A Storm To Always Remember

| March 12, 2008 @ 3:48 pm | 39 Replies

It was called the storm of the century.

It was also called the Blizzard of ’93.

Really, there are no good adjectives to describe the severity of that giant winter storm. Will we see another one like it in our lifetime? The mathematical odds are against it, but there is no weather law that says we will not. There was a situation years ago when South Baldwin County, near the Alabama coast, had two 100-year floods in a matter of weeks.

We lived in Huffman at the time of the storm and I had already retired from the NWS. We only lost power for a couple of hours. I made numerous measurements at our place on Winola Lane and the average depth was 17 inches, but we had drifts 3 or 4 feet deep. The next morning, my son and several other firemen came by to make sure we were okay. I went out on the front steps to greet them, immediately lost my footing and fell down the steps into a 3-foot snowdrift. As I was lying on my back, I was looking up at the rim of a crater that I had just caused. They rushed to dig me out, but I was okay. I noticed later in the spring that dandelions did not grow where I had hit the ground.

Be sure and scroll down and read some of the comments on the blog, especially the one from Acid Reign. It is a typical story. That is not his real name. Chuck Biddinger in Roebuck, also a frequent contributor, lost power. He finally ran a 300-foot extension cord to his neighbor’s house in back and asked if he could plug it in to power his furnace. He had never met his neighbor until that time. That was so typical. The whole storm story has thousands of instances of neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping strangers. Let’s get down to the main part of the story.

I am holding in my caffeine-stained fingers, a series of surface and upper air weather maps of the event. They still look scary to review. At 3:00 a.m. on March 13, the intense low-pressure center had moved out of the NE Gulf of Mexico and was centered over Tallahassee. SE of the low, numerous tornadoes were being reported and massive flooding was taking place in the Great Bend area of NW Florida. The central pressure had dropped to 981 mb. Later, the storm would intensify to 967 mb over North Carolina and Virginia.

One of the most amazing features of this storm was the thundersnow. This created sight of greenish colored lightning and muffled thunder. During the heart of the storm, one raido or TV tower on Red Mountain was struck about 13 times. Most folks had never seen thundersnow before and it is indeed a rare event. As the intense low moved up the east coast on March 13 and 14, wind gusts as high as 144 mph occurred. This storm caused the worst aviation delays in world history up until 1993. At one time, all airports along the Eastern Seaboard were closed.
The storm produced enough snow that if all of it was melted would have covered New York State with 1 foot of water. It was unprecedented in American weather history. The storm left 4 feet of snow on Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina.

Back home in Alabama, this storm dumped 13 inches of snow at Birmingham Airport–a record that still stands. With clear weather on Sunday morning, March 14, the temperature dropped to 2 above at Birmingham Airport.

We heard reports after the storm that 15-foot snow drifts occurred over NE Alabama. Last night we got a confirmation of that from the small community of Grantley on County Road 55 in Northern Cleburne County. The gentleman there named Ben, who is a frequent contributor to our blog, said they had 38 inches average on the level with 17-foot drifts and now power for 19 days. Before we get into a lengthy list of Alabama snow depths, here are some interesting figures:

144 mph Mt. Washington, New Hampshire
110 mph Franklin County, Florida
109 mph Dry Tortugas, Florida
101 mph Flattop Mountain, North Carolina

28.28 inches White Plains, New York (lots of hurricanes can’t match that)
28.43 inches Philadelphia
28.43 inches New York (JFK Airport)
28.45 inches Dover, Delaware

50 inches Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina
47 inches Grantsville, Maryland
44 inches Snowshoe, West Virginia
43 inches Syracuse, New York

12 below zero Burlington, Vermont
10 below zero Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains
2 above at Asheville, North Carolina and Birmingham

When it was all said and done, 270 people were dead and the estimate for total property damage exceeded $3 billion.

These are all official amounts and the largest total was at Walnut Grove in NE Alabama. Walnut Grove is located on US-278, which is the main route between Gadsden and Cullman. It is near the Blount/Etowah County line in an area where the moisture-laden powerful east winds had to rise some beause of Straight Mountain and even more as the wind encountered Sand Mountain. This extra lift would have increased the snowfall.

We should point out that everybody did nto receive a record amount of snow. It tapered off to the NW and by the time you got to the Muscle Shoals/Florence area, the total was about 5 inches. Most of the real heavy snow occurred over the NE half of the state and some South Alabama communities got less than 5 inches. But everyone got a dose of high wind and Governor Guy Hunt declared a state of emergency.

I hope you will pardon this long list of Alabama snow totals, but I thought since it was such a historic storm, that you would like to know:

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

Remember, this does not count drifts and those drifts were humongous in some areas, especially by Alabama standards. The drifts were 5 and 6 feet deep in parts of Birmingham metro area.

Out at the National Weather Service at 11 West Oxmoor Road, some of the weather personnel were stranded for several days. In fact, the winter storm crew was still on duty working shift number 6. In a state forecast discussion issued at 9:15 on Sunday morning March 14, the forecaster said, “We are all growing weary. We eagerly await a fresh crew by this afternoon.” In a Saturday afternoon discussion, the forecaster said, “We may need a food drop soon since our building is surrounded by snow drifts around 2-feet deep.” As early as Saturday morning, they said, “If you have any bread, please send us some.” I am not sure who wrote those discussions, but my guess is Bill Herrmann who I worked many, many shifts with..

Dr. John A. Knox is the co-author of an excellent meteorology instruction book for college students. He is a Huffman native. However, he watched the blizzard unfold from the University of Wisconsin where he was an instructor. His parents were huddled in the cold in Roebuck Gardens and his mom’s 61st birthday was on March 12. I enjoyed studying his review of all the models that meteorlogists poured over leading up to the storm and, overall, it was an excellent forecast. John is now with the University of Georgia. He has always been a James Spann fan.

One final note: there are several links in the comment section of the blog showing actual video of TV coverage by James Spann and Kevin Collins. Mike Wiihelm, the 33/40 skywatcher for Vinemont, found those for us.

I realize this is an overdose of information, but thought you might like to know.

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