Storm of the Century clobbered Knoxville 30 years ago

Beth KinnaneFountain City, Our Town Stories

Mother Nature is being her tempestuous self, teasing us with a taste of spring just before dipping the thermometer again and reminding us that winter ain’t over till it’s over. And sometimes that means snow on April Fool’s Day (1987) or a frost after May 1 (last two years).

The jonquils’ blooms are already beginning to fade, the redbuds are starting to sprout, and the saucer magnolia in my front yard looks like it’s going to complete a full bloom cycle without being blown to bits or frozen for the first time in the decade I’ve had it. Friday’s windy entertainments somehow didn’t seem to faze it.

But, weather be damned, this Sunday it’s time to spring forward with your clocks, jumping them an hour ahead to welcome daylight savings time and the first day of spring that’s just around the corner. But March 12 is also a notable anniversary. Because this Sunday marks 30 years since the Storm of the Century, the Blizzard of ’93 that brought East Tennessee to its knees.

Yes, the picture is blurry, but that’s everyone’s favorite barkeep, Ian Roach, throwing a snowball on 13th Street above Clinch Avenue after the Blizzard of 93. (Photo courtesy of Ian Roach).

Like many in these parts, I had taken the forecast of a whopping snowstorm with a grain of salt. More often than not, the predictions of wintery precipitation down here in the valley don’t arrive as advertised, if they arrive at all. Or what’s supposed to be a dusting turns out to be an actual problem.

That night, I was out with friends on The Strip for pizza. I can’t recall exactly where we were, but it wasn’t Stefano’s, that I do know. When we emerged, the snow had begun in earnest, and was already starting to stick. I had a choice to make: stay in Fort Sanders in a crackerbox of an apartment with friends or head back north to Fountain City and my sanctuary in my parents’ home?

I chose the latter. Yes, The Strip was the playground of my youth, but I wasn’t interested in being stuck in The Fort, potentially for days. Home had two fireplaces and a couple of kerosene heaters should the power situation become dire (it did).

It was the longest drive I’ve ever made from Cumberland Avenue to Wassman Road that didn’t involve road construction or an accident. The two greatest obstacles were 17th Street and Wassman. First gear was my friend in that little Toyota Corolla I was driving then. But I made it all the way in to the driveway.

That first night as the snow rolled in was an exercise in gobsmacked amazement: had never seen it snow that much, that fast. And with thunder and lightning, no less. The winter wonderland we woke up to was something we’d never seen. While officially Knoxville’s total was 15 inches, up on Black Oak Ridge, it was more like 18.

The next night, our power went out. I remember my younger brother calling KUB to tell them to STOP trying to turn the power back on because the lines outside our house were downed by trees. The transformer was sparking every time they tried to get it back on line, and finally exploded in a shower of sparks and flame that would do a KISS concert proud.

We got through with the help of those fireplaces and kerosene heaters. I don’t think the temperature ever got below 60 degrees in the house. Once we knew for sure it would be days before the power came back on, we moved everything in the refrigerator out to the snow on the deck to keep it cold. Mom prepared some fantastic meals in the fireplace.

On the third night, my siblings, some friends and I decided to strike out for more beer and supplies. We called ahead to make sure the Pilot at Merchants and Central Avenue Pike was open, and off we went, walking straight down the middle of Cedar Lane.

By the time we got power back, we were all starting to go a little stir crazy, and cabin fever was taking over. But it was an adventure in our own backyard we’ll never forget.

Beth Kinnane is the community news editor for

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