FIRST ALERT: 25 year anniversary of the 'Storm of the Century'

Updated: Mar. 13, 2018 at 9:22 AM EDT
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Satellite view of the Storm of the Century
Satellite view of the Storm of the Century

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF)  March 13th marks the 25th anniversary of what became known as the "Storm of the Century."

The massive storm brought devastation from the deep south through New England and remains one of the strongest winter storms to ever hit the eastern United States. Storm surge and tornadoes struck parts of Florida.  Record snowfall and blizzard conditions developed across Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas all the way to Maine.  The storm was massive enough to directly impact 40% of the US population and leave 10 million people without power.

Across the Grand Strand and Pee Dee, the storm brought wind gusts that reached and exceeded hurricane force followed by record cold temperatures.

According to the National Weather Service, the storm first started to develop on March 12th near the Texas Gulf coast.  The storm system rapidly intensified as it moved across 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.

Severe thunderstorms first impacted Florida in the early morning hours of March 13th. Severe thunderstorms and 11 confirmed tornadoes were reported across Florida, with major thunderstorm wind damage occurring all the way south into Cuba. A study from the Cuban weather service found evidence of wind speeds up to 120 mph from severe thunderstorms spawned there. Strong onshore winds west coast of Florida produced a storm surge up to 12 feet in some areas.

As the storm system moved across southern Georgia the system encountered very cold air across the Deep South. Heavy snow and even blizzard conditions developed from Alabama and Georgia into the western Carolinas and Virginia. All-time records for snowfall totals were set in locations from Birmingham to Atlanta, Chattanooga and  Asheville.  Mt Mitchell, North Carolina reported 50 inches of snow.  Some snow stayed on the ground there until April 12th.

By the early afternoon hours of March 13th, the barometric pressure of the storm system was lower than had been observed with winter storm or hurricane across the interior Southeastern United States. According to the National Weather Service, all-time low pressure records were established in Columbia, Charlotte and Greensboro, even beating out the pressures observed just a few years earlier during Hurricane Hugo's pass through the Carolinas in September 1989.

Across the Eastern Carolinas, the 'Storm of the Century' brought one of the worst wind storms on record.  Widespread damage was reported to homes,  trees, and power lines. While a blizzard raged in the western Carolinas with whiteout conditions and thundersnow, the eastern Carolinas dealt with the wind.  Wind gusts reached 58 mph in Florence, 70 mph in Wilmington and as high as 90 mph in Myrtle Beach. 

The size and intensity of the 'Storm of the Century' was astounding.  The storm moved across the densely populated eastern portion of the nation, with 40% of the population of the United States directly affected by the storm. A report from the  National Climatic Data Center reported numerous deaths from the storm.  The death tolls reached:

            Florida: 44
            Alabama: 16
            Tennessee: 14
            South Carolina: 1
            Georgia: 15
            North Carolina: 19
            Kentucky: 5
            Virginia: 13
            West Virginia: 4
            Maryland: 3
            Pennsylvania: 49
            New York: 23
            Maine: 2

Following the storm, record cold temperatures blasted much of the eastern United States.

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