24 years later, Northeast U.S. braces for another monster
On the 24 year anniversary of America’s “Storm of the Century,” the Northeastern United States is bracing for another monster snowstorm. Unlike the 1993 behemoth, which brought snow as far south as Louisiana, this system will bring significant impacts to a smaller section of the country.
On March 11–14, 1993, a massive storm system bore down on nearly half of the U.S. population causing approximately $5.5 billion in damages ($9.2 billion in 2016 dollars). That storm swept from the Deep South all the way up the East Coast. With a central pressure usually found only in Category 3 hurricanes, the storm spawned tornadoes and left coastal flooding, crippling snow, and bone-chilling cold in its wake. Of the more than 200 weather and climate events with damages exceeding $1 billion since 1980, this storm remains the country’s most costly winter storm to date.
During the height of the storm, snowfall rates of 2–3 inches per hour occurred. New York’s Catskill Mountains along with most of the central and southern Appalachians received at least 2 feet of snow. Wind-driven sleet also fell on parts of the East Coast, with central New Jersey reporting 2.5 inches of sleet on top of 12 inches of snow—creating somewhat of an “ice-cream sandwich” effect. Up to 6 inches of snow even blanketed the Florida Panhandle.
In Southeast Louisiana, enough cold air spilled south to produce accumulating snow on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain. While only a dusting was recorded in Baton Rouge, three inches fell in Bogalusa.
Covering more than 550,000 square miles and impacting nearly 120 million people in three regions, the Storm of the Century still ranks as the second worst snowstorm to impact the Northeast, Southeast, and Ohio Valley. Illustrating the storm’s magnitude, the National Weather Service’s Office of Hydrology estimated the storm’s equivalent total volume of water at 44 million acre-feet. That’s comparable to 40 days’ flow on the Mississippi River at New Orleans—enough water to flood nearly the entire state of Missouri 1 foot deep.
In addition to the snow, an estimated 15 tornadoes struck Florida, and 44 deaths were attributed to either the tornadoes or other severe weather in the state. A 12-foot storm surge also occurred in Taylor County, Florida, resulting in at least seven deaths.
The storm’s high winds were also extremely devastating, with at least 15 stations along the East Coast reporting wind gusts of 70 miles per hour or stronger. The combination of wind and ice left some cities and towns without power for more than a week.
More than 270 people in 13 different states died because of the storm. Workers rescued over 200 hikers from the North Carolina and Tennessee mountains. The storm closed nearly all interstate highways from Atlanta northeastward as well as every major airport on the East coast at one time or another—unprecedented at the time. The storm caused the most weather-related flight cancellations in U.S. history. The Coast Guard rescued more than 160 people at sea in the Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico, where at least one freighter sank.
Hopefully, the impact from this system will not have the same effects. Geographically and meteorologically speaking, there is no reason to believe it will. However, the most heavily populated corridor in the United States will face heavy snow, high winds, coastal flooding and resulting cancellations and closures through mid-week. There are blizzard warnings in effect for parts of the New Jersey, New York and Connecticut coasts. Areas from West Virginia northeastward to Maine are under winter storm warnings.
From the Central Appalachains to New England, major highways could be snow covered for several hours, with some side roads impassable for a day or more. Preemptive business and school closures are expected. Tuesday flights are already being called off at many major airports.
The pending strong Nor'Easter has also resulted in coastal flood advisories from Fenwick Island, DE to Salisbury, MA and high wind warnings from Fenwick Island, DE to Boston MA. Tides will run two to three feet above normal and winds will gust up to 70mph.
Consider postponing any travel to the Northeast. Be sure family and friends in those locations are taking the necessary precautions.