Reflecting on the Historic Ice Storm of 1994 (Credit: National Weather Service Jackson, MS, NOAA)
If one were to bring up the year 1994 in the Southeast, most everyone will immediately recall the incredible ice storm that occurred that year. During a 4-day span in February 1994, parts of Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi experienced the worst ice storm of the decade, if not the century. Mississippi was hit the worst, but the people in the surrounding states were also affected heavily and would remember this event for decades to come.
On February 9, 1994, an unusually deep trough with an unusually large cold front was perturbating through the Southeast with the deepest part of the trough extending as far down as southern Texas. Ahead of the front, temperatures were in the lower 70’s Fahrenheit across the delta and into Alabama; however, behind the front, temperatures had plummeted to the mid 30’s in Memphis and even to single digits further behind the frontal boundary. For Memphis, there was a recorded temperature drop of almost 40°F overnight as the front passed through. Moderate rain showers began to develop behind the front as moisture from the Gulf of Mexico rushed in, causing a changeover to wintry precipitation by evening as temperatures behind the front continued to drop.
By 6:00 AM CST on February 10th, the front had pushed as far south as the panhandle of Florida. Meanwhile, freezing rain and sleet continued to fall in the areas behind it with accumulations of up to one inch of pure ice by morning. By this point, the wind became southwesterly across much of the Southeast, causing moisture to accrue over the cold polar air mass. The front began to slow as it progressed through southern Alabama and the panhandle of Florida, which allowed a deep area of low-pressure out of the Gulf of Mexico to collide with the already cool, moist air mass behind the front. This caused even more precipitation to occur over the following day, February 11th, which added another 1-2 inches of freezing rain over Memphis and northwest Mississippi that had already had an inch of frozen precipitation from the days prior. Unfortunately, for many across the area, power lines and trees were heavily affected by the weight of the ice, causing the trees to fall and break, and the power lines to sag, and even worse, topple over. Many in the area were without power for days and cellphones had no service. Over the event, a total of 3-6 inches of ice had accumulated in Mississippi and Tennessee, with the higher amounts accrued in the Mississippi Delta. One power line worker reported ice on a power line that was measured to be one foot in diameter!
On February 12th, wind flow remained southwesterly, but temperatures began to warm up across the area to begin a rather slow thaw. An area of high pressure was approaching and passed through the area on February 13th, which led to clear conditions and an eventual complete melting of all the frozen precipitation.
It is estimated that a total of 741,000 people were without water during the event, and 4,700 miles of power lines were down causing 750,000 people without power across Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas. Most people had power restored within a week, but some were without power for an entire month. Overall, this event caused over $3 billion in damage across the Southeast.
This event is why most people who live in this region take winter weather so seriously. This system over-performed compared to what was forecasted to occur; however, the sophistication of forecasting and forecasting instruments have substantially increased since then so if this event were to happen again, it would be relayed ahead of time so residents can prepare appropriately.
©2020 Meteorologist Ashley Lennard
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11/11/2021 03:36:41 am
nks for sharing the article, and more importantly, your personal experience mindfully using our emotions as data about our inner state and kndf,mqefqef owing when it’s better to de-escalate by taking a time out are great tools.dscfdavgdsjnfqefqa Appreciate you reading and sharing your story since I can certainly relate and I think others can to
11/11/2021 04:09:54 am
article, and more importantly, your personal experience mindfully using our emotions as data about our inner state and kndf,mqefqef owing when it’s better to de-escalate by taking a time out are great tools.dscfdavgdsjnfqefqa Appreciate you reading and sharing your story since I can certainly relate and I think others can to
1/13/2022 08:59:42 pm
I was 5 1/2 years old when this storm hit, along with my mother, father and almost 3 yr old baby sister…I can literally still remember my mothers face distinctly as she was standing by the stove warming some water on a propane stove and talking to my father. My sister and I were sitting on the floor of the kitchen with candles lit for light and mom was purposely warming us some bath water over our kitchen stove so we could at least be clean as we were trapped in our house without power or running water. That storm impacted us tremendously, so much that I will never be able to forget it. I have flashes of that entire time during the storm but still don’t remember anything specific in the few years past it.
1/31/2023 11:03:53 am
Because of this storm I shudder every time I hear the words "freezing rain." I was 13 years old and in the 8th grade in the Shoals area of NW Alabama. This was the most impactful weather event in my lifetime because of the impacts it had on our home and family. We were out of electricity for 21 days!!! We cooked on a kerosene heater and listened to a small battery operated radio. We ended up missing so much school that we had to attend on Saturdays for a month to get all of the days made up. It's definitely a scenario that I never want to live through again.
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