Monday is the 30th anniversary of ‘The Storm of the Century’

March 1993 “Storm of the Century” was one of the most significant storms to impact the eastern United States. (File Photo)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thirty years ago, Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia were rocked by one of the worst winter storms to ever impact the region.

The 1993 superstorm, commonly referred to as “The Storm of the Century,” impacted much of the area during the early morning hours of March 13.

Its beginnings

The storm developed as an area of low pressure near the Mexico-Texas border. The system then began to lift northeastward into the Gulf of Mexico.

There, the complex intensified significantly, and a strong cold front developed over the western Gulf.

The 1993 superstorm rapidly intensified in the Gulf of Mexico on March 12.

A powerful squall line began to form over the Gulf of Mexico, and this squall line became a derecho that slammed the vast majority of the Florida Peninsula.

Regional impacts

The derecho plowed across the region during the early morning hours of March 13, producing widespread and significant damage.

Wind gusts of over 70 mph were reported with the line, with significant damage to trees, roofs and power lines.

Wind reports from across Florida.

Eleven tornadoes were reported with the derecho, including three F2 tornadoes.

The Jacksonville area was especially hard hit.

An F0 tornado touched down at Jacksonville International Airport area. The tornado damaged several jetways and vehicles and moved a Boeing 737 approximately 40 feet.

Confirmed tornadoes in Florida.

The derecho and storm system was powerful enough to produce a large storm surge in the Big Bend and Nature Coast regions of Florida.

A storm surge of up to 12 feet was reported in Taylor Co., Fla. This was a tremendous storm surge for the area, and some residents drowned, not expecting such high water.

Significant storm surge occurred along the west coast of Florida.

Forty-seven people died from the system in Florida, including 14 from storm surge and flooding, seven from tornadoes and four from high winds after the derecho.

Behind the derecho, a large blast of arctic air rushed into the state. This cold airmass converted rain to snow in the Florida Panhandle, with some area receiving nearly 6 inches of snow.

Snow flurries were also reported in Jacksonville.

Northeastern US impacts

After impacting Florida and southeast Georgia, the complex then moved northeastward, up the Interstate 95 corridor.

It produced massive snowfall, intense winds and significant coastal flooding.

Over 50 inches of heavy wet snow fell on the some of the mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Widespread heavy snow was reported in the major cities of the Northeast, with many receiving over a foot of snow.

Snowfall totals from across the eastern U.S.

The typically milder Southeast was also severely impacted by snow. Atlanta reported over four inches of snow, with travel nearly impossible across much of the area.

Winds were also intense, producing widespread power outages. Winds gusted to 81 mph in Boston, with Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, seeing a 90 mph gust.

Coastal flooding also caused extreme impacts up-and-down the Atlantic coast.

Eighteen homes fell into the sea in Long Island, New York, with the Outer Banks of North Carolina reporting nearly 200 homes uninhabitable due to flooding and the pounding surf.

Lessons learned

In total, the weather service reported over 300 weather-related fatalities and damage at over $5 billion.

The 1993 superstorm was one of the worst winter storms in recorded history.

The system proved that extreme snow events can occur in mid-March, and that a powerful enough winter system can produce significant storm surge.

Technology has improved significantly over the past 30 years.

Forecast models are now much better refined, giving meteorologists several days advance notice of significant weather events.

NEXRAD Doppler radar was just coming online in 1993. Now, the state of Florida is covered by seven NEXRAD radars, providing valuable data on wind speeds and rotation inside storms.

The 1993 superstorm is a system one will not forget. When the next one comes, the technology will be there to better forecast the developing system and analyze severe storms in real time.

About the Author:

David Heckard is The Weather Authority's Assistant Chief Meteorologist.