustained or frequently gusting to 35 mph or higher in conjunction with
heavy snow, frequently producing visibilities of 1/4 mile or less, and
bitter equivalent wind chill temperatures) commenced over the Capital
District between 3:00 and 4:00 pm. Convective elements developed in the
general snow shield as it expanded over the Northeast. In other words,
vertical lift in the atmosphere was tremendously enhanced due to local
and large scale factors to produce bands of thunder snows. Just like a
summertime thundershower that produces very heavy rain, the thunder snows
produced snowfall rates of two to four inches per hour. Snowflakes the
size of a person's fist were reported for a time with the passage of one
of the thunder snow bands at Bridgeport, CT. The combination of extremely
heavy snow and high wind produced widespread white-out conditions (zero
visiblities) along with very rapid snow accumulations. As a result, New
York and the six New England States all declared disaster emergencies
during the height of the storm. All major highways, such as the Northway,
I-88, Thruway, and Massachusetts turnpike were closed by Saturday afternoon,
March 13. Secondary roads for all intents and purposes were left completely
impassable. At the peak of the storm late Saturday afternoon and evening,
every major airport along the eastern seaboard closed, causing colossal
problems for air travelers. Snow piled up to record levels for many cities
in the Northeast by Sunday morning, March 14. Albany, NY measured 26.6
inches of new snow, the second greatest snowfall from a single storm since
records have been kept. Syracuse, NY broke five snowfall records as a
result of the blizzard.
The Blizzard of '93 began harmlessly enough as a broad cold trough of low pressure in the upper atmosphere which covered much of the country east of the Rocky mountains. At 7:00 am Thursday, March 11, a strong ridge of high pressure in the upper atmosphere was positioned just off the U.S. west coast. The ridge essentially oriented the polar branch of the jet stream so that it drove due south out of the north pole. This jet stream orientation allowed unseasonably cold air to flow south into the U.S. east of the Rocky mountains. During the twenty four hour period from 7:00 am Thursday, March 11 to 7:00 am Friday, March 12, several small scale upper level disturbances and a 140 knot jet stream wind speed maximum located at about 30,000 feet, sharpened the broad low pressure trough, driving frigid air and energy down the front range of the Rocky mountains into the western gulf of Mexico. Twenty and thirty degree Fahrenheit air at the surface slammed into seventy and eighty degree Fahrenheit air over south Texas and the gulf helping to initiate cyclogenesis (low pressure formation) in the western gulf of Mexico. By Friday evening the storm, located over the north central gulf, fueled by a 150 knot jet stream wind maximum over the central gulf and a tremendous temperature contrast at the ground and aloft, rapidly intensified. Winds on the Louisiana drilling platforms gusted over 90 mph during this phase of the storm's intensification. 1:00 am Saturday, March 13: The storm, with a central pressure of 988mb (29.18"), had moved to near Tallahassee, Florida. A powerful cold front extended from the storm south into the eastern gulf of Mexico. Ahead of the cold front, the line of tornado producing thunderstorms was intensifying and moving towards the Florida west coast. 7:00 am Saturday: The storm's central pressure dropped to 973mb (28.73") and it had moved to south central Georgia. A forty degree temperature gradient was in place across the storm continuing to fuel its tremendous growth. Blinding snows continued across the deep south and Appalachians and snow commenced over the Northeast.
The blizzard of '93, as it is known in the Northeast or Superstorm '93 as it is known elsewhere is considered one of the all time most intense extra-tropical storms to have formed over and affected such a large portion of the United States. During the peak of the storm, roughly 1/3 of the country was simultaneously being affected by harsh winter weather. Insurance claims from Texas to Maine tallied damage estimates in the billions of dollars. The toll in human life was extensive. Approximately 285 fatalities nationwide can be directly attributed to the storm.