The Blizzard of March 1993
March 12-14, 1993 (AKA, The March Superstorm)

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. The above photo was taken right after the storm. Albany resident Dave O'Connor digs out his car on upper Madison Street.

 

The Blizzard of '93 Selected Southern City Snow Accumulations
Town State Snow Accumulation
Mount Mitchell NC 4 Feet
High Knob VA 28"
Chattanooga TN 21"
Bland VA 21"
Asheville NC 17"
Knoxville TN 15"
Bristol TN 13"
Birmingham AL 12"
Arlington County, VA VA 10"
Huntsville AL 7"
Meridian MS 6"
Montgomery AL 4"
Atlanta GA 3"
Pensacola FL 3"
Mobile AL 3"

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.

The Blizzard of '93 Measured Peak Wind Gusts
Town State Peak Wind Gust
Flat Top Mountain NC 101 mph
Myrtle Beach SC 90 mph
Fire Island NY 89 mph
Boston MA 81 mph
Kennedy Airport NY 77 mph
Jacksonville FL 76 mph
Chatham MA 75 mph
Potomac River Bridge MD 73 mph
Laguardia Airport NY 71 mph
Bridgeport CT 69 mph
Worcester MA 62 mph
Berkshire County Hills MA 60 mph
Falmouth MA 58 mph
Groton CT 58 mph
Albany NY 53 mph
New Bedford MA 52 mph
Chicopee Falls MA 46 mph

 

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.

The Northeast
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 viabilities) 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 incredible breakdown is as follows:

1. 35.6 inches of snow in twenty four hours (10am Saturday - 10am Sunday.) The previous record was 27.2 inches set in January 1925.

2. 22.1 inches of snow on Saturday, March 13, breaking the old snowfall record for that date which was 4.1 inches set in 1961.

3. 19.9 inches of snow on Sunday, March 14, breaking the old snowfall record for that date which was 8.6 inches set in 1956.

4. Seasonal snowfall by March 14 measured 174.8 inches making the 1992-'93 season the snowiest on record, breaking the old record of 166.9 inches set in the winter of 1991-'92

5. March snowfall totaled 49.3 inches as of March 14 making March 1993 the snowiest on record at Syracuse breaking the old record of 41.4 inches set in 1932.

 

The Blizzard of '93 Selected Eastern New York
and Western New England Snow Accumulations
Town County State Snow Accumulation
Halcott Center Greene NY 40.0"
Prattsville Greene NY 36.0"
Richmond Berkshire MA 30.0"
East Jewett Greene NY 30.0"
Guilderland Albany NY 29.3"
Berne Albany NY 29.0"
Cairo Greene NY 28.0"
Clifton Park Saratoga NY 27.0"
Burlington   VT 22.0"
Gloversville Fulton NY 20.0"
Newcomb Essex NY 20.0"
Piseco Lake Hamilton NY 18.0"
Peru Berkshire MA 17.7"
Copake Columbia NY 17.0"
Dorset Bennington VT 16.0"
Bennington Bennington VT 11.5"
Laguardia Airport   NY 11.0"
Bronx   NY 11.0"
JFK Airport   NY 8.0"


Super Storm Evolution and Time Line
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 Storm Time, Location, and Pressure Chart

Time

Storm Location

Central Pressure
10:00 am Saturday, March 13 Central South Carolina 968 mb (28.59")
1:00 pm Saturday, March 13 East Central North Carolina 966 mb (28.53")
4:00 pm Saturday, March 13 Norfolk, Virginia 960 mb (28.35")
7:00 pm Saturday, March 13 Delmarva Peninsula 960 mb (28.35")
1:00 am Sunday, March 14 New York City, New York 962 mb (28.41")
4:00 am Sunday, March 14 Near Worcester, MA 962 mb (28.41")
7:00 am Sunday, March 14 Near Portland, Maine 962 mb (28.41")
11:00 am Sunday, March 14 South of Caribou, Maine 966 mb (28.53")
Note: The barometric pressure has been given
in both units of millibars (mb) and inches of mercury (")

 

The storm's central pressure dropped lower than many past hurricanes. Several all time low barometric pressure readings were recorded at east coast cities as the storm moved through.

The Blizzard of '93 Selected Record Low Barometers

City

State

Pressure Reading

Newark NJ 28.42"
Philadelphia PA 28.43"
Wilmington DE 28.44"
Washington D.C. 28.54"
Wilkes-Barre PA 28.58"
Albany NY 28.69" 5th Lowest Pressure on Record


Summary
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.