It's hard to believe it has been 20 years since the biggest storm many of us have ever experienced. It's been called several things, but many of us remember the storm of March 12-13, 1993 as The Super Storm of the Century. A total of 310 people perished in the storm. It is unique for its intensity, massive size and wide-reaching effect. At its height, the storm stretched from Canada towards Central America, but its main impact was on the Eastern United States.
The first signs of "trouble" began to appear on computer weather models about 5 days before the big storm developed, when those models indicated the potential for a massive winter storm along the east coast. . But it became evident relatively quickly, within the next day or two, that THIS storm would not be a false alarm. The computer models had "locked in" on a forecast, and consistently showed a huge storm moving up the east coast. As forecaster confidence increased, so too did the level of detail of the forecasts of the event about to unfold.
The storm really began to develop in the Western Gulf of Mexico early in the morning on March 12, 1993. The developing low pressure system helped spread some light snow and rain into Alabama that Friday afternoon. As the snow changed to rain in the afternoon, some people started to wonder if this was a missed forecast, and if there was going to be any more snow at all. The rain got heavier Friday night. By Midnight Montgomery had just under 2 inches (1.94"). Colder air flooded in the rain changed to sleet in the wee hours of the morning, around 2:00 am, Shortly there after, the sleet changed to snow. Heavy thundersnow! The snow continued through much of the morning hours as the pressure dropped, the temperatures plunged, and the winds increased. Although the official Montgomery snow total was 3.7" inches, drifts were measured in feet because of winds gusting as high as 66 mph. Power outages were massive. The city was closed down. Only vehicles with 4 wheel drive were on the road. The malls were closed. Only a few convenient stores were open. It was bitterly cold. Temperatures were in the 20's much of the day Saturday, but wind chills fell to the single digits. Montgomery's barometric pressure fell to a very low 29.36 inches, lowest in about 80 years, and only since surpassed by the pressure in Hurricane Opal in 1995. Montgomery's low on the morning of the 14th fell to as record low of 17. Birmingham, fell to 2 above zero.
Accumulating snow fell on the sandy white beaches of Gulf Shores. The heaviest amount in Alabama was in the northeastern part of the state - a community named Walnut Grove had 20" of snow. Other amounts: 13" in Anniston, 12" in Thomasville, 11" in Sylacauga, 10" in Clanton, 7" in Alex City, 6" in Camden, Evergreen, Andalusia and Highland Home, 5" in Auburn and Chatom, and 4" in Montgomery, Union Springs, Demopolis, Greenville and Troy.
Here's the weather map for Saturday morning, March 13, 1993, with deep low pressure centered over south Georgia. A Classic storm. A Classic set-up.
Father north in Alabama, the story was far worse. East central Alabama was buried in snow. The official snowfall total in Birmingham was 17 inches! Some even heavier totals were recorded to the east and northeast of the city. Birmingham and much of the east central and north east part of the state was completely crippled for several days. No power. Travel impossible. People were stranded in their homes for several days with no heat and in many cases little or no food.
Cities that usually receive little snowfall, such as Chattanooga, Tennessee received anywhere from 2 to 4 feet. In the Carolinas, snowdrifts on the windward sides of buildings caused a few decks with substandard anchors to fall from homes. The storm continued into the northeast where up to 54 inches of snow were measured ion portions of West Virginia.
Alabama recorded the second most number of deaths with 16, only second to Florida which had 44 deaths, plus 14 in Tennessee.
A squall line of severe thunderstorms extending south of the low impacted Florida during the early morning hours of March 13th. Damaging straight-line winds and 11 confirmed tornadoes were reported across Florida, with substantial thunderstorm wind damage occurring south into Cuba. Strong onshore winds along Florida's west coast created a storm surge with up to 12 feet high in Taylor County with significant damage to property and up to seven fatalities reported.
Every major airport on the U.S. East Coast was closed at one point by the storm. The volume of water dropped by the storm was immense: 44,000,000 acre-feet. (enough water to flood 44 million acres of land one foot deep) The volume of snow dropped by the Superstorm was computed at just under 13 cubic miles.
The Superstorm on 1993 was by far the most intense storm system I have ever observed in my 31+ years of broadcasting at this TV station It certainly, in my mind lived up to billing of Super Storm of the Century.
Check out this amazing satellite annimation loop of the 1993 Superstorm from NOAA:
--Rich Thomas, Doppler 12 StormVision Meteorologist
Facebook: Rich Thomas WSFA 12 Weather