10-year hazardous weather not likely

January 29, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

The 10-year weather curse is not expected to materialize this winter. Scioto County Emergency Management Agency Director Kim Carver said the January thaw has provided some significant floods in the past, but won’t this year. There has been no snow pack and no huge rain events to top over creeks and streams.

“Southern Ohio has been fortunate enough to escape severe winter weather the past couple of years,” Carver said. “But that hasn’t always been the case. There have been winters to remember for a lifetime.”

In 1993 Portsmouth, as well as the rest of Scioto County, recorded what has come to be known as the “blizzard of the century.” The Portsmouth area was inundated with more than 20 inches of blowing snow. Cars were buried, everything was shut down, and even roofs collapsed under the heavy snow.

Described as one of the largest and most intense storms in a century, the March 12-14, 1993 blizzard paralyzed the eastern seaboard with record cold, snow, and wind. Southern cities not accustomed to severe winter weather like Birmingham, Alabama, Atlanta, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee were buried by paralyzing snows and frozen by unseasonable cold. The severe cold following the storm preserved much of the snow, prolonging travel nightmares for a couple days over the south where most roads were never plowed. The combined effects of high wind and heavy wet snow downed thousands of miles of power lines leaving millions of people in the dark for up to a week in some cases over the south.

As heavy snow continued to cripple the deep south, Tennessee and Ohio valleys, as well as the Appalachians, a tornado outbreak developed on March 12 and devastated parts of Florida.

It also bears mentioning that in 1994, one year later, 30 inches of snow and below zero conditions existed for 10 days. The area recorded one fatality and the National Guard was activated.

On the 10th anniversary of the 1993 “blizzard of the century,” Scioto County was hit with its worst ice storm in many people’s memories. In fact, Carver says the 2003 ice storm was a 100-year event for southern Ohio.

The winter of 2002-03 delivered its biggest punch on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2003. In central Ohio, it was eight inches of snow that brought traffic to a standstill. But in southern Ohio, it was a steady, slushy freezing rain that did the damage. It fell throughout that night and on into the day. Church bells were silent and sanctuaries were empty.

G. Sam Piatt, writing in the Daily Times, recorded, “even before daybreak Sunday, trees, carrying an unbearable burden of ice on their limbs, cracked like rifle shots, falling in many areas across power lines.”

Thousands of homes in southern Ohio and northeastern Kentucky lost power as early as 5 a.m.

Later that Sunday, the Kentucky State Police post at Ashland, Ky., reported 7,000 to 8,000 businesses and homes were without power across Greenup, Boyd and Carter counties.

Hundreds of residents in South Portsmouth, Ky., and South Shore, Ky., lost power as the day progressed and the icy mixture continued to fall.

“They get the power back on in one place and it goes out in another,” Butch Bass, director of emergency services for Greenup County, Ky, said at the time.

By 5:30 p.m. Sunday, as many as 15,000 homes and businesses in Wheelersburg and other sections of eastern Scioto County were without power, an American Electric Power Co. spokesman said.

Much of our region from Vanceburg and Greenup Kentucky to Portsmouth, Gallipolis and Ripley-Spencer-Sutton W.Va saw life come to a standstill as power was knocked out to tens of thousands. Freezing rain weighed down trees and power lines ultimately cutting out electrical utilities. In Charleston and Chapmanville, to name a few towns, sleet accumulated to a depth of four inches. This would be the worst ice storm in more than 50 years for many.

Thousands of acres of southern Ohio woodlands suffered heavy damage from the February, 2003 ice storm and state foresters encouraged landowners to plan to salvage downed trees, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. State foresters received reports of damaged trees in Scioto, Adams, Gallia, Jackson, Lawrence and Meigs counties.

Ten years after that storm, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources continues controlled burns in Shawnee Forest, still clearing away debris left behind when the heavy ice brought down trees.

Receiving “honorable mention,” in Carver’s memory was the 1978 Ohio River freeze, when the river turned to solid ice and allowed area curiosity seekers to walk from Portsmouth to South Shore.

Despite the 10-year pattern, Carver says no such weather events are expected this season.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com.