"Storm of the Century" 21 Years Later

Before the advent of the internet, only the most historic storms (that weren't hurricanes, of course) gained nicknames as a way to mark their place in history. The most infamous of these storms was one that gained the name "Storm of the Century," or the Superstorm of 1993. 21 years ago today, the superstorm-to-beat-all-superstorms began to organize in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

A strong jet streak (area of enhanced winds in a jet stream) facilitated the explosive development of an area of low pressure on the northern Gulf Coast during the day on March 12. As the low gained organization, it tapped into ample Gulf moisture and turned into a monster. During the late afternoon and early evening on March 12, Mobile, Alabama — down on the Gulf Coast — saw 3" of snow in its largest snowstorm during the 20th century. Some locations near Birmingham saw over a foot of snow.

After raking the southeast, the storm continued towards the Northeast as it strengthened into a monster blizzard that dropped up to three feet of snow in some spots. The storm's heavy, wet snow and extremely strong winds wreaked havoc on power grids, knocking out power to millions.

"Storm of the Century" 21 Years Later

Snow wasn't the only factor that made the Superstorm so devastating. A cold front trailing along the southern side of the storm swept a ferocious squall line across the state of Florida, bringing with it numerous tornadoes and straight-line winds often in excess of 100 mph. As a result of these storms and the blizzard conditions across the rest of the eastern United States, a total of 208 people lost their lives according to the National Weather Service.

In addition to snowfall records, the storm shattered air pressure records across the eastern United States as the barometer dropped to levels usually seen during a major hurricane. The Superstorm of 1993 was one of the strongest extratropical (non-tropical) cyclones ever measured on land. The system was surpassed by the October 2010 "Chiclone" that affected the Great Lakes region when its pressure dropped to an astonishing 955 millibars.

Since the Superstorm of 1993, few storms have come close to rivaling its fury except for the aforementioned "Chiclone" in 2010 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The latter is often contentiously called "Superstorm Sandy" due to its immense size and wide-ranging effects, but Sandy was tropical in nature while the Superstorm of 1993 wasn't.

The 1993 storm has become the analog for storm comparisons ever since, and weather weenies enjoy calling the model's next big fantasy storm "the next Superstorm '93" because it drives clicks like mad from people who remember the ferocity of the one that hit 21 years ago today.

This week's "Winter Storm Vulcan," despite the best hype the weather media can muster, is nowhere near a "Storm of the Century."

[Images via NOAA]