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Meteorologist recalls March 1993 ‘Storm of the Century’ 30 years later

Memories of the crippling, historic storm remain vivid

Satellite image of March 1993 superstorm as it was developing over the Southeast. (NOAA)
5 min

It’s been exactly 30 years since the historic March 12-14 “Superstorm” that smashed records for severity, snowfall and breadth of impact for the United States. The storm, born from a confluence of extreme weather factors, from arctic cold to explosive upper-level atmospheric dynamics, was one of our nation’s worst-ever winter storms. That it happened during the heart of shoulder season between winter and spring makes it all the more legendary — one many of us will remember from our personal experiences during and after the storm.

The official storm archive by the National Weather Service says this about the storm:

The Superstorm of 1993 (also called the Storm of the Century) was one of the most intense mid-latitude cyclones ever observed over the Eastern United States. The storm will be remembered for its tremendous snowfall totals from Alabama through Maine, high winds all along the East coast, extreme coastal flooding along the Florida west coast, incredibly low barometric pressures across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, and for the unseasonably cold air that followed behind the storm. In terms of human impact the Superstorm of 1993 was more significant than most landfalling hurricanes or tornado outbreaks and ranks among the deadliest and most costly weather events of the 20th century.

First hints of the system forming began on March 11, with the storm undergoing rapid development near the Texas Gulf Coast the following morning. By the night of March 12 into the next day, the storm became a powder keg of remarkable might, that over a span of just two days would produce not only record snowfall from the Deep South to New England, but also fierce winds, coastal flooding and historically low atmospheric pressure.

The five most remarkable attributes of the Storm of the Century


As a meteorologist I still have vivid memories of that storm well beyond the science, as we had last-minute travel plans to attend a funeral in Tennessee the weekend of March 13. Weather concerns grew, as a few days before that weekend the potential for a significant storm loomed large in the model guidance for that time frame, and those models turned out to be amazingly accurate.

Our trepidation about traveling was tempered some by the fact that the weather models are often wrong, giving at least a modicum of comfort as we made the drive from Richmond to Chattanooga the day before the storm. After checking the latest model runs, packing snow boots for the trip, just in case, was an easy decision.

By the early evening hours on March 12, the night before the funeral, rainy and mild weather beguiled the ominous predictions for a major snowstorm seen on local TV that day. But unsurprisingly, as the hours passed the temperatures had inched lower, and upon leaving the funeral home the rain had already started mixing with snow. The anticipated arctic air was rapidly bulldozing in, and the only solace that night was that the warm rain-soaked ground might prevent the big snow accumulations in the forecast.

The following day’s dawn dashed that hope into hibernation. We awoke to deepening snowdrifts driven by blistering winds, with a storm total of over 20 inches smothering the spring-tinged landscape by day’s end. Temperatures fell throughout that day, and bitterly cold air plunged by the morning of the 14th into the single digits. In the mid-South. In mid-March!

With the strong winds and heavy snow, power was out everywhere, including where we stayed, at a small lakefront log home our relatives lived in and shared with us and some other family from out of town. The long narrow road through their neighborhood was rendered impassable by the deep snow, so we nestled in the best we could. A wood-burning fireplace provided heat during the day, and heavy blankets kept us as warm as possible at night. With well water and no power, we fetched buckets of water up from the lake as needed. Oh, and those snow boots packed on a whim were invaluable!

As for clearing the road, our hosts, who had a construction business, used their front-end loader to scoop a path through the deep snow once the storm started to wind down, making venturing out possible by the next day. Once out, though, the realization hit just how bad it was everywhere. Traversing the four-lane main road was limited to following the narrow wheel tracks from previous cars. A nearby convenience store was open, but that was as far as my front-drive car could grudgingly move before circling back.

Within a couple of days most major roads were plowed and passable, so with the funeral now obviously postponed, we began the trek back to Virginia. It wasn’t easy. In many spots the interstates were reduced to single lanes, so traveling remained challenging. It took several hours to just make it to the Virginia line, and then as the sun began dwindling into sunset ice was increasingly evident on the rolling stretches of interstate in southwest Virginia. We thankfully were able to exit without incident before it totally iced over in some areas.

The blizzard of 1993: 20-year anniversary of March Superstorm

The rest of the trip home was uneventful. Traveling across Virginia’s piedmont revealed the scope of this superstorm. Mountainous piles of plowed snow bracketed the highways, giving way to sharply lower amounts but with more ice buildup than snow along the roadsides closer to Richmond.

We arrived back home safely and thankful for many things. Thankful for the fellowship of family regardless of circumstances, and thankful for all the people we may not know, who work tirelessly during extreme and dangerous situations, such as this, to bring life back to normal for all of us.

Jim Duncan recently retired from his 40-year career as chief meteorologist with NBC12 WWBT-TV in Richmond. He runs his own meteorological consulting firm, Jim Duncan LLC, serving clients in media, education and other industries.