And when that weather involves the month of March, the wise will take heed. It’s that unpredictable.
As we reminisced in Tuesday’s edition, we now are in the middle of a frozen anniversary. Yes, 20 years ago — as of Tuesday and today — much of the Deep South and Southeast Tennessee, including our hometown, became the Southern version of Little New York City. Thanks to what eventually was tagged the “The Storm of the Century” or “Blizzard of ’93,” Ole Man Winter flexed his icy muscle and snowballed our city with an estimated 21 inches of white stuff.
The whole mess started slowly on a Friday evening as area residents returned home after another long day, and week, of work. As the snow fell, the wind blew and the temperatures dropped. By Saturday morning, seemingly gale-force winds piled deep snowdrifts against homes and buildings, parked vehicles were submerged in the accumulation and Cleveland’s record whiteout rewrote history books, defied imaginations and added another chapter to local annals of meteorological mayhem.
Towering trees came crashing to earth. Some found ground. Many instead rested atop houses and a plethora of wooden giants snapped power lines with splintered trunks or with snow-weary limbs that were tossed about like toothpicks.
In brief, it was a mess — a cold, frozen, wintry, snowbanked mess.
Many lost electrical service. Most had little water. Roads were impassable. And with the blanket of white that covered our region, it is appropriate to remember Cleveland as an unsuspecting Ghost Town.
A look back into our Cleveland Daily Banner news archives helps to tell the story. In a combined Sunday-Monday edition — because our newspaper could not publish the traditional weekend issue — we found these tidbits of coverage, dated March 14-15:
In a front page story, Banner staff writer Allen Mincey — who rode out most of the blizzard at the newspaper office because at the time he lived in Etowah — wrote, “Many area industries saw the devastating effects of the area’s largest snowstorm firsthand as buildings were unable to sustain the weight of the snow and collapsed.”
In a front page story, Banner Executive Editor Corky Hoover wrote, “[Cleveland Utilities] General Manager Tom Wheeler said Monday morning that progress is being made, but that a water emergency will continue for an indefinite time — perhaps a matter of several more days.”
Hoover’s story also reported, “Pat Ensley, manager of operations for the electric system, said that at one time 35-40 percent of the 23,000 customers were without power, and that local crews, aided by teams from Memphis, Jackson and Nashville, worked around the clock to get power restored.”
In a separate story, this one published on Page 5, Mincey wrote, “People from different parts of the United States and Canada, and some even farther, had to find emergency lodging in the local area as they became snowbound ...”
In an Editorial Page column, Managing Editor George Starr — who admitted “loving it” until reality began to sink in by midnight Friday — wrote, “... When I awoke Saturday morning, it was unbelievable. I thought I’d seen it all, but this old Southern boy had never seen snow like this.”
In a dual-bylined, front page story on Tuesday, March 16, Banner staff writers Carla Gwaltney and Barb Hardee wrote, “Milk and bread. That’s what people wanted this weekend, and often couldn’t find. Runs on milk and bread before the storm lowered supplies ...”
As the milk and bread ran out, more weekend snow kept blowing in.
It was a winter storm worth the living and a story of community survival worth the telling.
In 20 years, the adventure has been told and retold, and then told again by those who endured it, those who had never seen such and those who — frankly — hope to never see such again.
Happy Anniversary, Blizzard of ’93!
May we see you again ... but only in memory.