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March 11, 2013

Blizzard of 1993 was a local memory maker

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The Daily Star

---- — It was a legendary snowstorm that probably many still bring up in conversations 20 years later. This was one that packed a punch Saturday, March 13, referred to by most as the “Blizzard of 1993.” It was legendary, not only from the memories and stories told, but also because there hadn’t been a single storm so large to date in most of the region in 105 years.

I was living on Binghamton’s West Side at the time, usually a short walk to downtown over the Court Street Bridge. I’d heard that somehow the Capital District Islanders bus had made it through the heavy snow from Troy on Interstate 88, so the Binghamton Rangers hockey game was still on at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena that night. I bundled up and what was a normal 10-15 minute walk took about a half-hour. No one could possibly drive other than emergency vehicles with the help of city plows, but many were out just playing in the snow or taking in the scenery, much like I was.

I was one of the announced 316 who watched the game in a venue that otherwise would’ve hosted a crowd of more than 4,000. I had my choice of seats, no restrictions. No concessions were open, and the Arena staff that could get there was hard-pressed, so it was hockey with no frills or blaring music. The diehard fans trudged home happy, as Binghamton won, 6-2.

Not so happy an experience the next day was digging out my car, buried in the driveway under the 22 inches of reported snowfall, with much deeper drifts.

In Oneonta, 21.7 inches had fallen. It got worse. Cooperstown set an all-time record with 28.3 inches. Harold Hollis, a National Weather Service observer in the village, said this was more than a late December 1969 storm, which deposited 27.4 inches over its three-day fall. The 1993 storm fell in slightly over 24 hours.

Whether it was Binghamton, Oneonta or Cooperstown, residents were flocking to the grocery stores Friday, March 12, stocking up on food and emergency supplies. Just as forecasted, the snow began falling mid-morning in Binghamton on Saturday and didn’t let up until Sunday morning. It reportedly began in Oneonta around 2 p.m.

Businesses began closing early that afternoon, while some never bothered to open at all. The Polar Bear ice cream shop, then found at 437 Main St., had planned its opening for the season that day. A portable sign in front simply said, “Forget It!”

Some city stalwarts that remained open were the P&C supermarket, then located at the corner of Church and Chestnut streets, the Diana Restaurant, 156 Main St., and Video to Roll, also on Main Street.

Bill Pywar, the owner of Diana’s, kept the restaurant open until midnight Saturday and planned to open as usual Sunday morning, as most of the employees lived a short walking distance away. Most of his dining clients on Saturday came on cross-country skis.

“We didn’t think it would be that busy. But there were a lot of people out walking around. Not many cars on the street, but a lot of people came out to see what it was like, I guess.”

For Jacqueline Holbrook, store manager of Video to Roll, it was a record high day for business. The store had opened at 8 a.m. and by the time they closed at 7:30 p.m., the shelves were nearly empty. People came in by skis or snowmobiles.

“Movies that we never thought we’d actually rent were gone,” Holbrook said.

Sadly, one Cherry Valley man died during the storm, after suffering a heart attack while shoveling snow in his driveway. Oneonta city residents were given a one-day reprieve from shoveling their sidewalks, issued by Mayor David Brenner.

Emergency response teams had no serious problems, as calls were average for a weekend day. One reported injury was after a State University College at Oneonta student suffered broken a leg after jumping out of a second-story dormitory window into a snowdrift.

Schools were closed far and wide on Monday, as crews were still at work that day clearing the snow from the roads and parking lots.

The Blizzard of 1993 was legendary by 20th-century standards, but still not as bad as another one 105 years earlier, which fell on nearly the same date.

This weekend: A review of the Blizzard of 1888.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.