Remembering the Storm of the Century 20 Years Later
Exactly 20 years ago, on March 12–14, 1993, the Storm of the Century struck the eastern United States causing approximately $5.5 billion in damages—the fourth costliest storm in U.S. history at that time. The storm’s record snowfalls isolated thousands of people, especially in the Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia mountains. Workers rescued over 200 hikers from the North Carolina and Tennessee mountains, and more than 270 people died because of the storm. The National Guard was deployed in many areas, and several counties and cities enforced curfews and declared states of emergency. The storm closed nearly all interstate highways from Atlanta northward as well as every major airport on the East coast at one time or another, unprecedented at the time.
Snowfall rates of 2–3 inches per hour were common during the height of the storm. Generally, New York’s Catskill Mountains along with most of the central and southern Appalachians received at least 2 feet of snow. Wind-driven sleet fell in some areas of the East Coast, with central New Jersey reporting 2.5 inches of sleet on top of 12 inches of snow—somewhat of an “ice-cream sandwich” effect. Hundreds of roofs collapsed under the weight of the heavy wet snow, and the storm left over 3 million customers without power due to fallen trees and high winds. 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, which is comparable to 40 days’ flow on the Mississippi River at New Orleans.
Up to six inches of snow even blanketed the Florida panhandle. In addition to the snow in the panhandle, an estimated 15 tornadoes struck the state, and 44 deaths in Florida were attributed to either the tornadoes or other severe weather. A 12-foot storm surge occurred in Taylor County, Florida, resulting in at least seven deaths. Dry Tortugas, west of Key West, Florida, recorded a wind gust of 109 miles per hour. From Florida northward, the storm battered the entire eastern coastline, and at least 18 homes fell into the sea on Long Island due to the pounding surf. The storm also damaged about 200 homes along North Carolina’s Outer Banks, making them uninhabitable. The Coast Guard rescued over 160 people at sea in the Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico, where at least one freighter sank.
Very powerful storms, like the Storm of the Century in ’93, can strike at any time, making it extremely important to analyze them to better prepare for the future. NCDC’s severe weather data and accompanying analyses provide decision makers and constituents with the needed tools to ensure the public is well prepared for any future devastating storms. For more information on how you can prepare yourself, your family, and your friends for severe weather, visit www.ready.gov.
NCDC’s Technical Report 93-01 from May 14, 1993 is also available online.
View a satellite imagery animation of the Storm of the Century from NOAA's National Environmental Visualization Lab.