Paul is a full-time fifth-grade teacher at an elementary school in Fairfield ... Paul is an Emmy award winner, five-time Emmy nominee, and four-time winner of the Connecticut Associated Press Broadcasters' Association award for 'Best Weathercast' ... The local weather journal is a two-time winner of the Communicator Award of Distinction ... Paul was inducted into the Housatonic Community College Hall of Fame and received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2012 ... Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulPiorek ...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Unforgettable Day in Local Weather History

Three of the most unforgettable weather events in recent history happened on this date. Two powerful storms and an all-time record high temperature for the season occurred on March 13, highlighting the unpredictability of the weather this time of the year. If you're of a certain age, I'm sure you remember all three weather "events."

As hard as it may seem to believe, the temperature climbed to an incredible 84 degrees at Sikorsky Memorial Airport on March 13, 1990. That established a record high for the date, month, and the Winter season. The normal high temperature for this date is only 45 degrees, and the normal low is a chilly 31.

During March, a battle rages between the Spring and Winter seasons, and that makes predicting the temperatures during this month as difficult as any time during the year. The amount of daylight continues to grow each day, and the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring, is a week away. But, Old Man Winter has no intentions of packing his bags just yet.

I distinctly remember watching the temperature climb that day due to a strong Westerly wind. The wind direction was extremely important, since the flow didn't come from the cooler waters on Long Island Sound. I was the evening weather anchor at News 12 Connecticut 25 years ago, and our "weather video" showed people flocking to a local beach to soak up the sun and warm temperatures. I'll never forget that day.

Then, just three years later, Saturday, March 13, 1993, the famed Storm of the Century pounded the Eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine. Locally, over a foot of snow fell across southwestern Connecticut, winds gusted over 40 miles an hour, and wind chills hovered at or close to zero throughout the day. It was the second snowiest day on record for March, and it will always be remembered because it affected such a large area.

Very heavy snow accumulated in the south. Birmingham, Alabama, picked up a foot of snow. Snow covered the ground from Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle. The heavy snow spread northward along the East Coast to Maine. On Saturday, March 13, every airport in the Eastern states was closed. Snowfall ranged up to four feet on Mount Mitchell, North Carolina. Atlanta, Georgia, picked up three inches. Chattanooga, Tennessee, received up 21 inches. During the peak of the storm, about 30 percent of the entire country was hit by the rough weather.

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Very warm, humid air moved across central Florida and, combined with the energy of the storm, helped spawn the 27 tornadoes. Winds were clocked at 99 mph on an oil platform off the Louisiana coast. Overall the storm took 285 lives, mostly because of tornadoes. The storm became the costliest nontropical storm in Florida's history. States of emergency were declared throughout the eastern portion of the country. The adjacent map shows the total snowfall for the storm.

I was called in for storm coverage that Saturday morning, and we remained on the air for more than 12 hours. Aside from the heavy snow, what I remember most from that day was the rapidly falling barometer. The pressure dropped to 28.35 inches in parts of New England, which is usually only observed in hurricanes. They peak at almost the exact opposite time of the year. By comparison, the normal average barometer reading for southwestern Connecticut is 30.02 inches.

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The storm was deepening and intensifying as it moved toward New England, and the howling winds didn't let up. In the wake of the storm, back-to-back record low temperatures of 16 and 12 degrees were established on March 14 and 15, respectively, at Sikorsky Airport.

Then, five years ago, a powerful Nor'easter hammered Connecticut and, specifically, Fairfield County. The damaging wind gusts of 60 to 65 miles an hour, flooding rains, massive power outages, impassable roads, and week-long school closings won't soon be forgotten. We received incredible videos and photos of the widespread destruction across southwestern Connecticut. The following photos were sent by News 12 Connecticut viewers.

Storm1

Former Governor M. Jodi Rell announced that the storm caused more than $7 million in damage statewide, and she requested a visit from Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to assess the damage. The Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security estimated $2.8 million worth of damage in Fairfield County alone. Fairfield County qualified for federal disaster assistance.

Storm2

Preliminary damage estimates in Norwalk totaled more than $335,000, and damage to private homes was even greater. Damage to public buildings and parks, and the cost of funding police, fire, and city employee overtime reached about $335,065, according to the city's director of finance. The scoreboard at Brien McMahon High School was the single most expensive piece of property destroyed in the storm. It was estimated at $18,000.

Storm3

Stamford officials estimate private property damage at $3.58 million. Damage to public property was estimated at $262,000, and total overtime for city crews at $143,086. Tens of thousands of people lost power, and three school systems were closed for a week. Heavy rain delivered up to one-half inch per hour during the afternoon of March 13. Here is a sampling of area rainfall totals for that day:
  • New Canaan: 4.34"
  • Easton: 4.33"
  • Wilton: 4.01"
  • Stratford: 3.33"
  • Woodbridge: 3.12"
  • Westport: 2.97"
  • Milford: 2.91"
Storm4

This is certainly a date which will be remembered for dramatic weather three times over the last quarter century.

Paul