The 1994 Ice Storm

| February 9, 2008 @ 10:07 pm | 338 Replies

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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Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site's official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site's severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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