20th Anniversary of The Blizzard of '93; Photos, Videos and Memories

20th Anniversary of The Blizzard of '93; Photos, Videos and Memories

20 years ago this week, the Blizzard of '93 hit Central New York, one of the largest winter storms to ever impact the eastern United States. We've put together a special page to look back at the storm.<br /> <img src="http://www.9wsyr.com/images/common/camera.jpg" /> <a href="http://www.9wsyr.com/content/weather/blizzard_of_1993/default.aspx" target="_blank">Share Your Blizzard of '93 Photos &amp; See Ours</a>
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This week marks the 20th anniversary of one of, if not the, most impactful snow storms along the East Coast: The Blizzard of ‘93. It brought heavy, record breaking snow from the Deep South north through the Appalachians into New England and eastern Canada.  

The Storm

The pieces of what became the Blizzard of ‘93 came together on the morning of March 12th over the western Gulf of Mexico.  Several strong disturbances in two separate jet streams merged and formed an area of low pressure down at ground level. As low pressure strengthened, thunderstorms began to form.

A squall line of thunderstorms spawned by the developing storm raced across the Gulf of Mexico and slammed the west coast of Florida the night of March 12th.  The squall line caused a storm surge of up to 12 feet high which is higher than in most hurricanes.  This same line of thunderstorms also caused 11 tornado touchdowns in the sunshine state. Damage was reported as far south as Cuba with winds recorded as high as 100 mph.

The storm was centered over Georgia by Saturday morning March 13th. By that point it was apparent that this storm was going to be a monster.  A sign of that strength was lowering barometric pressures over the entire East Coast. Records for all-time lowest pressure would be set in cities up and down the coast. The lowest pressure measured was 28.35” which is a pressure typically associated with a Category 3 hurricane.

Barometric Pressure
Philadelphia, PA
New York, NY
Boston, MA
Washington, DC
Raleigh, NC
Augusta, GA

By Saturday evening, the storm was centered near Baltimore and all of the Northeast, including Syracuse, was in the thick of the heavy snow.  Syracuse would pick up 22” of snow that first day of the Blizzard which is a major snowfall for the city but the storm was not yet done.  It would reach its peak strength Sunday morning the 14th near Portland, Maine.  Northwesterly winds then picked up and heavy lake effect snow kicked in and around Syracuse. The heavy snow was compounded by winds that gusted to 45 mph causing extensive blowing and drifting snow.  Another 19” fell on the 14th then an additional inch just after midnight into the 15th bringing the final storm total in Syracuse to 43”  It is still, to this day, the greatest snowfall from one storm in Syracuse history.

It is one thing to have heavy snow in March in Syracuse but it is a different story in the Deep South.  Birmingham, Alabama’s normal seasonal snow total is 1” and during the blizzard 17” fell. Not only was this the most snow for one storm it was also the most for any winter season. This was only amplified by the time of year.  The spring season arrives earlier down south so for Birmingham it was the equivalent of Syracuse having a major winter storm at the end of April.

Snowshoe, WV
Syracuse, NY
Tobyhanna, PA
Lincoln, NH
Pittsburgh, PA
Worcester, MA
Birmingham, AL
Washington, DC
Boston, MA
New York, NY
Atlanta, GA
Mobile, AL

It was estimated that 90 million people over the United States had snowfall of at least one inch.
Over 300 people died due to the blizzard and the damages (adjusted for inflation) ended up at over six and a half billion dollars.

The Forecast

Not only was the storm historic in terms of its impacts on the Eastern United States, but it was, in a sense, a watershed moment for long range computer models and their ability to forecast large storms many days in the future.  Up until the Blizzard of ‘93, these computer models had only limited success in accurately forecasting the position of East Coast snowstorms 4-6 days in advance.

The signs for the Blizzard of ‘93 started showing up on the models six days before the storm hit the coast.  Initially, meteorologists had reservations about the storm taking place, even though the computer models were emphatic it would occur.  Leading up to the Blizzard, East Coast snow storms were predicted by the models that winter but either moved harmlessly out sea or tracked too far inland.

With just two days until the storm hit, short term computer models started to simulate the atmosphere and they also painted a picture just like the longer range models had done during the previous days.  The National Weather Service took this increased confidence and started making conference calls with local Weather Service offices.  Winter storm watches went up for much of the East Coast 20-40 hours before the first flakes fell.  Blizzard warnings went up a full day in advance. A number of East Coast states even declared States of Emergency before the storm hit. This gave the public ample time to prepare for what ended up as an unprecedented storm.

Meteorologists have come up with a way to rank East Coast winter storms. The ranking takes into account not only how much snow will fall but also the number of people impacted.  The Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS) was created in 2004 but ranks snowstorms all the way back into the 1950s and at the top of that list is the Blizzard of 1993

March 12-14 1993
January 6-8 1996
March 3-5 1960
February 15-18 2003
February 2-5 1961

To put things into perspective, the blizzard that hit the New England area a little over a month ago would only be 25th on this list. A separate ranking also incorporated memorable storms back into the late 1800s and the Blizzard of 1993 still came in first.

In terms of snowfall coverage and people impacted, the Blizzard of 1993 has no equal over the last hundred years over the eastern United States.  Records were set for snowfall and lowest pressure. Billions of dollars of property damages was caused and hundreds died either directly or indirectly because of the storm. Other storms may have brought heavier snow to cities like Washington, New York City and Boston but none were able to cover as large an area as the Blizzard of ‘93.

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