'Snow-a-cane' smashed records in some areas, but not in D.C.-Boston corridor

March 15, 1993|By New York Times News Service

Was it the winter storm of the century?

Scranton, Pa., and Chattanooga, Tenn., certainly have reason to think so. The blizzard of '93 dropped 21 inches of snow in each place, a record in both cases.

But many New Yorkers and other residents of the Washington-Boston corridor need not be accused of an excess of cynical cool if they look at this weekend's snows and ask, "So what else is new?" It all depends on what locality one is talking about, and on how the storm is measured.

Overall, few winter cyclones have inflicted so wide a variety of heavy winter weather -- from snow to rain to sleet to hurricane-force winds to thunderstorms -- on so many places at once. And by at least one criterion, this storm looks peerless: No winter storm so intense has ever affected so vast an area inhabited by so many Americans.

If that is the measure, then it probably was the storm of the century, said Paul G. Knight, a meteorologist at the Pennsylvania State University Weather Communications group.

5 Mr. Knight and his colleagues at State College, Pa., are calling the storm a "snow-a-cane," since it combined the characteristics of a hurricane and a blizzard in one vast weather system.

Winds circulating counter-clockwise around the storm's center, lashed Atlanta and Boston simultaneously.

Still, there were wide differences in the storm's impact. In a broad stretch straddling the Appalachians, reaching from just west of metropolitan New York City to western Pennsylvania and western New York state, it was a first-order blizzard. Two feet of snow was common, and a few spots got three feet.

Pittsburgh's blanket was two feet thick; Syracuse's approached three. Snowdrifts mounted as high as 10 feet. Snow fell on New York City early in the storm, then sleet and in some spots rain.

If it had been all snow, Mr. Knight said, Manhattan might have received 18 inches rather than the foot or so it did get.

That would have equaled the last major winter cyclone to hit the metropolitan area, a monster that dropped 17.6 inches in the city on Feb. 12, 1983. But it would have fallen far short of the New York City record of 26.1 inches on Dec. 26, 1947, not to mention the 21 inches of the blizzard of 1888.

"In no way was it the storm of the century in terms of snow" in the Washington-Boston corridor, Mr. Knight said.

Snow aside, the storm's gigantic rotating air mass created such intensity that atmospheric pressures hit record low readings in many places. In Philadelphia, the 28.43 inches of mercury measured yesterday was a record low, not only for winter storms, but for all storms there.

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