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Charleston, West Virginia

The Blizzard of 1993

By Ken Batty, written January 2003

All photos ©Morgan County Herald.

It’s hard to believe we are coming up on the 10th anniversary of the Blizzard of March, 1993. Out ahead of the storm, I can still recall the sunshine fading that Friday afternoon, the 12th, behind thickening cirrus clouds. Having finished my midnight shift, I had the weekend off.

This storm was announced and advertised well out in advance. As a matter of fact, to my knowledge, our Charleston National Weather Service office has never issued a winter storm warning so far ahead of the first snow flakes. It was a risk that eventually paid off.

Snow plow pictureMassive in scope best describes this winter storm. It was the most widespread deep snow to affect West Virginia since World War II. Even the infamous Post-Thanksgiving Storm of 1950 spared the eastern panhandle. Yet in March 1993, each of the 55 counties in the Mountain State received at least a foot of snow.

Increases in snow depth of 16 to 24 inches were most common. The most snowfall in West Virginia was 34 inches from Pickens of Randolph County. With old snow on the ground prior to the storm, their snow depth increased 30 inches, to a depth of 4 feet. The heaviest snow spilled over the border to include eastern Ohio and eastern Kentucky, but did not reach as far west as Columbus or Lexington. Southwest Virginia was also hard hit by the heavy snow.

The storm started late that Friday afternoon and evening over southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia. I can recall the first flakes drifting down around 8 o’clock in Charleston. The snow continued throughout that Saturday the 13th. The snow rates around Charleston were never overly impressive, at least to me. Just a steady moderate snowfall. However, just to the west, heavier bands of snow fell across the Ohio Valley counties. In that blinding snow, flashes of in-cloud lightning were seen. Muffled thunder soon followed, heralding the unusual event.

With the central pressure of the coastal storm below 29 inches of mercury, winds increased that Saturday afternoon and continued to blow into Sunday morning the 14th. Sustained speeds of 15 to 30 mph were common, with stronger gusts occasionally battering the countryside.

Snow drifts pictureHuntington’s highest gust was 52 mph. The dry snow was blown into drifts of 10 to 12 feet through the mountainous counties. Rural areas in the lowlands had 4 to 8 foot drifts. Early that Saturday evening, while struggling to pull my 2 children on a large toboggan through the deserted streets of Charleston, snow was being whipped around. Lots of snow was blowing off of roof tops. Even for a sheltered urban area, it was impressive.

Since the storm was predicted and it hit on a weekend, most local residents simply stayed home. However, many travelers on the interstates became stranded.

In the Bluefield vicinity of Mercer County, about 2,000 people were taken in by numerous agencies. Travelers found shelter at hospitals, restaurants, rest stops, and even large grocery stores. A few campers and fishermen were stranded but safe. Some deaths can be directly attributed to the storm. For example, 3 men in West Virginia died from exposure. In the aftermath of the storm, even more men died from overexertion when shoveling the snow.

The snow ended that Sunday morning the 14th, with sunshine returning by afternoon. Of course, it took several days for life to return to its normal routine. Some newspaper headlines included "Whiteout, History’s Meanest 20 inches" from the Huntington Herald Dispatch. The Parkersburg Sentinel had "The Great Dig-Out Begins".

Snow-covered cars pictureNo overall state records for snow were broken for West Virginia, but several sites had new records. At Beckley, the 28.2 inches of snow in 24 hours and the 30 inches on the ground were both records. At Bluefield, the 18.3 inches of snow in 24 hours and the 24 inches of snow on the ground were also records. However, these records for Beckley and Bluefield were later surpassed by storms in January of 1996 and 1998. However, as of this writing, the Blizzard of 1993 still hold records for Huntington, Parkersburg, Charleston, and Morgantown. At Huntington, the

21.8 inches of snowfall in 24 hours, the 22.6 inches for total storm snowfall, and the 22 inches on the ground remain records for that river city. In the Mid Ohio Valley at Parkersburg, the 20 inches of snowfall in 24 hours broke the record that had stood the test of time since 1890. At Charleston, the 17.2 inches of snowfall is their 24 hour snowfall record. For Morgantown, the 23.8 inches of snowfall in 24 hours is still their record.

When a major snow storm arrives, stay safe, but try to enjoy nature’s rare show. We can predict some storms better than others. It’s best to be prepared for these extremes during the winter months. For example, less than 10 months after this storm, a sudden burst of heavy wet snow in early January of 1994, left many residents without electricity for days.

While we wait for the next big snow storm, check your photo albums for pictures from March, 1993. County and state emergency officials should review their logs/records, plus what was learned from this massive storm. Relive the Blizzard of March, 1993 with relatives and coworkers.

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