30 years later: Looking back on the Blizzard of ’93

Published 12:28 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2023

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Residents recall the “Storm of the Century” 


The Blizzard of 93, known to some as the “Storm of the Century,” brought life to a halt on March 13, 1993. The severe winter storm affected much of the eastern United States, including Polk County and the northern part of Spartanburg County. 

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According to the March 17 edition of the Bulletin, “a surprise winter storm dumped heavy snow all over Polk County on Saturday (March 13, 1993) and Sunday (March 14, 1993), and then brought high winds. Thousands of trees toppled off banks and hillsides, taking down utility lines to residences, businesses and water plants, virtually paralyzing the county and leaving residents in the dark and cold.”

Officials worked around the clock to help ensure the safety of local residents. Emergency shelters were set up at Polk County High School, Columbus Baptist Church and Tryon Estates. Nearly 1,000 people were housed in those shelters, according to reports from Polk County’s Chief Deputy at the time, Calvin Atkins. This included many stranded motorists off I-26, which was closed at the Columbus exit.

The National Guard helped emergency crews with rescue efforts in the following days. 

“I was in an apartment in Mill Spring. I had no electricity, no toilet, no heat. There were trees down everywhere. It looked like a tornado had been through,” said Polk County resident Becky Oliver. “There were some people I knew that didn’t get power for 10 days. Everything was at a standstill for quite a while.”

Only 5 to 6 inches of snow were reported in Tryon, according to the March 17 edition of the newspaper, but the snow drifts were much higher. The real problem was the high winds that dropped trees and power lines.

“The damage to the trees in Tryon was catastrophic,” said longtime resident John Vining. “I would guess there were 100 trees or more down in the town limits, most blocking the streets. I remember the combination of snow, strong winds with gusts of 30 to 45 mph, and cold temperatures, around 12 degrees.” 

The high winds caused power lines to collapse, leaving thousands of residents without electricity for several days. At one point, Polk County reported 99% of its electrical customers were without power. Many roads were also impassable due to the snow and ice, making it difficult for emergency vehicles and crews to reach affected areas. 

We were out of power for seven days,” said Vining. “My wife Pam, our 9-month-old daughter Kate and I were at our home on Jervey Rd. After the electricity went out we blazed a trail to some friends on Glenwalden Lane who still had power, although theirs went out about one hour after we arrived at their home.

The storm was particularly challenging for residents in our area because the region is not accustomed to such severe winter weather. Most were unprepared for the storm, and supplies of food, water and other necessities quickly ran low. 

“The blizzard of ’93 was the first time in my lifetime that the Town of Tryon ran out of drinking water,” Vining recalled. “In the late 1980s, the town switched to Lake Lanier for its primary water source, and in 1993 the pump station at the Lake Lanier dam did not have a generator. So three or four days after the electricity went out, the fresh water supply ran out. We could function without electricity. However, a lack of water was a serious situation.”

The Vance McCown boathouse walkway became a resting place for these two pines that fell on the third basin of Lake Lanier. (Photo by Bill McCown)


After the storm, county offices were open again by late Tuesday, but much of the county was still handicapped from the storm. By Friday of that week, most schools and businesses had power and resumed operation.

“It was a mess,” recalled Leon Allison of Green Creek. “Green Creek didn’t get hit as bad with the winds as Tryon and Sunny View, but we were without power for several days and the roads were bad. We were used to roughing it out here. I remember taking our food and milk out of the refrigerator and packing it in the snow and ice outside, and loading down the bed of my truck with cinder blocks so I could get to work in New Prospect.”

Flipping through the pages of Bulletin issues that came out in the week or so following the storm, one finds many accounts and photos of stranded motorists, trees that fell on homes and businesses, and property damage. No reports of injuries were found.

The Church of the Good Shepherd on Markham Rd. in Tryon suffered some damage to the roof as some eight trees fell on the church and parish hall.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the record for the most snowfall reported in Polk County was in Tryon on Dec. 4, 1971, with 15 inches of snow. So far this winter, there has been no snow accumulation in the county.