March 1993 Blizzard Memories: J.B. Elliott

| March 12, 2018 @ 12:30 pm

This is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the historic storm that impacted Alabama and much of the eastern United States on March 12-13, 1993.

A computer generated surface chart from J.B.’s files from 09z on March 13, 1993.

Some know it as the Superstorm. Others as the Storm of the Century. Many just call it the Blizzard. But for those that went through it, it is a storm they will never forget. Snow was reported in all 67 Alabama counties. Actual blizzard conditions and thundersnow affected Birmingham as the powerful low-pressure system moved across the Florida Big Bend area with a 12-foot storm surge, a derecho and tornadoes across the Sunshine State.

The system was well forecast, with model output hinting at the power of the system by Monday, March 8th. It was hard to get people to take a snow forecast seriously since temperatures were in the 70s. Birmingham recorded highs of 73, 73, and 75F on the 8th, 9th and 10th. Special weather statements were put out by the National Weather Service in Birmingham on the morning of Wednesday the 10th. A winter storm watch was issued on Thursday afternoon and winter storm warnings were issued early Friday morning.

By the end of the storm, Birmingham officially measured 13 inches of snow, making it our largest 24-hour snowfall, our biggest storm total, and maximum snow cover. EVen higher amounts were reported across parts of Alabama. Record cold followed the storm, with a low on the 14th of 2F at Birmingham.

James, Brian, Scott and I will be posting some of our video recollections about the storm here on AlabamaWX. I will start with a story from our late, great mentor J.B. Elliott. We don’t have video from J.B. about the storm, but he penned this neat account in 2007.

By J.B. Elliott

As early as March 8, 1993, some long-range weather models were hinting at a humongous winter storm event for the East Coast of the USA. It proved to be amazingly accurate.

Along the Texas Gulf Coast early on the morning of March 12, 1993, a low pressure area was beginning to deepen rapidly. It was already gathering an unbelievable amount of moisture from our old friend, the Gulf of Mexico.

PS: Here I go again. I often wonder what the big 1993 storm would have been like if we did not have our old friend, the Gulf of Meciso.

Back to the story…by Friday evening, oil rigs off the Louisiana coast were reporting wind gusts to hurricane force. The storm had already become a monster. It eventually brought the first widespread blizzard in history to parts of the Southern USA.

Dr. John Knox, a Birmingham native and now a research scientist at the University of Georgia (he received his doctor’s degree in atmospheric science at the University of Wisconsin). He co-authored an excellent college-level instructor’s meteorology book with the title of “Meteorology, Understanding the Atmosphere.” Naturally, being from Birmingham, he wrote about the Blizzard of ’93. He told how the atmosphere became so unstable that thunderstorms developed in the cold air, which helped the storm to dump several inches of snow each hour on Birmingham. There was a lot of eerie green lightning followed by the muffled sound of thunder. With the atmosphere overloaded with big snowflakes, part of the sound of thunder was absorbed. John mentioned that a radio tower on Red Mountain was struck 12 times by that eerie lightning. He also wrote about 50 University of Wisconsin students en route to Panama City getting stranded in Birmingham, when their bus skidded off a road.

TRACKING THE LOW PRESSURE AREA
1. Centered over the NW Gulf of Mexico early on March 12, 1,000 millibars.
2. Over the North-Central Gulf, 6:00 p.m., Friday, March 12, 984 MB
3. Near Savannah at daybreak on Saturday, March 13, 971 MB
4. Near the eastern shore of Maryland, 6:00 p.m. Saturday, 960 MB
5. Near Portland, Maine, 6:00 a.m., Sunday, 964 MB

As Bill Murray pointed out, this made it as strong as a Category 3 hurricane considering the pressure. From the Northern Gulf, the low moved on shore near Cedar Key in the Big Bend area of NW Florida. Winds on land gusted over 110 miles mph with a great deal of damage. There were a number of tornadoes and a number of fatalities.

In our earlier post, we mentioned some of the Eastern USA snow amounts. We repeat just a few.

20 inches in Chattanooga
4 inches in Atlanta (snow covered the north half of Georgia)
50 inches on Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina
18 inches at Asheville
40 inches at High Knob, Virginia
28 inches at Lake of the Woods, Virginia
30 inches at Frostburg, Maryland
36 inches at Latrobe, Pennsylvania with 6 to 10 foot drifts
40 inches at Halcott Center, New York

Dover, Delaware had the honor of reporting the lowest pressure in this giant storm–28.41 inches at 8:00 p.m. on March 13.

ALABAMA SNOW AMOUNTS
It was one of those very rare times, when all 67 counties in Alabama had a snow cover. Here is a selection:

20 inches at Walnut Grove
17 inches at Valley Head
16 inches in Oneonta and Bessemer
13 inches at Anniston, Talladega, Pinson, Birmingham
12 inches at Thomasville, Childersburg, Scottsboro
11 inches at Sylacauga
10 inches at Cullman, Clanton and Heflin
9 inches in Thorsby
8 inches in Ashland, Centreville, Moulton and Guntersville
7 inches in Alexander City, Huntsville and Whatley
6 inches in Camden, Evergreen, Jasper, Livingston, Andalusia, Haleyville and Highland Home
5 inches in Auburn, Winfield, Muscle Shoals and Chatom
4 inches in Montgomery, Union Springs, Vernon, Tuscaloosa, Demopolis, Frisco City, Greenville, Troy
3 inches at Brewton, Hamilton, Bay Minette, Mobile Airport
2 inches at Atmore and Robertsdale
Trace at Fairhope and Coden

Remember, this does not count drifts. Those drifts were humongous in some areas, especially by Alabama standards. The drifts were 5 to 6 feet deep in parts of the Birmingham metro area. The official Birmingham snowfall of 13 inches was recorded at the airport. Naturally there was more in the higher terrain. For example, there was 17 inches where I lived at the time in the Huffman area not far from Medical Center East. Soon after the storm, the National Weather Service received a report of 15-foot drifts in some of the higher terrain of NE Alabama.

This was not a record event for everybody. For example, Auburn’s 5 inches pales when you compare it with their biggest snow around Valentine’s Day in the 1970s when they were buried under 14 inches.

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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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