storm is a popular name for two different seasonal events. One
begins with a clash of warm and cold air and results in the
typical winter storm. The second is born when a hurricane leaves
the tropics and transforms itself into a super powerful version
of a winter storm.
The common winter storm is born when a cool mass of air, dropping
down from the Arctic, clashes with a warmer mass of air. The
area where these air masses meet is called a front, named after
the battle grounds of World War I, because it is usually a place
of violent weather commonly associated with fierce wind, rain,
snow, and hail. As these fronts move across the mid-latitudes
of the United States, they produce far ranging winter storms.
hurricane may grow to resemble a powerful winter storm, but
begins life as a tropical storm. Hurricanes tend to move along
specific seasonal paths, known as storm tracks, which relate
to long-standing patterns in atmospheric circulation. One common
storm track begins in the warm waters of the tropics and then
courses up along the eastern seaboard of the United States.
Tropical storms tend to be small and violent, spinning in a
counter-clockwise motion, and measuring about 60 to 300 miles
in diameter, with powerful wind gusts. The faster they spin,
measured by the speed of the gusting air, the more violent and
dangerous they become. The most violent of these storms, when
the wind speeds surpass 74 miles per hour, are identified by
scientists as hurricanes. They are called typhoons in the North
Pacific and the South China Sea, and cyclones in the Indian
When hurricanes leave the warm tropical waters that spawned
them, they become known as extratropical storms. They also tend
to lose their cyclonic spinning action, and spread into enormously
large storms ranging from 620 to 2,500 miles across, with wind
gusts that can reach 50 miles per hour.
March, 1993, weather satellite photos showed a large mass of
cold air moving across North America, down from the North Pole.
This cold mass of air eventually collided with a warmer mass
in the region above the Gulf of Mexico.
line of powerful thunderstorms formed along the front, drawing
energy from the temperature differentials. The size of the thunderstorms
alarmed many of the meteorologists watching the developing storm,
and they began issuing storm alerts as they watched the thunderclouds
combine into an enormous spinning winter storm.
storm moved onto land during the early hours on Friday morning,
March 12, killing dozens of people, and devastating parts of
the Florida coast. As the storm approached land, high winds
and low pressures carried the sea along with it. High winds
and low pressures can raise the water level in the ocean. This
effect is known as storm surge, and if it gets trapped against
a cove or bay, it can raise the water 10 to 20 feet higher than
normal. Large waves, some up to 40 feet high, can ride on top
of the surge, and come crashing over the shores and deep inland.
The storm then began to climb along the East Coast. As the storm
moved across the eastern seaboard, torrential rains turned into
heavy snows falling from Alabama to New York, virtually paralyzing
the eastern third of the country. The storm eventually spread
and covered more than 2,000 miles. Strong winds, created by
rapidly dropping pressures, blew up and down the East Coast.
Local authorities were totally unprepared for the intensity
of the assault. The interstate highways became impassable and
millions of people lost electrical power. New York City was
brought to a standstill. A foot of snow fell from Alabama to
Maine, and freezing temperatures set new records across the
The final accounting included 243 deaths, and about two billion
dollars in damage. The storm had forced the closure of all the
airports in the eastern United States, and created great chaos.
Nearly 100 million people in 26 states had their lives affected
in ways both great and small by the Storm of the Century.
-- By Micah Fink