Fact Sheet - Blizzard of 1993
Blizzards are by far the most dangerous of all winter storms. They are characterized by temperatures below twenty degrees Fahrenheit and winds of at least 35 miles per hour. In addition to the temperatures and winds, a blizzard must have a sufficient amount of falling or blowing snow. The snow must reduce visibility to one-quarter mile or less for at least three hours (6). With high winds and heavy snow, these severe storms can punish residents throughout much of the United States during the winter months each year. In mid-March of 1993, a major blizzard struck the Eastern U.S., including parts of Kentucky.
From March 12th to the 15th, 1993, what some call the "storm of the century" ravaged the eastern United States. The National Weather Service's sophisticated computer models indicated that a severe winter storm was forming in the Gulf of Mexico. Later in that same week, the NWS computer models showed that the storm was growing significantly. The storm actually formed from the combination of three different atmospheric disturbances. A major cluster of thunderstorms in the Gulf of Mexico, a band of snow and rain from the Pacific, and gusty winds with light snow from the Arctic Circle all joined over the southeast to create this historic storm (1). By Thursday, March 12th, the storm was barreling up Florida's west coast with high winds, tornadoes, and a storm surge twelve feet above normal. The next day, the storm was carving a destructive path up the southeastern states, leaving Eastern Kentucky paralyzed.
The blizzard of March 1993 was one of the largest winter storms in terms of snowfall and size in Kentucky history. Until that day, the record for a single day's snowfall had been 18 inches. This snowfall record was broken at more than one station in Eastern parts of the state (5). Most of Eastern and Southeastern Kentucky was covered with up to 30 inches of snow. London, Kentucky measured a depth of 22 inches, while Jackson and Closplint both had 20 inches of snow on the ground. The most snow fell in Perry County, where 30 inches was recorded. Snow was not the only damaging factor in the storm. Brutal winds crossed most of Kentucky, making the cleanup effort extremely difficult. Winds up to 43 miles per hour were recorded in Pike Co., and a 30-mph clip blew over much of the state (1). The heavy snows, coupled with high winds created large snow drifts (8-10 feet in many places such as Pikeville and London) over roads and highways. I-75 from Lexington to the Tennessee border was shut down for two days, as was I-64 from Lexington eastward. All state and federal highways south of I-64 and east of I-75 were also closed. Most travel was stopped, leaving over 4,000 motorists stranded (3). Emergency shelters were established over much of Eastern Kentucky. Many found themselves sleeping in high school gyms or other public facilities. The National Guard had to be brought in to aid in rescue efforts, to clear roads, and to open twenty armories as additional shelters for motorists (3).
During the storm, 30 counties were forced to close schools and government offices. Of Kentucky's 120 counties, 73 were designated as eligible for reimbursement for the cost of emergency snow removal (3). The massive March 1993 blizzard is responsible for five deaths in Kentucky and over 270 deaths nationwide (4). The maximum snow depth recorded from the blizzard was 56 inches on Mt. Leconte in Tennessee. In Kentucky, the greatest recorded snow depth was thirty inches in Perry County (3). Record low temperatures were set stretching from the Gulf Coast all the way to Maine. For the first time, every major airport along the east coast was closed at some point due to the storm. With damage costs exceeding 1.6 billion dollars, the blizzard of 1993 is the fourth costliest storm in U.S. history. Though it was not the most severe blizzard on record, it was the largest in terms of the area it affected (4). More than half of the country's population in twenty-six different states was affected by the blizzard of 1993
"Blizzard". The Courier Journal. March 15, 1993. pg 1
Climatological Data. Kentucky. March 1993: NOAA. Vol. 88. No. 3
Storm Data. March 1993: NOAA. Vol. 35. No. 3.
"The Big One! A Review of the March 12-14, 1993 "Storm of the Century".
(October 21, 1999).
Wendland, Wayne. Weather and Climate Impacts in the Midwest. March
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(October 21, 1999).