OHIO VALLEY — Twenty-five years ago Southern Ohio and Western West Virginia experienced a winter storm matching any that had come before it, and surpassing any that have come since.
What has been called the storm of the century dropped more than 20 inches of snow in Gallia County and brought along wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour. While everyone in high school is too young to remember, and nearly everyone in college, this storm left an impact on local residents as one of the worst in memory.
“That storm was pretty unique. The reason it was unique is because normally when a low pressure bombs out, meaning it really intensifies rapidly, it does so further north, usually off Cape Hatteras off the east coast,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Michael Kisner. “However this storm rapidly intensified across the southeast US and it broke pressure records all across the southeast US.”
Kisner explained the system was formed when three main jet streams phased across the southern United States along the Gulf of Mexico bringing large amounts of cold air with it. When they phase together like that, the low ends up intensifying rapidly. Once it hit the Florida panhandle it turned north along the east coast breaking low pressure records and dropping the most snow in a 24 hour period on record for numerous towns and regions from Florida into Canada. The trajectory and phasing of the jet streams helped make it a unique system.
“It it was generally in a 25-hour period was when the bulk of it fell,” said Kisner.
Across West Virginia, particularly in the mountainous regions, snowfall reached as high as one to three feet, with some sites reaching well above three feet of accumulation.
According to the Monday, March 15 edition of the Gallipolis Daily Tribune, the storm produced a paralyzing effect on the area. Traffic and truckers along US 35 were stranded along the side of the road. Then governor of Ohio George Voinovich had declared a weather emergency following the snowfall, which occurred in a 24-hour period.
“It was my first weekend back to work at HMC-G after having child number three on Christmas Eve. My van got stuck in the parking lot, but I had to get home to that baby so I started walking,” said Faith McKinniss. “I got picked up by a friend of my husband who was out and about in his 4 wheel drive helping folks wherever he saw a need. So I got home to that baby and he didn’t have to go hungry.”
The road situation following the initial 24-hour period of snowfall showed little improvement. Despite the increased efforts of Highway crews, only the main roads were accessible to the public by Sunday night, and even those had to be four wheel drive vehicles. The temperature rose to 44 degrees that day, but reached two degrees overnight.
The weather was so crippling that the West Virginia National Guard responded to the area to assist residents. One volunteer at the time, remembered the National Guard basing out of the fire station and working with volunteers to clear roads and help the public.
“Went out clearing trees from roads, delivering food and water, and helping the stranded. Farmers were on tractors with blades plowing snow from the back roads,” said former volunteer firefighter Mark Williams.
The Ohio National Guard was also in the area assisting with clearing debris and getting food and water to trapped residents. A medical support unit from Columbus arrived in Gallia County early in the morning that Sunday with 15 members, four ambulances, and a Humvee and stayed through noon on Monday. An engineering unit from Portsmouth was also on hand with eight members and eight vehicles to assist in clearing debris.
During the peak hours of the blizzard travel was impossible. Wreckers, four wheel drives, and emergency vehicles became stranded when responding to calls while the snow was still falling. Saturday afternoon volunteers from Gallipolis fire Department went out along US 35 to rescue stranded motorists, some of which had to remain in their cars for two to three hours before help arrived.
The days leading up to that cold and snowy Saturday were similar to what has been experienced lately in the area; snow flurries, highs ranging in the fifties, and lows in the twenties. Greg Frazier was working the midnight shift with the Gallipolis Department at the time and recalled how cold it really was.
“I was working in law enforcement at the time. It was very cold and very hard to get around. There weren’t any horrible car wrecks because you couldn’t go fast enough to crash,” said Frazier. “I’m sure there was a house fire or something very bad like that because it was very difficult to get to. I was working midnight’s back then and we were still out doing foot patrols and checking doors like they do now. The wind was nonstop for a few days, there was lots of drifts in the county, massive snow drifts.”
At the time Kevin Kelly worked for the University of Rio Grande with the Signal, the student newspaper of the time.
“I was informed by Hobart Wilson Jr. that the Sunday Times-Sentinel did get out, but not much outside of Gallipolis because the roads were either still untreated or dangerous,” said Kelly. “Once the storm was finished early Saturday, the weather was calm and overcast, and continued to moderate through Sunday. By the time I took The Signals, Rio Grande’s student newspaper, into the Gallipolis Tribune for printing on Monday, the main roads had cleared and the whole thing seemed like a bad memory, to tell the truth.”
Despite the crippling snow, life still went on during the blizzard and its’ aftermath, albeit much slower. Two stacks were being erected at Gavin at the time, 830-foot tall concrete pillars that contained six scrubbing units to clean the exhaust from coal burning. Talks were being held of constructing a new airport for the region either in Rodney or in Bidwell to meet the future aviation needs of the area.
“I was a young 4H member and knew that I would be taking a feeder calf that had yet to be born on my grandparents farm,” said Brittany Beman. “When he decided to come during the snow storm, I knew Blizzard would be the perfect name for my baby Hereford calf. I remember there being a lot of snow and that was my first experience with a blizzard, also my last, for now.”
Many have called this storm the storm of the century. The factors that created it all had to come together simultaneously in order to earn that name. After the snow and ice melted, life went back to normal. Some winter storms have been comparable in the years since, however none reach the level of snow and ice in such a short time as the super storm of 1993.
Reach Morgan McKinniss at 740-446-2342 ext 2108.