20 Years Ago: Remembering the "Blizzard of 1993"
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NWS Birmingham Staff
It was one of the top ten weather stories for Alabama in the 20th Century.
It shattered all previous records for snowfall for much of the state.
It was known by many names, such as "Winter Storm '93," "The Storm of the Century," and "The 1993 Superstorm."
However, around these parts, the events that unfolded on March 12th and 13th, 1993, are usually now just called "The Blizzard."
Ask just about anybody that was in Alabama during The Blizzard, and they will probably be able to give you a detailed account of how they lived, worked, and persevered through the event. It was one of those "once in a lifetime" events that, no matter what you were doing or how old you were at the time, you remember everything.
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 big winter storm along the east coast. Forecasters had seen several similar predictions from the computer models earlier that winter that didn't quite pan out. 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. Local forecasters quickly got the word out that, yes, this storm meant business, the worst was yet to come, and it may end up being something beyond what was ever experienced before.
Afternoon turned to night on the 12th, and the rain changed back to snow. As mentioned before, most folks have their own memories of what happened after that. Here are a few that were submitted to the National Weather Service:
I was in the third-grade at Glencoe Elementary School when the storm hit. I remember local TV meteorologists saying that there would likely be heavy snow that night, but I didn't think we would get too much. I remember most of my family also saying that it would probably be "no big deal", but were we in for one huge surprise.
The snow started falling heavily at my house about 6:30 PM on that Friday Night. I remember going out to measure the snow at about 8:00, and there was already 2-3 inches on the ground. By about 10, the wind picked up dramatically. I remember looking out my back door and seeing sheets of snow being blown by the wind. I never thought the snow would end. Then, when I was brushing my teeth at about 10:30, something I had never seen and probably will never see again happened: I saw a flash of lightning and then heard a loud clap of thunder during a period of very heavy snow. It almost scared me to death. About 5 minutes after that, the power went off, and it would not come back on until the following Thursday or Friday. That night, my mom, dad, 3-year-old sister, and I slept in the living room in front of the fireplace to stay warm.
Early Saturday morning, I looked out the window and could not believe the amount of snow on the ground. I measured 16 inches in my front yard, and built a snowman. The rest of the day, we just stay in the living room and talked....
...We probably will never see another winter storm like the Blizzard of 1993. I personally like snow, but would not like to see that much snow again.Michael Leach
On Sunday afternoon February 28, 1993, Carrie my 11-year-old daughter asked me if we would get any snow this winter. I told her no, we would not. Less than two weeks later on Friday night around 10:30 PM, as we were looking out the window, watching Winter Storm 93, I told her history was being made in Birmingham. She looked up at me with a serious look on her face and said, "Daddy you told me we would not get any more snow this year!" We had food but I was not prepared for the loss of electricity. When the power went off we only had her Fisher- Price toy radio and a weather radio. They worked and kept us informed. We played in the snow all day Saturday and Sunday. We cooked and made hot chocolate over the fireplace.
The power went off late Friday night. Saturday the house started cooling off and by Sunday the temps were dropping into the upper 30's in the house. The street behind us had power. I had never met my neighbor behind me because the back yard was very rocky and up a steep hill. I managed to get thru the backyard and asked the neighbor if I could run a long AC cord so I could power my furnace. Using about 300 feet of extension cord I got the heat on about 11AM Sunday morning.Chuck Biddinger
Looking back at it now, my wife and I did something totally stupid and very dangerous, but at the time it seemed to be the best plan available. That Saturday morning the power in our mobile home went out. The only heat we had was a small fireplace that didn't put out much heat. My in-laws lived about a couple miles from us and their power didn't get cut off, so we packed up a few things, covered up our 2 year old boy and 6 year old girl and started walking. We thought that hey it's only a couple of miles and we're young, we could walk that distance easily. The kids were bundled up and warm. What we didn't know was how incredibly difficult it is to walk in 15 inches of snow, especially carrying two children. We had somebody in a truck that picked us up after about a block and took us most of the way. However, the last 2 blocks was a steep down and up hill that they couldn't travel in, so we walked those last 2 blocks. Thankfully my in-laws and brother-law saw us at the bottom of the hill and ran down to get the kids. Me and my wife were so exhausted we just couldn't move another step while holding the kids. When everbody got to the house thankfully we were all OK. If I knew what kind of struggle it was going to be, I would've taken my chances at my trailer!Mike Calloway
I was at my fiance's house watching a Garth Brooks Specials Concert and the power went out about 9:00....
We holed up in the master bedroom, and kept hot water in the master bath (something we heard about on the radio) and I guess it was OK, but still chilly.
On Sunday, a friend of ours braved the roads in his 4 wheel drive and came to take us to his house, where a lot of people were staying. Late that evening, the power came back on, but we stayed there that night because the roads were impassable after dark again....
Snow is fine, but if I see that much again, I want to keep my power next time. More fun to play in the snow when you can come in and warm up.Wendy Griffin
I worked for the local radio station in Roanoke at the time. I can remember going to bed the night before and thinking, "Boy, the Weather Service must be loosing it". If I remember correctly, it was in the low to mid 50's with rain. The phone rang around 5 am and I was called to work. Four days later I returned home. Actually the station owner made me go home. I was on the air for the better part of four days and was to the point of total exhaustion. Four-foot snow drifts in Roanoke, Alabama. Still hard to believe.Don Strength
The following images are courtesy of Jeff Garmon, WCM at the National Weather Service in Mobile, AL. They were taken by his Grandfather, near Centre, AL.
The following images, taken by Jim Westland, Forecaster at the National Weather Service in Birmingham, AL, were taken at the old NWS office on West Oxmoor Road, in Homewood.
Here are a few links, for more information on the Blizzard of '93:
- Superstorm 1993; a Case Study -- courtesy of the University of Illinois Department of Atmospheric Sciences. This is a somewhat technical account of the event, complete with satellite pictures, surface plots, and other storm data.
- The Big One! A Review of the March 12-14, 1993 "Storm of the Century" -- courtesy of the National Climatic Data Center. Contains facts and figures relating to the storm as it impacted the whole east coast. (in .PDF format)
- Relationships Between Conditional Symmetric Instability, Thunder, and Heavy Snowfall During the "Storm of the Century" -- courtesy of a local study written by the NWS BMX personell. This is a somewhat technical account of the event, complete with satellite pictures, surface plots, and other storm data.