Super Storm '93 was one for the record books, and paved the way for modern forecasting

RUSKIN, Fla. - Remember where you were 20 years ago? 

If you were here in the Tampa Bay area, chances are you were spending that day cleaning up from a storm system that still amazes weather watchers.  It was, in fact, the first super storm.

In Florida alone, 44 people were killed.  Around 18,000 homes were wrecked.  Damages totaled $1.6 billion as 11 confirmed tornadoes touched down.

And as the center of the super storm tracked north, blizzard conditions blanketed the east coast, shutting down every airport, and affecting some 40 percent of the U.S. population.

The thing is, it wasn't altogether unexpected.

"Super storm '93 was rather well forecast for the point we were with computer models at the time," said Bryan Mroczka, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.  He can well recall those initial primitive computer models calling for a strong storm that, at first, no one could believe.

"The public had never experienced a winter storm quite like that before," he told me.  "So it was very difficult to get that message across, that, hey, this is coming."

"And as this came through 20 years ago," I asked, "what has taken place in the ensuing 20 years is the ability to model these storms.  Does that increase the forecasting ability?"

"We have advanced the science by leaps and bounds in terms of these atmospheric simulations," he said, highlighting the significant growth of Numerical Weather Prediction.  "Not only the data -- observational data going into the models -- but the computing power to simulate the different levels of the atmosphere and what is going to occur at the surface."

So we owe a debt of gratitude to that storm system that verified as significant and made all of us who watch weather for a living a little more able to trust the models, and forecast with faith.

"That gives us a much better sense of confidence that what they're showing is going to occur and get the message out a little faster," said Mr. Mroczka.

It should also make all of us a little more confident that when we call for storms or disruptive weather, it's worth paying attention.

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