Breakdown: Why it happened: Looking back at the ice storm of Feb. 10, 1994

Updated: Feb. 11, 2019 at 11:31 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - It was on February 10 in 1994 that one of the most notorious winter weather events in recent Mid-South history occurred: Ice Storm 94.

Ask anyone who lived here at the time and you can bet they have a story for you.

Here's what happened:

It had been very warm with above average temperatures several days leading up to the event. On Wednesday, February 9, the temperature was 70 degrees at midnight. Then, a potent arctic front moved through the area and dropped the temperature into the 30s by late morning and then into the 20s that evening.

That cold air arrived just as a surge of warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico stretched from northeastern Texas through central Arkansas, west Tennessee, and into central Kentucky. That swath of moisture brought more than two inches of freezing rain right into Memphis and the Mid-South. The precipitation began as rain early Wednesday morning. By midday, it was transitioning to freezing rain, but the ground and other surfaces were still warm from the temperatures earlier in the week.

But, the freezing rain continued into the afternoon, evening, and overnight, ending shortly after midnight. By that time, there was a one-to-two inch coating of ice on everything in Memphis and many parts of the Mid-South.

By the wee morning hours of the following day, tree branches began to snap, giving way to the tremendous weight of the ice that coated them. Huge limbs, even whole trees, began to fall all across the Mid-South and brought down power lines as they fell. The power lines that didn’t give way to trees and limbs fell due to the weight of the ice that had accumulated on them.

That left more than half of MLGW customers without power. Many of those customers remained without power for more than two weeks. Streets, bridges and overpasses were covered with ice, which made driving treacherous for anyone who ventured out. That included first responders and electrical crews who were frantically working to restore power.

It was the worst ice storm to hit the Mid-South since 1974. I still hear stories about that storm in 74 from time to time, but I hear more stories from those who lived through Ice Storm 1994.

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