Is it truly possible that 20 years — two long decades — have come and gone since THAT unprecedented, blustery winter storm blanketed our hometown with some 21 inches of cold, cold white stuff within one weekend?
To any unbelievers in the community, we suggest pulling out those dust-covered scrapbooks from the deepest recesses of the bedroom closet or from the highest bookshelves of the family den, and checking the aging, yellowed newspaper clippings from the Cleveland Daily Banner. Once this is done, now go peer into the bathroom mirror. Whether or not you show it, or even if you don’t want to believe it, you are indeed 20 years older.
We all are.
Yes, on this date two decades ago — March 12, 1993 — what became known to most as The Storm of the Century assaulted many regions of the Deep South, including Southeast Tennessee, with biting winds, viciously low temperatures and almost 2 feet of snow.
If ever a city was paralyzed for a few days, our Cleveland hometown was that city on this historic date.
Businesses closed Friday night and many remained shuttered for the entirety of the weekend and into the following week. Schools closed. Utilities struggled to restore electric power lost to thousands of customers and in some cases were tasked to seek the public’s help in conserving water because of low supplies.
Roofs collapsed atop several industrial plants from the weight of the accumulating snow. Towering trees, and their oversized limbs, crashed to the ground — sometimes on houses, much of the time on power lines.
Cleveland and Bradley County residences began to lose electrical service Friday evening and Saturday morning, and it continued as the strong winds continued to howl and the massive drifts of snow banked against empty buildings, covered porches, buried yards, and submerged winter landscaping and concrete figurines.
Most streets were bare of traffic, their ditches, shoulders and sidewalks no longer visible to the human eye.
Motorists who ventured into this pale sea of the unknown did so at their own risk. Government leaders urged residents to stay at home, remain off the streets and to stay updated on all news developments via battery-powered radios.
Kerosene heaters became the town’s primary source of heat and kerosene the fuel of the day. The fortunate savored the warmth of fireplaces or access to propane. The less fortunate had neither. Most shivered at home under extra layers of clothing, blankets and quilts. Each found ways of staying warm. All found comfort in degrees, whether alone, with families or in small crowds huddled together under a common roof.
Candles became the vision of the night and the light of the day.
Batteries were the people’s choice for personal deliverance from the cold of the dark and the loneliness of seclusion, whether in the form of flashlights or radios, and most of the time both.
Even our own Cleveland Daily Banner could not publish a Sunday edition because employees couldn’t get to work and carriers could not be expected to travel dangerous side streets and treacherous roadways. Instead, a combined Sunday-Monday edition was published with a 75-cent price.
Most remember. Some will never forget.
Local residents began pulling into their driveways on that fateful Friday evening following a long week of work and days of uncertainty about the accuracy of weather forecasters. A light snow began to fall, and unwelcome, icy winds began to blow, as hometown residents entered their warm homes on this eve to another winter weekend.
Some believed. Some didn’t. But this time the meteorologists got it right: Snow ... and lots of it!
Our “Storm of the Century” had arrived.
The “Blizzard of ’93” was upon us.
We can offer a warm chuckle now in the luxury of light and heat. But 20 years ago today and Wednesday, it wasn’t so funny.