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The 1994 Ice Storm

| 10:07 pm February 9, 2008 | Comments (6)

A major ice storm affected the Southeast United States between February 9-13, 1994. Parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, but Mississippi were the hardest hit. The ice storm was unusual in several respects: first, it affected a much wider area than typical ice storms. Second, the precipitation amounts were extremely heavy, with some locations picking up five inches of accumulation. Parts of Mississippi had six inch ice accumulations!

On the morning of Wednesday, February 9th, a powerful cold front was barreling southward. It extended from Northeast Tennessee to south of Memphis to near Shreveport. It was 66F at Birmingham and 71F at Shreveport, but a short distance across the front, it was already down to 36F at Memphis and 8F at Oklahoma City. Just the day before, it had been 73F at Birmingham, 74F at Memphis and 83F at Shreveport. At Dallas, the mercury fell from 79F before the front to 27F before the day was over. At Abilene, the mercury dropped from 80F to 22F, an amazing drop of 58 degrees. The ice storm was beginning over western sections of the Southeast. Widespread area of one inch ice accumulations would occur, with over 6 inches over northern Mississippi.

By the morning of Thursday, February the 10th, the front had slowed its forward progress and a complex set of features adorned the surface map across the Deep South. The front was over Southeast Alabama. The mercury had fallen to 40F at Birmingham, 23F at Nashville, 26F at Memphis, 29F at Shreveport and 36F at Jackson. The freezing line at the surface was down into Northwest Alabama. At 18,000 feet, the flow over the southern United States was out of the southwest, spreading moisture up and over the shallow cold air mass behind the front. Real trouble was brwing in the western Gulf of Mexico, where a 1008 millibar surface low was south of Houston. Precipitation was falling over a wide area of the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and back into Louisiana and Texas. Sleet was falling at Shreveport and Dallas. Problems were already occurring over Arkansas and Northwest Tennessee, where significant freezing precipitation had already fallen.

That surface lowed moved up into North Alabama by the morning of Friday the 11th. In the warm sector of this dynamic low, it was 59F at Birmingham and 65 at Montgomery. Precipitation was falling over a wide area ahead of the low over Mid- Atlantic back into the Carolinas, Tennessee and the Deep South. In the cold sector, it was 32F with freezing rain at Memphis. It was 28F with freezing rain at Charlotte and 25F with freezing rain at Raleigh. Memphis picked up 1.08 inches of rainfall during the preceding 24 hours, with most of it falling as freezing rain.

On the morning of Saturday, February the 12th, precipitation was scattered across the Southeast, with temperatures in the 30s and 40s. Winds aloft were still out of the southwest.

By the morning of the 13th, a strong cold front was sweeping across the area. The event was over.

But in its aftermath, the ice storm would cause over $3 billion in damage. Nine people were killed as a direct or indirect result of the storm. To million customers were without power at the height of the storm with nearly one half million in the dark three days later. In fact, some places did not get power back for one month.

In Alabama, seven counties over the Northwest part of the state were devastated. Trees blocked roads, which were already impassable because of the ice glaze. Three to five inch rainfall amounts occurred, resulting in a heavy glaze over the Northwest and even causing flooding elsewhere.

It was the worst ice storm in history over Southeast Arkansas. 80,000 utility poles fell in the storm. Every power pole was downed in some areas. Tennessee was hard hit, with many locations receiving five inches of precipitation, with a maximum of 7.78 inches at Shelbyville. Mississippi was the hardest hit, with 3 to 6 inch ice accumulations common. 3.7 million acres of commercial forests were devastated, with losses to timber interests estimated at $1.3 billion. Twenty five percent of the state’s pecan industry was destroyed.

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  1. Vic Bell says:

    My Mom and brother live in SE Arkansas. After the storm ended my brother tried to drive the 20 miles to Moms’ house, but was forced to turn back because of the sheer number of trees and powerlines covering the roads. Luckily, she had a close neighbor who took her in until my brother was able to reach her several days later. They were without power for about six weeks. Every tree had the top broken out of it except the Cypress trees. When my brother went to the woods to retrieve his deer stand, he was unable to find it. With all the broken trees, everything looked the same and he was unable to figure out where he was. I’ve seen an inch or two of ice before, but they had an incredible six inches of freezing rain.

  2. Brian Mears says:

    I remember being in Chattanooga, Tennessee on the night of Thursday, February 10th, 1994 and there being lots of rain and some rumbles of thunder and there was a flash flood warning for Hamilton County. Could that be part of that same storm system that produced the crippling ice storm to the west of the Chattanooga area?

  3. Joel Young says:

    I know that I’m reading this late.. But as a Meteorology major, I am interested in what exactly happened with this event when I was a kid.

    I remember going to church that Wednesday night in Sunflower County, Mississippi and during the service, the front steps of the church froze over. We got away from the church early. As we were leaving the church, a line of high-rise power lines in a field behind the church came crumbling down and it was like fireworks!!

    The following day, I went with my dad (who was the pastor) to many families’ homes to be sure they were taken care of. I remember trees being UPROOTED!!!! It was something I will never forget and I can safely say sparked my interest in weather leading me into my career here about 17 years later!!

  4. Jrw says:

    I was a senior in high scho when this happened. I went to a lil real scho and since my house wasnt on the direct line to the school we werenout of electricity for six weeks. Almost seven. Thank the good Lord for butane heaters and cookstove. Or else we would have froze to death. But we made it.

  5. Tawna H says:

    I was 13 years old when this storm hit. I remember very well. I remember me, my brother and his friends sitting in the living room cracking jokes how we probably wouldn’t have school the next day (me in Jr.High him in College. At some point they all got up and left during the ice storm and headed about 30 miles north of Senatobia, MS (to Southaven, MS)to go stay at someone house. Well the next AM woke to no power, we couldn’t leave our drive way (we lived on a hill) and our Well water had frozen since we had no light on it any longer. We did have Gas so we were able to keep warm, We ate lots of sandwich and soups! I remember my dad went to the local Walmart and the employers had flash lights walking each person down the isles of to get canned goods (by this time the food in freezers were spoiled). I do have to say the most eerie feeling is walking outside in the deep country and hearing crack, crack, crack, crack…BOOMMMM, that is one thing that has never left my memory. My grandmothers trees feel partially on her house and a power pole snapped and missed her Gas Tank in her yard…Thank god! lots of Pine Trees were snapped right into. We were without power for 2.5 weeks and I’ll never forget when we finally saw the light company on our road (which was located off the main road) we were sooo excited and then all of a sudden there was LIGHT! You take for granite electricity. for 2.5 weeks I saw no TV, no radio, no roads, nothing! I sure hope i never have to live thru something like that again in my life time.

  6. Mary Peck says:

    I lived in the eastern part of Lauderdale County. the power grid in this part of the state came down. I was out of power for 23 days and consider us to have been fortunate. I had 60 longleaf Southern pines in the yard before, but not after. Each tree made a CRACK like a rifle shot. Just a little roof damage. But one of the trees fell on the power supply line to the house and pulled the meter base loose. It took the longest to get that fixed. I had a well and electric water heater, so had to go south of the Tennessee River to find truck stops with showers – truckers don’t have to pay but the showers were worth every cent of the $5 they cost. Still have flashbacks when I hear the word “ice” on the weather channel; I now have a CPAP and if the power is out I don’t sleep. In process of getting set up for a natural gas backup generator just for peace of mind. I do a lot of praying in the winter!

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