Back Story: One March winter storm that didn't fizzle out

Unlike Wednesday's snowstorm that failed to materialize amid forecasters' dire predictions, the Blizzard of '93 roared into Maryland the weekend of March 13-14 with a wallop, dumping a foot of snow on Baltimore while raking the state with almost hurricane-like winds before racing northward into New England.

The cyclonic storm was born over the Gulf of Mexico on March 12, and at its maximum, it extended from Canada to Central America. It bore down on Cuba, where it killed 10, and then turned its ferocity on the East Coast.

On the morning of March 13, Baltimoreans were greeted with a mixture of snow and rain that later turned into a heavy snow. Predictions ranged from 12 to 18 inches in Baltimore with 2 feet or more in Western Maryland accompanied by blizzard conditions.

While the Eastern Shore was largely spared with soaking rains, the storm's brunt was felt in Central and Western Maryland.

"We're trying to stress to people that this is a very dangerous storm," Ken Shaver, a National Weather Service forecaster at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, told The Baltimore Sun. "The snow will drift as fast as you can plow it over. This is a weekend to stay home and avoid all unnecessary travel."

The storm's center passed over the Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore about 7 p.m. on March 13, and two hours later, Gov. William Donald Schaefer declared a state of emergency.

At 6:20 p.m., as a "measure of the storm's ferocity," reported the newspaper, the barometric pressure sank to 28.51 inches of mercury — the lowest ever recorded in the Baltimore area.

All U.S. and state highways west of Frederick were closed as blizzard conditions reduced visibility to less than 500 feet, while Maryland Army National Guard members traveled in Humvees looking for stranded motorists.

In Central Maryland, more than 110,000 homes and businesses were in the dark as wind gusts of 35 mph to 50 mph continued to howl; winds rose to 70 mph at Martin State Airport in Essex.

BWI closed as well, stranding hundreds of travelers who hunkered down or jammed the bars.

Greyhound gave up operating its buses, as did the Maryland Transit Administration, which canceled bus, light rail and Metro rail operations.

Amtrak suspended service on trains operating westward out of Washington while the speeds of Northeast Corridor trains were reduced from 100 mph to 65 mph.

Events were canceled, including the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, for the first time in 39 years.

"The luck of the Irish is not with us," the parade chairman told The Sun.

For the first time in 30 years, Roman Catholics in Maryland, Delaware and Washington were told they could stay home and skip Mass.

A weather observer in Manchester, Carroll County, told The Sun that he measured 19 inches of snow and recorded wind gusts of 69 mph, while others termed the storm a "winter hurricane."

By Monday, it was all over but the shoveling, as life began returning to normal but schools remained closed. By evening, Interstates 70 and 68 in Western Maryland opened again for traffic.

The storm left three dead in the state.

However, love did triumph over the storm that Saturday, when Kathleen McKernan wed Navy Ensign Paul Fallace at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis.

McKernan took the storm in stride and refused to call off the wedding, even though some relatives and friends from Long Island, N.Y., couldn't make it to Annapolis because of the weather.

"It's incredible," she told The Sun. "My bridesmaid dresses came in wrong, my hairdresser died, a tree fell down and nearly hit my house, and it's a blizzard."

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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