They called it “Riday.” The concept? Friday without an F. At the end of every six-week grading period, Robbins School would hold Riday for students who didn’t have an F on their report card. Those students were excused from class for the gymnasium, where they would spend the afternoon playing games and winning prizes.
That was in 1993. It was, I suppose, the brainchild of former RES principal Donnie Branim, who is these days a retired educator in Port Saint Lucie, Fla. Anyway, that’s where I was when the snow started falling on Friday, March 12, 1993.
I was an eighth grade student and I recall looking out the doors of the school’s old gymnasium — since demolished and replaced — to see snow falling. I don’t recall what my reaction was, but it was probably one of surprise.
Meteorologists had been forecasting a significant snowstorm for the entire week. The “B” word (blizzard) had been tossed around for days. But nobody really believed the hype. After all, it had been an unusually warm winter, and there had even been severe thunderstorms just a few days earlier. It had been 60 degrees on Thursday. Accumulating snow? Surely not!
So much hype surrounded the impending blizzard that classes were dismissed almost immediately after the snow began to fall at around 1 p.m. that Friday afternoon. But the ground temperature was so warm that snow didn’t accumulate for several hours, until after the sun had set.
By that time, I’m sure I — like many others — was convinced that the forecast was wrong. This was no blizzard. Light snow had been falling for hours, and all we had to show for it was wet sidewalks. Then we came out of the old Video To Go on Oneida’s E. 1st Street, where Amelia’s is today (those were the days of five-for-$7, or maybe it was seven-for-$5, VHS rentals, and today’s kids just don’t know what they’re missing out on) and something glorious had happened: the snow had begun to “stick.”
And then it just kept snowing. And snowing. And snowing. All night and all day on Saturday the snow poured from the heavens, piling up and drifting as the winds howled. Even as a 13-year-old I was mesmerized by inclement weather, and the Blizzard of ’93 was the most glorious thing I had ever seen.
I don’t recall much about the aftermath of the blizzard. I just remember that on Sunday morning, just as quickly as it had started, the snow stopped. Then there was nothing but silence. If snow blankets the landscape in silence, our area’s biggest snow in at least a century certainly magnified that effect. But the 20 inches of snow on the ground were just part of the awe of Mother Nature’s fury. The snowdrifts were amazing to a Southern kid who had never experienced a blizzard. They were five- and six-feet deep in spots, something we haven’t experienced since.
And then it warmed up. The temperature had failed to climb much above 20 on Sunday, and was below zero on Monday morning, both rarities for the middle of March, but the recovery was quick. By Wednesday, just three days after the snow stopped, it was 50 degrees. The snow melt was so rapid that flash flooding occurred — the second weather phenomenon in less than a week.
The northern Cumberland Plateau region experienced several significant snowstorms in the 1990s. Just 10 months later, we had a foot of snow followed by some of the most brutally cold temperatures of my lifetime. The high temperature on Jan. 19, 1994 was three degrees, and the low at night was -18…temperatures more befitting of Wisconsin than the Mid-South. And, of course, there was the surprise snowstorm of 1998, when meteorologists were calling only for rain mixed with snow, but a phenomenon known as dynamic cooling caused temperatures to drop and the region was pummeled with 18 inches of snow that brought down every pine tree and power line in sight.
That 1998 dynamic cooling storm was far more damaging for Scott County than the Blizzard of ’93. There was nearly as much snow on the ground, without the drifts, and far more were without power — for far longer — than in ’93. It has been called the most expensive winter disaster in our community’s history. But because it impacted such a small area — you didn’t have to drive far in any direction to leave the snow zone — and because it hadn’t been hyped for a week like the Blizzard of ’93, few today even remember it.
On this 25th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’93, folks recalling the experience have mixed feelings. Some say they never want to see another snowstorm like it in their lifetimes. Others would like to relive it.
If I’m being honest, I have to say that I side with the latter. It was a costly storm. A lot of us were without power for days, work productivity was significantly impacted, and it was dangerous for a lot of people, especially the elderly. But there’s just something awe-inspiring about Mother Nature’s unbridled power. I can’t agree with those who root for a violent tornado or a category five hurricane, but I understand why they’re mesmerized by them. It’s the same feeling I had as a 13-year-old in March 1993. As destructive as they may be, natural marvels like the Blizzard of ’93 are fun to experience. There’s wonder in what we’re unable to control, and that’s why we remember where we were, what we were doing, and why we make sure to tell our kids about it, even a quarter-century later.