Blount residents recall infamous Blizzard of ’93
By Iva Butler | (email@example.com)
Temperatures are rising, daffodils are blooming and spring arrives March 20, but that is no guarantee that frigid winter weather is gone — remember the Blizzard of ’93?
Twenty years ago, on March 12-14, Blount Countians weathered the “Storm of the Century,” according to the National Climatic Data Center.
That blizzard dropped 56 inches of snow and 10-degree-below-zero temperatures on Mount LeConte. It trapped hikers in the Smokies who had to be airlifted out, including 24 middle school students on a “self-reliance” camping trip from Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
At its height, the storm knocked out power to about 50 percent of electric customers, power that was off an entire week for some.
Electric department employees worked super long hours to restore power.
People with medical conditions were trapped, including some Chilhowee Mountain residents at Top O’ the World. A pregnant woman had to be airlifted out of that community.
People ran short of life-saving prescription medications and basic supplies, which firefighters and police delivered.
Trees were down everywhere — on power lines, roads, houses and vehicles. There were literally hundreds down on Butler Mill Road, mostly pines, blocking in several people with serious medical conditions.
McGhee Tyson Airport was shut down from 3 a.m. Saturday to 7:55 a.m. Sunday.
Dairy transport trucks could not get to the dairies, causing farmer and then Blount County Commissioner Leroy Huff to pour milk on the ground.
Shelters were opened at the American Red Cross and at Maryville Middle School.
The late Leonard Dunlap, who was Blount County highway superintendent at the time, summed up the situation succinctly: “This is the awfullest catastrophe this county has ever witnessed. We’ve got roads with snow drifts as high as 4 feet. It’s not just one area of Blount County — it’s all over.”
A few Blount Countians shared their Blizzard of ’93 memories, which remain fresh after 20 years.
Missy Tipton Green
“I can remember waking up the morning of the blizzard. We lived on Six Mile Road. All night long I had heard it thundering and lightning. I thought, how strange this is. This is March and very cold and thunder doesn’t usually happen at this time of the year.
“We woke up and looked outside at the road; there was trees down all along Six Mile and snow was up to our waists. It was a beautiful sight to behold, but soon it became disastrous to some.
“At the time I was 9 months pregnant with my son. We had family and friends that came and stayed with us. All were reading books on childbirth, afraid that they would have to be part of my giving birth at home. I didn’t have any worries, I knew the good Lord would take care of us and my unborn baby.
“My daughter had spent the night with a friend and wasn’t at home; there was no way of going anywhere so I couldn’t get her home. I just wanted my little chick under my wing during all this. She had to stay with her friend for almost a week before I could get to her.
“About the second day, I ventured out of the house, the snow came up to my very pregnant stomach. It was so pretty; the snow was beautiful in the woodlands behind out house — a sight that would forever stick in my mind of God’s handiwork. I walked around for a while to observe all of the snow and couldn’t believe we had that much. We only lost power for a small amount of time, but we had a wood stove to keep us warm or to use for cooking.
“My mother, on the other hand, didn’t have power for a week, and there was no way of getting to her to help her. We couldn’t even get out of our driveway, except on a four-wheeler and that wouldn’t get us to Maryville. Many of our friends and family had taken up residence at our house because we did have electricity.
“Needless to say, my little red-headed Cody Joe didn’t arrive until seven days later, enough time for the snow to melt and for me to get to the hospital safely. The Lord watched out for all of us during that time, answered my prayers about waiting on the time for my baby to be born, and taking good care of my family.
“We did have to rough it during this time, but it was wonderful, something I will never forget. I can always tell my son that we was born during the time of the Blizzard of ’93. That baby is now 20 years old. I know it was a hard time for the many that didn’t have any power for a week, or didn’t have a way to pick up groceries, medicine or other things, but I do know that the outpouring of help from all of the many agencies in Blount County helped tremendously. The county came together to help each other get through this hard time. That is what we do as Christians help each other in times of need.”
“I remember the blizzard well. I have two kids that at the time my son was 3 and my daughter was 4 months old with double pneumonia and I lived at Meadow Wood Apartments at that time. The power was flickering but never went off, thankfully, but my grandmother, Clara Trotter, was worried to death about us so my uncle Hugh first tried to come get us with no luck.
“My grandmother had a wood stove so we at least could be warm and eat if the power went off. We made it to my grandmother’s house in a vehicle that was a two-wheel drive going places that four-wheel drives were off in the ditch.
“We made it from Alcoa to Blockhouse Road in like 45 minutes but were safe with my two babies. We get out of the car at the foot of the driveway cause there was no way the car could make it up the hill and my son who was three steps out and sinks up to his neck in the snow. Luckily I had my family meet me to help me carry both the kids ‘cause that snow was crazy deep.
“There is no way I will ever forget that blizzard. Our power was off for four days while we were at my grandmother’s but we were warm and always had a way to cook, so we were full, too.”
He is now the Blount County mayor, but he was was the Maryville fire marshal in 1993.
“McGhee Tyson Airbase was in the process of airlifting people from Cold Springs and some hikers on the Appalachian Trail.
“We (Maryville firemen) were off-loading them at the base and trying to get them into dry clothes, warm surroundings and get some food in them. They had buses taking them out of there to a motel.
“Also, firefighters with the military went to Cold Springs in the old Chilhowee area. “We had walked 1½ miles up, cutting our way up to a house at the top of the mountain where an elderly man and woman were living.
“When we got there they had a big fire going in a wood stove and a big pot of soup on. They told us ‘we don’t want to go off the mountain. We’re enjoying this.’ They made us all a cup of coffee. We realized pretty quickly they were in better shape up there than the people in the cities.”
“He had cattle on the family farm and was not able to get the tractors out with round bales to feed. There just happened to be some small square bales in the barn loft and he fed the cows that in the barn until the snow melted.”
Now retired, he was the Alcoa fire chief during the blizzard, stationed at the Emergency Operations Center (near the intersection of the U.S. 129 Bypass and Louisville Road in Alcoa).
“I just know it was one of biggest storms we ever had around here. All government agencies came together, city and county were working together.
“We were coordinating efforts — firemen in four-wheel drive vehicles were checking on people and bringing some in to shelters. They were taking medicine to people out in the county and city.
“We got four-wheel drives from the automotive companies on Alcoa Highway at that time. They loaned them to us.
“I think I spent four days at the EOC myself.”
He was a resident on Butler Mill Road.
“Power was out for a week because the power was tied on to the Butterfly Gap line.
“We had propane heat and cooked on a Coleman stove. We melted snow to get water.”
Now Blount County fire chief, he was then a captain,
“I worked here for several days. At station No. 2, 2565 E. Broadway. I was on shift when it happened and I stayed for the duration.
“The first night it happened we had a call out towards Old Piney. That’s when the snow started to fall. We had a truck stuck out there by trees that fell around the truck. We had to cut him (fire truck driver) out. He was out there all night and came in pretty cold in the morning.
“We went out a few times to check on people. I remember going out to Delozier Road to check on woman in her 80s. She had no heat. She was cold and all wrapped up, but she wasn’t going to leave her baby, which was her cat.”
The shelters were not taking animals.
“We ran a few calls. It was difficult because cars were stranded on the roads and abandoned.
“I remember we were out in Rockford and I got out of the truck to direct the driver around the cars. I thought I was on the roadway and I was in the ditch. I stepped in a hole of snow.
“So many people were without power. People were continuously calling up wanting us to bring them supplies.”
“After they were without power for several days, they began to get cranky.”