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Blizzard of 1993: The hurricane with snow!

Blizzard of 1993: The hurricane with snow!

'It's definitely the most powerful storm to strike the region in decades'
Blizzard of 1993: The hurricane with snow!
Robert Russell shovels snow on sidewalks off Chrisler Avenue in Schenectady shortly after the blizzard of 1993.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

The big snow came on Saturday, March 13, 1993.

Strong winds and tall drifts were part of a massive late winter storm that -- 25 years ago this week -- dropped 26.6 inches of snow in the Capital Region.

Meteorologists called it a "superstorm," and the bad weather proved deadly. Seven local people lost their lives in the two-day event.

"It came across Florida," said John Quinlan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany. "There were 50 tornadoes across Florida the day before it hit here. The storm came straight up the Eastern seaboard."

The trouble started with a low pressure system that moved out of the Gulf of Mexico and headed north along the East Coast, dropping the barometric pressure to record levels at many locations along the way.

"It affected the entire eastern third of the U.S.," Quinlan said in an interview last week. "It was just so widespread. There was snow from Alabama all the way up the Eastern seaboard. Part of our forecast area received as much as 40 inches of snow."

The storm became the second largest March snowstorm to ever hit the Capital Region, well behind the 46.7-inch storm that clobbered New York 130 years ago -- March 11-14, 1888.

The two storms remain the two top all-time storms for snowfall in the region's history.

In the 1993 nor'easter, swirls began around dawn on March 13 and quickly covered bare grass and dry pavement. Quinlan and other meteorologists weren't even on the job; 200 weather watchers were in Saratoga Springs, participating in the Northeast Storm Conference.

Meteorologists who were working raved about the system that quickly cloaked the Capital Region.

"It's definitely the most powerful storm to strike the region in decades," said meteorologist Anthony Cristaldi at the National Weather Service in Albany.

"This is like a hurricane with snow," said Devin Dean, a forecaster at the Atmospheric Science Research Center at the University at Albany, as he watched the snow fall.

Five of the seven deaths occurred when people were stricken shoveling snow. A man was stricken outside his apartment on Union Street in Schenectady. Another man, in Caroga Lake, was using his snowblower when he was struck by a passing car and killed.

Disrupting everything

Here's what else happened (or didn't happen):

-- Meteorologists reported 8 inches of snow fell during a two-hour stretch Saturday night. By that time, Gov. Mario Cuomo had declared a state of emergency for all of New York.

-- The annual St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Albany was canceled. In Troy, the parade became a study in green and white. Marchers competed with the snow and wind for about 20 minutes before a crowd of 150.

-- Airplane and train departures, basketball games and weddings all were postponed.

-- The state Thruway, from Woodbury in Orange County to Rochester, closed at 3:30 p.m. Interstate 88 and the Adirondack Northway also closed.

-- Nineteen shelters in operation in Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties nearly filled to capacity.

-- Some restaurants did little business. Others did a lot.

"We're getting tons of phone calls to find out if we're open," said David Theberge at Holmes and Watson in Troy, in a conversation with a Daily Gazette reporter. "We're right near the Super 8 Motel where a lot of people landed after getting stranded on the Northway."

-- Supermarkets were packed the Friday before the storm. Locals correctly believed they would be snowed in for a few days; one store reported full lines with every cash register aisle open.

-- Repairs crews from the Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. -- now National Grid -- were busy in Ballston Spa. Customers lost power for two hours.

The power company was prepared for extra work -- five line crews were assigned to each one of Niagara Mohawk's four operating districts. The snow did not become heavy enough to damage trees and push branches into lines.

-- Snowplows were out all night, and kids played all day Sunday. They built snow forts and climbed tall snowbanks to touch tops of street signs.

-- Local fans of the "Indiana Jones" film series missed actor Harrison Ford's brief return to the role. Ford starred in a three-minute prologue to that night's televised episode of "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles," but a local weather update at 8 p.m. cut into the beginning of the show. Ironically, the character was caught in a snowstorm during the introductory scenes.

-- The Capital District Garden and Flower Show, titled "Reflections of Spring," attracted few people.

"It's not the kind of show you can do the next weekend," said show coordinator Brenda Ladd, in a 1998 interview with The Daily Gazette. "The facility was already booked and the plants were primed to be in full bloom that week. I remember how devastating it was; we had people working on it all year."

Like other weekend travelers, Quinlan couldn't go anywhere. Roads in the Capital Region, roads all over the state, were closed.

"I remember the intense snow and the big drifts," Quinlan said, adding his was one of the first vehicles allowed on the Northway when it reopened on Sunday. He had to reach work; Albany's National Weather Service office was then located at Albany International Airport.

"Driving that distance and seeing no other cars on the road, it was a surreal experience," Quinlan said.

He added that the 1993 storm was different from other storms because it affected so many people. While Schoharie County received 40 inches of snow during the recent March 2 storm, Quinlan said, and 36 inches fell in parts of Vermont last Wednesday, people in multiple states received shares of the '93 blizzard.

'Kevin's Snow'

Like Quinlan, Chris Aziz of Guilderland had to stay off the road. But Aziz wanted to travel; she went into labor with her fourth child early Sunday morning, and Guilderland police and emergency medical personnel decided the best bet was a home delivery.

Town highway personnel cleared the Aziz driveway on Morningside Drive, to accommodate an ambulance. Son Kevin was born at 3:30 a.m. Mother and child then took an ambulance ride to Bellevue Maternity on Route 7, with father David along for the trip.

Chris Aziz, now 59, said she is always reminded about her son's birthday.

"During the past 24 years, there's been snow on his birthday or in a 48-hour window around his birthday," she said. "We call it Kevin's snow."

Bunches of emergency people were inside and outside the Aziz home. Aziz said neighbors later told her they listened to the drama over radios set to police frequencies.

"It was kind of surreal, actually," said Aziz, who no longer lives on Morningside. She and her husband remain town residents.

"When we were finally at the hospital and everybody was finally gone and it was just David and me, it was like, 'What the heck just happened?'" Aziz added.

Kevin will turn 25 on Wednesday. He now lives in Sunnyvale, California. He and wife Ashley are expecting their second child later this year.

Storm recollections

Daily Gazette readers shared their memories of the storm through social media.

* "I used to live on North Church Street in the Stockade at the time. Once the storm started ... I watched a parked car next door go from seeing the whole car to not seeing it at all once the storm stopped. And walking in it was like a white desert wasteland. Nobody could get out and drive so we walked and it was like walking in sand!" ----- Gerald Plante

* "I was a freshman at SUNY Albany. We jumped off the side of Indian Quad into the snow banks, and sledded on cafeteria trays." ----- Pam Baldassari

* Almost two weeks overdue, went to market, stocked up on food. Was ready to hunker down for the weekend. My little one waited til Monday to send me off into labor and off to the hospital. It was one long ride from Niskayuna to St. Peter's, but I made it. Roads were a mess. Still call her my blizzard baby." ----- Patricia Finn

 * "Remember an article in the paper where some guy yelled at the mailman to stop walking on top of his car. Mailman didn’t know there was a car under his feet." ----- Barbara Niedhammer

* "I lived on Monroe Street off Erie Boulevard and took my daughter to Cumberland Farms for milk. I pulled her in her sled she got for Christmas and a Gazette reporter interviewed us and printed our interview in the Gazette but didn’t take our picture." ----- Deb Deeb

* "I was working for AT&T as a phone operator in Colonie and had to go to work that day and the next few. Was stopped by several policemen stating that the road was closed. Still kept going and made it into work every day." ----- Stephanie Hayes

10 biggest storms

According to the National Weather Service at Albany, the Capital Region's Top 10 snowstorms are:

1. March 11-14, 1888 - 46.7 inches.

2. March 13-14, 1993 - 26.6 inches.

3. December 25-28 - 1969, 26.4 inches.

4. December 13-15 - 1915, 24.7 inches.

5. January 15-16 - 1983, 24.5 inches.

6. February 14, 1914 - 23.5 inches.

7. December 18-22, 1887 - 23.5 inches.

8. November 24-25, 1971 - 22.5 inches.

9. December 25-26, 2002 - 23.0 inches.

10. January 3-4, 2003 - 20.8 inches 

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at wilkin@dailygazette.com.

 

 

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