Superstorm, 20-year Anniversary
Hiya everyone! Not much time on my hands but I had to repost this blog being this is the 20th anniversary of this great blizzard. Still such a vividly fresh memory despite twenty years having passed.
"Storm of the Century" is a most fitting name to a storm which featured a blizzard of epic proportions, comparable to the "Great Blizzard of 1888", a derecho which produced tornados and winds up to the force of a category 4 hurricane, and an unexpected 8-12 foot storm surge along Florida's Gulf Coast. Although this blog is dedicated to the Northeast, I'll try to fit in all areas affected by this monster storm.
The "Superstorm" was the storm that had it all. A classic Miller Type-A Nor'easter, only much stronger. The "Superstorm" was also one of the first conquests of long-range forecasting by meteorologist of the time. A well-forecasted blizzard almost a week in advance was unheard of just 20 years ago. When many meteorologist hyped this storm a full week before its arrival many were skeptical. The only problem was this storm was under-forecasted, most likely due to the fact that few had ever seen such a storm.
As the storm grew near the impact that this storm would bring was beginning to become apparent. A strong low pressure developed in the western Gulf of Mexico and moved across the northern Gulf. Strong convection fired up, similar to a tropical system, as a tremendous amount of upper level energy was injected into this storm. This allowed the storm to gain even more strength, as low pressure dropped at near 980mb. The storm then made a sharp left and tore up the East Coast, just inland, setting low-pressure records up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
For the Northeast, if folks were looking for any indication for what this storm would bring they only had to look to the South, where blizzard conditions raged across Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia IN MARCH! Unprecedented snow and cold pummeled the region as over a foot of snow fell in major cities and snow even fell to the Gulf Coast in Mobile and Pensacola. The mountains of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina saw the absolute worst of this storm with 3-5 feet of snow, wind gusts up to 100mph and below zero temperatures. Impressive snowfall totals of 20" Chattanooga, TN and 13" in Birmingham, AL collapsed many roofs and brought down many trees. The only blizzard on record previous to the "Superstorm" in the Southeast was a Great Blizzard of 1899.
As the storm made its way up to the Northeast the storm only grew in ferocity. Widespread snowfall totals of 2-4 feet along with strong winds of 40-60mph drifted snow to 15 feet. Syracuse, NY received 43" of snow. Albany, NY had 27", Pittsburgh, PA 25". The snow shut down municipalities for days after the storm as snow had to be trucked out of cities. Due to the inland track of this storm the 'Megalopolis" was spared the worst of the snow as precipitation changed to rain. Despite the changeover the storm was still paralyzing. Many roofs collapsed due to the weight of the snow weighed down furthermore by the rain. After the storm passed a strong arctic outbreak that followed froze the slush into impossible to move ice.
The "Superstorm" will not only be remembered for the impressive snowfall it brought from the Southeast to Canada but also for the intense derecho that swept through Florida and Cuba. An extremely intense line of thunderstorms developed along the attendant cold front as it crossed over Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. As this line of storms moved through Florida it produced winds of 70-90 mph. A tent city set up to provide shelter for victims of Hurricane Andrew was almost completely swept away when this line of storms moved through. When this line of storms made it to Cuba widespread hurricane force winds were felt across the island with some winds estimated to be as high as 130mph+, or equivalent to a category 4 hurricane. 10 tornados were reported in Florida as the line of storms blew through as well.
Another aspect of this storm that was totally unexpected was the storm surge along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Strong southerly winds ahead of the storm in the Gulf of Mexico piled water in the Northeast Gulf. As the strong cold front swept through during the overnight the winds shifted westerly, pushing all this water into the coast. What resulted was a storm surge up to 12 feet high which struck during the night, compounding the situation. When residents woke in the morning what they saw was truly surprising, a rising surge of water. Many of Florida's 44 deaths attributed to the "Superstorm" were of direct result of this storm surge.
Some estimates put damages from the "Superstorm" at over 6 billion dollars with 248 deaths attributed to the storm, more than 3 times the amount of people killed from Hugo and Andrew combined.
The "Superstorm" didn't just make #1 on this list because it was the most ferocious storm to affect the Northeast in the last 25 years, perhaps ever. Personally it is also my most memorable storm, above the severe thunderstorm in August of 2002, above the blizzard of 1996, even above the Presidents' Day Storm of 2003. The intensity of the snow that fell, the fierce winds, thunder, lightning, how high the snow piled up, how fast it piled up, I haven't seen anything like it since.
Days before the event, the storm was being forecast as a potential BIG Nor'easter. When the main energy for this storm was still out in the Central Pacific I clearly remember watching Jim Cantore pointing it out, tapping his little clicker on that storm on the bluewall, saying "This is going to be a big one, about one week from now." He wasn't the only one. Word was spreading quickly about the storm. Local news stations were talking about it. The hype was there. How big will it be? Tales of the "Great Blizzard of 1888" were being thrown about, which ironically occurred on the same dates 105 years previous. There was precedent, but would history repeat itself?
On a side note, one of the strangest occurrences also happened to me the day before the storm. In school we had been learning about the Cuban Missile Crisis and watched the air raid drills performed in the 60's with school children ducking under their desks in the event of a nuclear detonation (like ducking under a desk in a fetal position would help). Anyway, Middletown has those 12 O'clock sirens which sounds like the air raid siren. My mother had picked me up from school that Friday and we went straight to the grocery store. On the way there, for some reason (it wasn't noon, it was a quarter after 3) those air raid sirens were going off. So I'm thinking to myself "Okay, this is weird...". Suddenly the Emergency Broadcast System comes on the radio with that long "BOOOOOO...P" sound. When the man with the creepy voice cuts in and usually says "This is only a test of the emergency broadcast system. In the event of a real emergency..." and so on didn't come on, it was even more weird. Then when the man with the creepy voice comes on and says "This is a real emergency." I as like "Oh no we're getting bombed!!"
As it turned out it was a warning for the impending blizzard with expectations of 2-4 feet of snow. Pretty scary, huh?
The night before the storm the scope of what this storm would bring was becoming obvious. CNN and The Weather Channel showed video of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia experiencing white out conditions, snowfall of 6-10 inches, rivaling the most snow from all previous record snowfalls and the storm was only half over!
I woke up very early that Saturday morning expecting to see snow falling but I was early by a couple of hours. The local news cut to non-stop coverage of the storm during its onset. We had already gone through 'the biggest Nor'easter in 50 years' 3 months earlier (#11 event) so the assumption was this was going to be much worse. I watched as the snow advanced northward with reports from areas to the south, only a few hours into the storm, of 4-6 inches already. By the time the snow started in Middletown, just before 9 in the morning, areas around New York City had 3-6 inches, areas near Philadelphia had up to 10 inches and it was snowing harder by the minute.
Once the snow started the scene shifted from sitting in front of the television, to being outside. Snow engulfed the air. It seemed as though every parcel of air was filled with a snowflake. First they were small flakes, but gradually gained sized before the wind made everything a white blur. By noon about 6 inches lay on the ground, and only 2 hours later there was over a foot. It was a near constant whiteout from just before noon until 6 in the evening. Some very amazing events occurred during this storm as well. Thundersnow was prevalent throughout the afternoon. During the mid-afternoon one thunderstorm in particular demonstrated the true intensity of this storm.
The sky grew dark, dark enough to 'see' the flashes on lightning in the sky. The snow was falling so hard and the light so filtered it was more like a greyout, that brightened to a whiteout during the lightning, which was quite frequent. The thunder was muffled by the snow but loud none-the-less. Small hail even fell during the thunderstorm. It certainly wasn't sleet for the hail was about 3 times the size of a sleet pellet. Even despite this hail during this storm snow still accumulated 6 inches for the hour in which this storm occurred. The wind was most fierce during this storm as well. Due to the reduced visibilities no trees were within view to use as a gauge to how strong the wind actually was. But it was strong enough to rip the siding off a neighbors house.
The snow continued at an incredible rate until tapering around 6:30 that evening as out location got dry slotted. When the snow initially tapered off 27" of snow lay on the ground from this storm. 27 inches in 9 hours, 21 inches in the final 6 hours! After the snow tapered the wind calmed and an eerie fog settled over the area until around 11 later that night when snow began to fall again at a moderate clip. This time in large flakes. An additional 6 inches of snow fell during the overnight giving us a total of 33" all of which fell in a 24 hour period.
We took a walk that Sunday, a few hours after the storm. Snow was still blowing everywhere and the main road through down was desolate, with 10 foot high piles of snow along the road every so often. There were snow drifts over 8 feet high and could only be removed by front loaders and dump trucks. I remember Syracuse still getting pounded that morning and was almost disappointed that the snow was over where I lived. For some reason, you don't want these events to come to an end sometimes...
There's so many other memories from this storm that would be too much to list here. So I'll stop now and let everyone else give their story of this storm because everyone I'm sure has one, even if they didn't get hit...
This photo was taken the morning after the "Superstorm" on Sunday March 14th, 1993. Our car, a Dodge Colt, was buried across the entire front and half way up in the back of the car. What's amazing about this was my mother didn't get home from work until 1:30 the afternoon of the 13th after more than a foot had already fallen. In other words the car was parked long after the storm began.
This photo was taken on the morning of the 14th as well. This view of behind my house was very telling of how the snow formed huge drifts. Aided by a 8ft retaining wall, these drifts attained enormous heights of 10-12 feet in between the decks and the wall. This snow persisted until May due to the lack of sunlight behind the house.
This photo was of me and my little sister taken on the morning of the 14th. The wooden stick in the snow was a meter stick I made out of a piece of baseboard because my father didn't want me to 'ruin the meter stick'.