March 13th marks the 20 year anniversary of one of the most memorable meteorological events ever, the “Storm of the Century”, which moved up the East Coast on March 12-13, 1993. . Twenty years ago today, the “Superstorm of 1993” formed in the Gulf of Mexico (as a very impressive low pressure system) and barreled up the East Coast, eventually leaving historic amounts of snow from the Southeast States through Maine. The system resulted in $9 billion (modern day) in damages and more than 300 deaths. More wildly known as the “Storm of the Century” or “1993 Superstorm”, it remains the highest impact winter weather event to ever affect the Eastern Coast of the United States.
In the immediate New York City Area, the storm featured a wild variety of hazardous weather which likely will not be matched for many years. Heavy snow began around 2am and continued until around 2pm in the NYC Metro Area (longer in the interior). The “Storm of the Century” was the first system to trigger Blizzard Warnings in the New York City Area since 1978. Near the coast and even in the immediate suburbs, 60 to 75 mph gusts were more than isolated with sustained winds over 30 to 40 miles per hour. By late afternoon, many coastal areas including Long Island saw temperatures reach into the lower 40’s as warm air surged northward. As the storm passed overhead, White Plains, NY measured a record low pressure of 28.38 inches, equivalent to a Category 3 Hurricane. Such pressures are remarkable for our forecast area — but were not surprising given the immense strength of the storm system even as it formed in the Gulf of Mexico. Through the afternoon and evening, heavy rain and strong winds continued to pound the coast while wintry precipitation continued to pound inland areas.
Snow (better defined as “slop” by the time the storm was over) reached the coast as well, with sleet and extremely heavy rain before the system ended. In the suburbs, widespread significant amounts of snow and sleet caused extreme travel difficulties and widespread impacts. As the system raced past the area, cold air began pushing into the area once again by evening. A noted “flash freeze” quickly froze over the slush, slop, and snow into piles of ice, snow and sleet across most of the area.
The top snowfall totals for the event in our area are listed below:
- Snowshoe, WV: 44″
- Syracuse, NY: 43″
- Tobyhanna, PA: 42″
- Pittsburgh, PA: 25″
- Worcester: 20″
The historic storm affected a tremendously large area. For instance, 65 foot waves were reported off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada and Havana, Cuba experienced 1 billion in damages and a blackout as a result of the system. Hurricane-force wind gusts in a line of severe thunderstorms caused significant damage in Florida along with more than 10 recorded tornadoes. Perhaps most startlingly, every airport on the East Coast of the United States was closed at one point or another during the storm system.
A system of this magnitude likely only comes around once in a century, so it may be aptly named, and we as a meteorological community will do our best to remember it. Do you have any memories from the historic storm system? If so, share them below!