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The Blizzard of 1993 Retold By Putnam Officials

This weekend’s snowfall will ironically happen on the 29th anniversary of one of the greatest snowstorms to ever hit the Upper Cumberland.

The 1993 blizzard brought record snow measurements for some. 26 inches in Jamestown and 20 and a half inches in Crossville still stand as all-time highs.

Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter said some places in the county saw up to 17 inches.

“The big problem with that storm was the drifts,” Porter said. “The wind was really bad during that storm, and so, we had bad snow drifts. I remember had a Ford Bronco as my county vehicle then and hitting snow drifts and having to back up and hit them two or three times to be able to get through and this was on actually roads driving down county roads. It was nothing to see some snow drifts that were six to seven feet tall.”

Porter at the time served as the county’s EMS and 911 Director. Porter said the pace the snow fell was unbelievable. Porter said with every hour that passed, it seemed like several inches accumulated. It happened so quickly that people were trapped in their vehicles and the National Guard had to be activated.

“I knew we were in trouble when I drove home that night and the T-DOT salt trucks out on Highway 111, there was one turned over in the median is the first one I came to,” Porter said. “Then the second one I came to had slid off the side and was stuck. It was so bad you couldn’t see where the road was, and so, they got too close to the edges. I thought that was going to be bad, and it wasn’t very long after that that we had to shut the interstate down out at the 111 exit, so everything east bound was shut down.”

Putnam County EMA Deputy Director Sharon Womack was a part of the emergency response on March 12th. Womack said the community expected snow but not at that level.

“We were all stocked up and ready for a few inches of snow over the weekend,” Womack said. “We had no idea that we were getting a foot coming in on us that was going to pretty much paralyze us for a while. The National Guard was activated. Our emergency services were full out. Our rescue squad was running four-wheel drives all the time doing different things. It turned into a really busy weekend that lasted about 36 hours for us.”

Womack said the response began around 8:00 a.m Saturday morning. Over the next few hours several people started leaving the interstate seeking safety. Womack said the county partnered with the Red Cross and established a general populations shelter at the old high school where Avery Trace is today.

“A little bit later in the day the hospital at that time the new part had been built, but the sixth floor had not been filled in,” Womack said. “It was just one big huge area open. They contacted us and said if you need more shelter space because they knew what was going on. They knew what we were facing. We will open the sixth floor and shelter people, and so we were like oh this is fantastic. So we started a triage process at that time.”

Womack said those with health conditions were sent to the hospital for shelter. As for others, Womack said community efforts continued with several other entities opening its doors.

“We did have people in Monterey that made it that far before Monterey Mountain closed, and we felt it was too dangerous to try and bring them back down the mountain,” Womack said. “The First Baptist Church in Monterey opened, and they sheltered people up there. They took them in and feed them and everything. We had a van traveling through and people had 10 cats with them in their van, so we contacted Copeland’s Veterinary Clinic. We knew they had boarding facilities, and they sent someone down and received the 10 cats.”

Womack said by the end of the weekend, 406 people, 10 cats, three dogs and one hamster were sheltered. Womack said by Monday, the snow cleared with all Putnam County residents surviving to tell the tale.

Local weather observer Michael Detwiler said snow in March especially at this magnitude is a very rare occurrence, but the perfect conditions made the superstorm possible.

“You have to have a strong cold front,” Detwiler said. “The strong cold front brings the northern wind, and then, you have to have the low pressure system coming up out of the gulf and tracking basically to our southeast. So kind of draw a line from say Destin, Florida up to Atlanta, Georgia and then up to Washington D.C. Draw that line and that low pressure system brings the precipitation that we need and then the strong cold front drops the temperatures.”

Womack said come three weeks later after the eventful weekend, the head of the Nashville Weather Service came to the county for a training. Womack said the agency then learned that Putnam County was actually spared.

“They noticed that there was a little jig-jag that it took part of the way in,” Womack said. “We got a foot with drifts up to 18 inches. East Tennessee they got hit with three feet and drifts up to five feet. Our friend from the Nashville Weather Service told us if that little jig-jag hadn’t of happened that three feet would have hit us, because it was aiming dead center.”

The 1993 blizzard is now known to some as the Storm of the Century. The cell stretched from Canada to Honduras. Overall, the storm ranked as Extreme, or a Category 5, on the Regional Snowfall Index.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, over 50 inches of snow were measured at the Great Smokey Mountains. 15 tornadoes spawned in Florida. Over 10 million people were without power and over $5 billion dollars in damage occurred.

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