This is a blog post I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I was reading one of Damon’s recent blogs, and he mentioned the March storm of 1993. This got me thinking about that storm and how it affected my life. If you grew up in Central Oklahoma, a weather day you probably can’t forget is May 3rd, 1999….for me, it’s March 13th, 1993.
Let me set the stage. I was 16-years-old, a sophomore in high school. I had lived in Crystal River, Florida my entire life. If you heard of manatees, you’ve heard of Crystal River. It’s a small town right on the west coast of Florida. A six-mile river connects the Gulf of Mexico to the fresh, spring fed waters of Crystal Bay. Our family home was on a man-made canal off of the bay. A fresh water canal right behind the house was a nice way to grow up, and a good way to stay cool in the summer.
And summer is when you’d expect to see the devastating effects of weather in Florida..after all, that’s when hurricane season was. In 1985, we had gotten lucky when Hurricane Elena did a u-turn right off the coast (the center was projected to cross over Crystal River). Even at my young age I could tell my parents were worried, they didn’t think we’d have a house standing the next day. This time, we weren’t as lucky.
It was early Saturday morning, especially by teenager standards. My Dad woke me up around 7:15am and said I had to get dressed and help him move water pumps from the seawall, as water was coming over it. I remember being tired enough not to really understand, but I go dressed and headed outside. It didn’t take long to wake-up, the temperature was in the upper 30s and the wind was a good 30-50mph, a chill to the air I had never felt in Florida before.
Water was lapping over the seawall, and there were whitecaps in our canal! I helped my Dad move the water pumps and asked him what was going on. He said a storm was headed our way and the tidal surge was supposed to be significant.
As the morning wore on, the water kept coming. It wasn’t long before half of the backyard was underwater, and the water was beginning to move around the house and come up the driveway. Remember, 50+ mph winds were driving this water. I think even then, we didn’t believe the water would actually make it to the house.
We watched as my Dad’s 300ZX slowly was engulfed by water. The car’s computer was under the driver’s seat, and when the water reached that part of the car, the horns and lights went crazy. A sad, but somewhat amusing end.
I think that was the only lighter moment of the day, it got serious quick. The water kept coming at a fever pitch and people started to panic. We looked across the canal and saw an elderly man and woman getting into the plastic part of a wheelbarrow, as if to use it as a life raft. Luckily, they thought the better of it and headed back inside. By that time, they were in waist-high water.
The news of the flooding must have spread quickly, because we noticed onlookers driving by, with no business being in the neighborhood but to watch houses succumb to the water. Some onlookers watching from a humpback bridge were in for a surprise. The water rose so fast, it flooded the road and only the bridge was above water. Several people had to be rescued by airboats, and I bet none of them lived near our neighborhood. I saw all of this from my backyard.
Soon the inevitable happened, the water made it to the house. I was sitting in the living room, and you could hear the lapping of the water against the walls. Soon, water started to seep in from the doors, enough so we actually had to open the doors and let the water in, as if it were an invited guest. I remember walking into my bedroom, ankle-deep in water, not believing this all just happened in a matter of hours.
The water stayed in the house for a couple of hours. As a reference, our home was 9 feet above sea-level and we had four inches to a foot of water in the house, so a tidal surge of about 10 feet. As the low-pressure area moved northeast, the winds swung around to the north and drug all the water back out, just like the tide. The low was so strong that in two hours, there was hardly any water left in the canal! A tidal swing of about 20 feet!
As bad as that day was, everyone we knew was fine. I think the worst part came the next day, we had no power, and woke up to rotting carpet. The wind had driven in not only fresh water, but salt water from the Gulf, and it was making the carpet stink. We spent most of the day pulling all of the carpet outside of the house, as did our neighbors. It looked like a neighborhood carpet sale.
Because it was salt water, they had to completely gut the house of the lowest four feet of dry wall, we lost all of our furniture and were out of the house for six months. We were fortunate, my parents had flood insurance and we were able to find a nice place to stay where the house was being rebuilt. Some of my friends were not as fortunate.
This same storm moved up the East Coast and became “The Blizzard of 1993”, and to some, “The Storm of the Century”. The weather records it broke are far to numerous to mention here. One that does stick in my head though is that Birmingham, Alabama got 18 inches of snow. Are you kidding me? What a storm.
As I wrote this blog, reliving this experience reminded me of how it affected my sense of how great weather can impact our lives and the respect we must give mother nature and extreme weather events. I try to use the respect I gained for weather when I was 16 to help me when forecasting and dealing with Oklahoma’s extreme weather.