Breakdown: Why the Ice Storm on Feb 10, 1994 was one to remember

Published: Feb. 9, 2022 at 12:28 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (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. Rankings are for damage and not power outages.

Here is how other storms stack up. Rankings are based on damage and not power outages.

Ice Storm ‘94 – 250,000 customers lost power- ice up to an inch on trees powerlines and roads

Ice Storm ‘22 – 272,000 customers lost power- ice mostly on trees and powerlines, ice was around a quarter of an inch

May 28th, 2017 Storm (the one that toppled the Tom Lee obelisk) – 153,000 customers lost power

Copyright 2022 WMC. All rights reserved.

Click here to sign up for our newsletter!

Click here to report a spelling or grammar error. Please include the headline.