Satellite image of the 1993 Storm of the Century

The 1993 Storm of the Century

The March 1993 “Storm of the Century” struck the gulf coast of Florida late on Friday March 12, 1993 and continued slamming Florida and states to the north on Saturday. Why was it called the Storm of the Century? To Florida residents, it was an "no-name" March hurricane creating wind gusts over 90 mph, tornadoes, and a devastatingly deadly storm surge. But it was much larger than a hurricane. To residents farther north it was called “The Blizzard of the Century” A blizzard like few had seen that dropped temperatures, dumped snow, broke trees, and knocked out power over a wide swath from Georgia to Maine.

The Superstorm produced over $2 billion in property damage across portions of 22 eastern U.S. states. Most of the property damage occurred in Florida. Advanced warnings saved lives with less than 100 direct casualties – half of whom were on vessels in seas estimated as high as 65 feet. Another 118 people perished from indirect causes with many dying during the post storm cleanup.

Five days in advance, computer models were forecasting a rapid development of intense low pressure over the Gulf of Mexico.  It was initially difficult to believe that a weak low pressure area could deepen to much lower pressures in such short a period of time. Some forecasters used the term “meteorological bomb”!  As the week went on, the numerical forecast models continued showing the same unbelievable development. It was happening though. Upstream, the arctic, polar and subtropical jet streams were merging and a deep flow of tropical moisture over the Gulf was coming north from the Caribbean Sea. These merging factors set the timer for the impending explosion.

The winds howled as the storm moved north with the strongest recorded wind gusts at these locations:
• 110 mph Franklin County, FL
• 109 mph Dry Tortugas, FL
• 101 mph Flattop Mountain, NC
• 144 mph Mount Washington, NH

The fast moving squall line produced 59,000 cloud to ground lightning strikes as it moved onshore.   At least 11 tornadoes were reported with the storm as it crossed the state.  The F2 tornado near Chiefland in Levy County led to 3 fatalities. Other tornado fatalities were reported in Alachua and Lake Counties.

The Superstorm created an unprecedented storm surge up to 12 feet in Taylor County well north of Tampa Bay in the Florida panhandle. The surge drowned 13 people. 

Map of Tornado and Wind Damage

1993 Storm of the Century Damage Map

Storm Surge Associated with Storm of the Century

1993 Storm of Century Surge Gulf Coast Florida

 

Melbourne Weather Radar Loop
from 11 PM Friday until 1:15 AM Saturday

1993 Storm of the Century Melbourne 88D Radar

Forecast Radar Two Days Before Event 
Computer power was very limited in 1993. Today we ran the 
following simulation on a high end PC. The simulation showed
 a powerful squall line moving into Florida in 2 days. The model 
did a great job and was only about 4 hours off on the timing.

WRF simulated radar 1993 storm of century

  

What was it like to Work the Event?

Charlie Paxton was the forecaster on duty during the day on Friday March 12, 1993 and came back that evening to issue warnings for the event. He recalls working the storm that night:

“When I arrived, the office satellite imagery showed the squall line racing east at 70 mph! Our team issued 26 warnings and lead time ranged from 30 minutes to over two hours! I upgraded wording in all of the warnings to indicate winds of over 90 mph! Standard warnings usually indicate wind gusts over 55 mph. Of the 6 tornadoes in our area...lead times were all over 20 minutes with the longest lead time of 48 minutes. Remember, we were using the old WSR-57 Radar. We didn’t have Doppler. We had a processor attached to the radar called RADAP and I had written software to make calculations on the severity of cells and that really helped. “

“We used an XT PC to send products through our main communication system called AFOS. We communicated with the Melbourne WSR-88D operator who helped identify tornadic circulations within range of their radar. We used the NAWAS line to communicate with the county Emergency Operations Centers. We also received a number of reports from the local media. We had an 800 number available to the public. Our phone didn’t stop ringing. People were shocked at the intensity of the storm and provided us with many accounts of damage.”

Pictures and Video

3/13/93 - The no-name storm hits. 

Tampa Times Photo by Jim Stem. Photo used with permission. From the Tampa Bay Times photo library.     

3/12/1993 - Overturned boat in the middle of the living room of a house in the Dixie Shores area of Crystal River.

Times Photo by Steve Hasel. Photo used with permission. From the Tampa Bay Times photo library.  

3/12/1993 - Pasco County - Boats sit stacked against each other in an inlet near the Pasco and Hernando county line.

Times Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr.  Photo used with. From the Tampa Bay Times photo library.

1993 - Rubble is all that remains of the Aripeka home which caught fire during the No Name Storm.

Times Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr.  Photo used with permission. From the Tampa Bay Times photo library.

3/14/93 - HUDSON - Houses shared the land with boats after the water receded in canals near Hudson Beach.

Times Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr.  Photo used with permission. From the Tampa Bay Times photo library.

  Tornado damage off of County Rd 345 near Chiefland, FL.  Photo provided by Levy County Emergency Management.

 

 

Many in Yankeetown and Inglis awoke to find water in their homes.  Many felt the No-Name Storm came without warning.  A Coastal Flood Warning was in effect, but this was no ordinary flood.  Communicating non-tropical and tropical coastal flood events continues to be a challenge today.  The National Weather Service is working with sociologists to develop and provide an effective Storm Surge Warning for our coastal communities. 

 

Video by Jeffrey Bernstein for the A.F. Knotts Public Library in Yankeetown, FL.


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