That Was Then: March 1993

Roommates, from left, Achilles Natsis ’94, Kevin Bowers ’94, and Nicholas Lee ’94 with their igloo outside Henry Hall
Princeton University Archives/Larry DuPraz Digital Archives: Edwin Park /The Daily Princetonian
March was more lion than lamb in 1993 when, on March 13, the eastern United States was battered by a blizzard that the head of the National Weather Service called “the storm of the century.” Frigid temperatures, violent winds, and heavy snowfalls claimed scores of lives and disrupted countless others from Florida to Maine.

University grounds-crew members head off to dig out the campus.
Princeton Weekly Bulletin
In New York, one newspaper reported, “drifts turned to icebergs that trapped parked cars and left Manhattan looking like a modern-day glacier.” In Philadelphia, another wrote, “The emerging buds of early crocus and tulips were buried under mounds of ice-laden snow,” thanks to a storm that “set a slew of local weather records: most snowfall ever for a 24-hour period in March — 12 inches; lowest temperature for March — 17 degrees; strongest wind recorded — 66 mile-an-hour gusts.”

In Princeton, there was a run on shovels. As one shopkeeper lamented, “I could have been basking in Puerto Rico in the sun if I could have sold all the shovels I had requests for.” Many students shared his frustration, but for a different reason.

Cars in various stages of shoveling.
Princeton Weekly Bulletin
The blizzard struck on Saturday, the outset of spring break, stranding some on campus and others en route to their destinations. One group of sophomores, attempting to fly to Acapulco, was trapped on Kennedy Airport’s tarmac for five hours before spending a restless night on the unforgiving furniture and floor of a terminal. Another group of undergraduates fared only slightly better when their flights from Newark International Airport were canceled. They attempted to return to Princeton, but in the face of snowdrifts, abandoned cars, and, ultimately, state-ordered road closures, their shuttle driver could make it no farther than Jamesburg, obliging them to hole up in a Holiday Inn.

On campus, workers, supported by 40 snowplows, toiled around the clock to clear walkways and parking lots; many slept in McCosh Health Center. A week later, winter officially ended, but the University remained blanketed in snow, prompting The Daily Princetonian to ask a one-word question: “Spring?”  

John S. Weeren is founding director of Princeton Writes and a former assistant University archivist.