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Remembering the Blizzard of 1993

UPDATED March 9, 2015

By WeatherBug Meteorologists

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Mother Nature typically puts the breaks on winter storms by March but this week 22 years ago proved to be anything but spring-like for the East Coast. One of the worst storms in generations brought everything from deadly tornadoes to heavy, drifting snow from Florida to Maine.

The storm`s impact was massive: between March 12 and 14, 1993, it affected 26 U.S. states and an estimated 130-million Americans, as well as much of the Caribbean and eastern Canada. Due to these factors, it was hailed as the largest storm since 1899. A few meteorologists even coined the storm "The Storm of the Century."

The storm produced incredible amounts of snow from New England to the Deep South, deadly tornadoes in Florida, and hurricane force winds to Cuba and Mexico`s Yucatan Peninsula.

The winter storm had humble origins as a weak low-pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico. As it moved northward into the Deep South on March 11, it encountered unseasonably cold air digging into the Midwest and Northeast. The clash of the Arctic air mass digging south and the moisture spiraling around the low led to rapid intensification of the storm across the Tennessee Valley.

By the evening of March 12, the storm set its crosshairs on the Florida Gulf coast and the Caribbean. A line of severe thunderstorms slammed ashore from the northern end of the Tampa Bay area to Cuba.

The storms produced 115 mph winds in Hernando County, Fla., 130 mph gusts in Havana, Cuba, and 109 mph in the Florida Keys. Eleven tornadoes were reported across the Sunshine State, largely during the night of March 12-13, resulting in ten deaths.

As the low moved up the eastern Seaboard on March 13, it became a monster winter storm. Before the storm exited into the Canadian Maritimes on March 14, blizzard conditions pounded the Eastern Seaboard from Alabama to Maine. Snowfall rates of 2-to-3 inches per hour and hurricane-force winds forced every airport along the Eastern Seaboard to close for the first time ever.

The highest snowfall totals from the storm include the following:

  • Mount Le Conte, Tenn.: 60 inches
  • Grantsville, Md.: 47 inches
  • Syracuse, N.Y.: 43 inches
  • Albany, N.Y.: 27 inches
  • Chattanooga, Tenn: 20 inches
  • Birmingham, Ala.: 17 inches
  • Mobile, Ala.: 3 inches

Snowdrifts as high as 15 feet were observed at Mount Mitchell, N.C., and 10-foot snowdrifts closed interstates from the Tennessee Valley to New England.

Behind the storm, extremely cold air poured into the East. Nearly 150 record low temperatures were recorded between March 14 and 15, with many locations in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic dropping below zero degrees. Burlington, Vt. dropped to minus-12 degrees, while Birmingham, Ala. stayed just above zero degrees, with a record low of 2 degrees.

At its peak, the storm`s barometric pressure dropped to 28.35 inches of mercury, a pressure comparable to a major Category 3 hurricane. Damage was estimated at $6.6 billion, and nearly 300 people were killed between the tornadoes and heavy snow.

Although snow quickly melted following the storm, many Eastern residents will not soon forget the impact of the Blizzard of 1993.

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Story Image: Snow buries a car in Asheville, N.C., during the 1993 blizzard with a downed tree adjacent to the vehicle. (Image Courtesy of NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

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