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WEATHER HISTORY | A personal look back

More than a Weather Bomb, it was the 'Storm of The Century’

Jaclyn Whittal

Monday, March 12, 2018, 13:55 - On this day 25 years ago, the nation was dealing with more than a weather bomb on the East Coast -- the region was dealing with The Storm of The Century.

I was only a teenager but I remember it well. We were away for Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and we were ready to put our feet in the sand and sunbathe in the hot Florida sun. Instead, we were stuck indoors with rip current threats on the local beaches while strong winds and waves relentlessly battered the Southeast coast. The rest of the Whittal family  -- my cousin, aunt, uncle and brother Jason -- were meeting us down in Florida a little later that week. They never made it south until five days later! Buried in approximately a foot of snow in Knoxville, Tennessee, the I-75 looked more like a white parking lot with several abandoned vehicles. There were also tornadoes in northern Florida (this was before I was a storm chaser!) on March 12 and 13, and millions were without power as a result of damaging winds gusts. Every airport from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Tampa, Florida, was closed for some time because of the storm. This, all caused by what his gone down in history as the Storm of The Century in 1993.

DON'T MISS: Ice dropped down large hole makes strangest sound. LISTEN here!

The Recap

It 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, and high winds all along the East coast. It impacted at least 26 states and much of Eastern Canada. It ushered in cold air along with heavy precipitation and hurricane-force winds which, ultimately, caused a blizzard over millions in the East. 

The storm also included thundersnow from Georgia to Pennsylvania and widespread whiteout conditions. Snow flurries were seen in the air as far south as Jacksonville, Florida, central Florida received a trace of snow.

This storm began as far as Cuba and made its way through the Gulf of Mexico with some Hurricane like characteristics.  The winds would have felt very "Hurricane" like in Havana where wind gusts reached 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). 

Watch below: RARE thundersnow caught on camera, but why does it happen?

The History

The storms began on March 12th along a nearly stationary front lying along the Texas Gulf coast. The low rapidly deepened as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico during the afternoon and evening of March 12th and made "landfall" along the Florida Panhandle just after midnight on March 13th.

A squall line of severe thunderstorms extending south of the low impacted Florida during the early morning hours of March 13th. Damaging straight-line winds and 11 confirmed tornadoes were reported across Florida, with substantial thunderstorm wind damage. 

When it made it further northeast, it brought heavy snow to the Mid-Atlantic coast. All-time records for snowfall were set in locations from Birmingham and Chattanooga to Asheville, then spreading north through the central Appalachians. By early afternoon on March 13th the central pressure of the low was lower than had been observed with any historic winter storm or hurricane across the interior Southeastern United States. All-time low pressure records were established in Columbia, Charlotte and Greensboro. During the mid to late afternoon hours on March 13th, cold air wrapped in from the west as the low moved north through Raleigh and into northeastern North Carolina.  

Watch below: Hurricane vs. Nor'easter - Similar...but also, not really.

How and Why So Strong?

The main differentiator with this storm is the fact that it formed so far to the south. It is normal to see storms develop in the Deep South in the winter. We often see a storm known as the Texas Low, (panhandle hooks) and they can track through Great Lakes bringing with them heavy snow and rain and severe weather. This formed even further south, in Cuba. 

So, why not a hurricane then? This is because a cold front moved as far as the tropics and triggered a cyclone. This is known as Baroclinicity (storm involving fronts) as opposed to Barotropic storms which have no fronts and form only because of warm ocean water rising into colder air aloft.  Here we have being born a 'tropical system'. The Storm of The Century had so many ugly sides to it.: The snow, the by snow we MEAN snow; As much as 5 feet of crippling snow fell in the higher terrain of the Appalachians; Many locations saw 1-3 ft with roadways shut down completely for days. The storm was unique and notable for its intensity, massive size, and wide-reaching effects; at its height, the storm stretched from Canada to Honduras. 

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