Superstorm '93: The first big storm of my career
March 12th & 13th mark the 25th anniversary of Superstorm '93. The historic snowstorm that dumped nearly 2 ft of snow across the Tennessee Valley.
IT STILL SEEMS LIKE YESTERDAY
My how time flies! It still doesn't seem like 25 years since the Superstorm. But, one look at the grey hair on my head begs to differ! Yes, back then I had brown hair and was about 2 years into my career as a broadcast meteorologist here in Chattanooga. I remember vividly the Monday before the storm seeing some of the longer range computer model outlooks from the LFM & NGM model...(For you forecast model watchers, both models are long gone!). These models were printed out instead of being viewed on a computer screen. The storm being projected 4-5 days out was definitely an eyebrow raiser.
And, as each day progressed, the models did not waiver. In fact, the LFM model was very accurate with this storm. The problem us forecasters had was convincing local residents that a potentially huge storm could impact the Tennessee Valley by the weekend. Why was it hard to convince? Well, through Wednesday of that week, temperatures were in the 70s and everything was budding. But, we could all see this storm coming and knew it was going to be huge.
By Friday, the first "Blizzard Watch" was posted for our viewing area in northwest Georgia. While I had no problem at all broadcasting this "Watch", it was the first time most local folks had heard that locally. The first flakes began to fall Friday afternoon (12th) and schools began to close early. At first, the flakes melted on impact and mixed with rain. We continued to stress that the worst was still to come later. By later that Friday evening, the periods of snow increased and it no longer melted. Temperatures dropped through the night and the wind howled. No seriously...it howled! Wind gusts in the 40mph to 50mph range gripped the region along with heavy snow. Near "white out" conditions at times on that Saturday.
During the predawn hours of Saturday (13th), "thundersnow" occurred. Simply a thunderstorm with snow instead of rain. It just added to the dramatics already occurring. The bright green and blue flashes illuminated the snowy landscape and the jarring claps of thunder woke a lot of people from sleep. The snow was no longer just accumulating, it was drifting. After sunrise, a lot of areas had drifts up to 3ft and even higher in other spots.
That Saturday was not a day to play in the snow. It was dangerous! Trees were falling due to the wind gusts and weight of the snow. Wind chill levels were nearing 0. The periods of snow would continue through the early morning hours of the 14th (Sunday). I remember being on the air during the overnight hours of that Saturday night (13th) through the (14th). By that time, the storm was calming down, but reading the snow totals and reporting the current temperatures was incredible. By that time, amounts ranged from 18-23 inches and temperatures at about the same range. At the time I had my trusty Jeep Grand Wagoneer with 4 wheel drive. Even with that 4 wheel drive, it was difficult driving because of the snow drifts. Yes, snow drifts in Chattanooga, some over 3 ft! I was one of the only cars out on the road and I remember driving "down the middle" as to avoid the drifts on the side of the road. The normal 10-15 minute drive to work in north Chattanooga took about 2 hours.
By Sunday, the sunshine was back. It was a little safer to be out taking pictures. Some folks were getting back on the roads. But, many still had problems with their cars clearance level and the height of the snowfall accumulation. The local road crews were doing their best to plow some of the major roads. With snow cover, temperatures remained cold and dropped to near 10 degrees that Sunday night.
By Monday (15th), I spent more time on the air taking viewer phone calls trying to get help to those in need. It was a reminder of how paralyzed the local region was due to massive power outages. I remember passing these notes along to the EPB and Red Cross and other organizations. For some, power was restored in just a couple of days. But for others, it took 2-3 weeks.
So many people ask me, "could we see this again?". Well, I have always said that if something has happened before, it could happen again at some point. I still believe that!
Superstorm '93 goes down as a Top 5 weather event that I have covered as a broadcast meteorologist. The other 4 are (in no particular order)....The tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011.....Hurricane Katrina & Ivan during my years on the Gulf Coast.....The Good Friday tornado in East Brainerd in 1997.