Weather: Storm of the Century?

Storm of the Century?

A more recent mega-snowstorm in 1993 was thought to be one of the biggest winter storms of the twentieth century. It became known as the "storm of the century," although many veterans of winter weather thought that was just media hype. But it truly was one of the greatest storms in terms of both area of coverage and intensity. The storm brought harsh weather to the entire eastern portion of the country on that mid-March day.

Very heavy snow accumulated in the south. Birmingham, Alabama, picked up a foot. Snow covered the ground from Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle. The heavy snow spread northward along the East Coast to Maine. On Saturday, March 13, every airport in the eastern states was closed. Snowfall ranged up to four feet on Mount Mitchell, North Carolina. Atlanta, Georgia, picked up 3 inches. Chattanooga, Tennessee, picked up 21 inches. During the peak of the storm, about 30 percent of the entire country was hit by the rough weather.

Braving the Elements

March is named after the Roman god of war. It is famous for its blustery and stormy weather. Around the Ides of March—March 15—some of the biggest snowstorms of the past have occurred. In 1993, a huge snowstorm developed on March 12 and pounded New England on March 13. It was called "The Storm of the Century."

Record low barometer readings were set all along the East Coast. Very warm, humid air moved across central Florida and, combined with the energy of the storm, helped spawn the 27 tornadoes. Winds were clocked at 99 mph on an oil platform off the Louisiana coast. Overall the storm took 285 lives, mostly because of tornadoes. The storm became the costliest nontropical storm in Florida's history. States of emergency were declared throughout the eastern portion of the country. The following table shows the distribution of snow with that storm.

March 1993—Storm of the Century

City Snow Totals (Inches)
Mount LeConte, TN 56.0
Mount Mitchell, NC 50.0 (14-foot drifts)
Snowshoe, WV 44.0
Syracuse, NY 43.0
Latrobe, PA 36.0 (10-foot drifts)
Lincoln, NH 35.0
Beckley, WV 30.0
Page County, VA 29.0
Albany, NY 27.0
Pittsburgh, PA 24.6
Mountain City, GA 24.0
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, PA 21.4
Chattanooga, TN 20.0
Asheville, NC 19.0
Charleston, WV 18.9
Elkins, WV 18.8
Portland, ME 18.6
Birmingham, AL 17.0 (6-foot drifts)
Roanoke, VA 16.0
Williamsport, PA 15.9
Hartford, CT 14.8
Washington-Dulles Airport 14.1
Washington, D.C. 13.0
Boston, MA12.8
Newark, NJ12.7
Philadelphia, PA12.0
Baltimore, MD11.9
Bridgeport, CT10.8
New York, NY10.6
Providence, RI10.2
Atlanta, GA4.0

The National Weather Service says a blizzard is characterized by low temperatures, winds greater than 35 mph, and snow heavy enough to restrict visibility to less than a quarter-mile. In earlier days, the temperature had to be in the teens, but no longer. If blowing snow restricts visibility to below a quarter-mile, even after the snow stops falling, that's called a ground blizzard.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weather © 2002 by Mel Goldstein, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.