The midsection of the United States is in the midst of a “bomb cyclone,” which will stir winds as high as 60 miles per hour and dump a foot of snow in places such as Fargo, North Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa. The storm will only last a day in most places but will close hundreds of miles of highway. Named Winter Storm Ulmer, it has already stranded over 1,000 people on roads. This week is also the 26th anniversary of another blizzard often called the worst ever.
While the new storm is significant, it will not match what are known as Category 5 blizzards. The American Meteorological Society’s Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale counts these as the worst of five levels of storms. They affect people who live primarily in the Northeast, where winter storms usually hit the economy the hardest and hammer transportation systems that handle millions of people.
There have been only two such storms in the past half-century. These include the massive “Storm of the Century” that hit the middle and northeast United States in 1993. That storm lasted from March 12 until March 15 and was one of the worst blizzards of all time. It affected over 120 million people, or almost half the U.S. population, and hit an area of 551,948 square miles, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In some areas, snowfall topped four feet. Those levels extended as far south as Tennessee. The beginnings of the storm were near Cuba.
The storm caused 15 tornadoes in Florida and a 12-foot storm surge that killed seven people. A wind gust of 144 miles per hour was recorded on Mount Washington, New Hampshire. The heaviest snow bands ran from the Appalachian Mountains to northern New York State. AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said, “The Blizzard of ’93 is a good example of a ‘snowicane’. It was the granddaddy of ’em all.”
One hallmark of the current blizzard is that it is not accompanied by very cold weather, although it will hit some of America’s coldest cities. Most of the damage will be done by wind and snow. None of this bomb cyclone will match the storm from 26 years ago.