BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — This week marks the 30th anniversary of the “Blizzard of 1993”– better known as the “Storm of the Century– one of the strongest and impactful weather systems ever observed over the eastern United States.
It was known for its incredible snow totals from Alabama to Maine, hurricane-force winds along the East Coast, a tornado outbreak across Florida, storm surge across the Gulf Coast of Florida and record low barometric pressures for a winter storm across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic States. Additionally, record cold temperatures followed this system, and that allowed the snow to stick around for days.
This system impacted more than 100 million people across the East Coast between March 12-14, 1993. According to NOAA, It ranks among the deadliest and costliest weather event of the 20th century.
This storm was well forecast four days before it developed. The meteorologists back in 1993 did not have all the technology we have today. There were only three forecast models back then, so there was not a lot of data. All of the models agreed on a significant storm developing in the Gulf of Mexico, and then becoming a Nor’easter type system. In the end, the models were right, but the aftermath was hard to believe.
The system started as an area of low pressure off the Texas Coast on March 12, 1993. The low rapidly deepened as it moved East across the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico. Early the next day, it made a “landfall” along the Florida Panhandle, bringing damaging winds and 11 confirmed tornadoes across Florida. Winds gusted over 100 miles per hour in Key West and as far south as Cuba. There was also a storm surge up to 12 feet in Taylor County in the Big Bend of Florida.
The low then turned northeast over inland Georgia and then met up with cold air. The system tracked northeast up the Appalachian Mountain Chain or along the I-95 corridor. Typically, storms of this intensity move up the East Coast verses inland. On this track, it caused widespread snowfall and blizzard conditions from Alabama to the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states. All-time snowfall records were set in Birmingham. Winds were gusting between 50-90 mph across the Carolinas. Thundersnow was reported in many locations from Alabama to the Northeast.
Impacts to Alabama
Snow totals across Alabama ranged from 4 inches in Tuscaloosa to 13 inches in Birmingham to 17 inches in Valley Head near Fort Payne. Snow was reported across all of Alabama’s 67 counties. Thanks to record-low temperatures in the single digits and teens, the snow lasted a few days across Alabama. On March 14, 1993, Birmingham had a record low of 2 degrees.
Unfortunately, 16 Alabamians lost their lives from this storm. According to the National Weather Service, the damage from the storm was estimated at $2 billion.
Dave Nussbaum’s Experience
I was growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1993, and I remember we had 25 inches of snow at my house with snow drifts of 4 feet. This storm was one of the reasons why I wanted to become a meteorologist. I was glued to the television and mesmerized by the impacts highlighted in the local and national coverage.
The Superstorm of ’93 was one of the most studied storms for decades. For those that lived it, it will be a storm we will never forget.
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