Mention the term “ice storm” to anyone who has lived in Memphis since the early 1990s and they will immediately launch into a tale of the tragedies they suffered through in the devastating storm that hit on February 10, 1994. This was long before weatherman began naming winter storms much akin to naming hurricanes and so this was just called “Ice Storm 94.” It hit with a great surprise as the day before, the temperatures had been in the 70s but by the next morning, had dropped 50 degrees into the 20s due to a cold artic blast. The frigid air blanketed the city at the same time as moist warm air arrived from the gulf and ended up freezing a layer of ice almost 2 inches thick over the entire city.
Anyone who has experienced even just a few tenths of an inch of ice knows that it can be extremely hard on trees, particularly softwood pines, as well as any power lines near the trees. So, you can imagine what 2 inches did—it downed hundreds of trees throughout the city and knocked out power to over half the city’s customers, some of which who did not get power back for two weeks! Our family sadly was in the majority of the city without power.
Fortunately, at that time, my brother lived in downtown Memphis in a high-rise apartment that never lost power. So, for the weekend, my wife and our three young kids stayed with him. After that, we migrated to the home of one of my wife’s aunts who had power and was housing a number of family members.
Other than losing power, we thankfully did not lose any large trees. But the two memories I still have of that event almost 30 years ago are of, first the way we would call our house phone (remember when people still had land lines?) and hope that the answering machine would pick up announcing our pre-recorded voice. If it did, we knew we could go back home because we had power. The other memory I have is seeing all the piles of tree branches and limbs piled up by the street of nearly every home that ultimately did not get picked up until sometime in May.
Since then, we have experienced other freezing rain/ice storm events in Memphis but nothing to compare to that one in 1994. So, when there was a weather prediction of another ice storm almost to the day 28 years later, we initially did not think much of it. That is until I was sitting in front of my computer that morning when all the lights went out in our house.
I can recall from that 1994 storm people describing the sound of tree branches cracking and falling as mortar fire and gunshots. It gave the sense of being in a war zone. As I sat at my computer, I would hear those same sounds and jump up to the window to see what had fallen. After the power went out, I continued to work for a while since my laptop had a battery until my wife asked me if I had looked out in the backyard. I had and told her so but then she said look again. I could then see why my wife was suggesting I take a second look.
There in our pool sat the top of our neighbor’s cedar tree. Due to the weight of the ice, it had broken off, fallen over the fence, and taken out six of our arborvitaes before landing in the pool.
Fortunately, our son in town lost power for only a few hours and so we were able to stay with him until our power returned. But unlike, the ice storm of 94, we had suffered significant tree damage.
Our neighbor very soon had his yard men come over and take out the tree top but then we were left with this huge gaping hole in our screen.
We originally planted these trees in May of 2006 after another damaging storm blew through Memphis the previous summer—the remnants of Hurricane Katrina—when the still strong winds toppled our weeping willow ironically over into our same neighbor’s yard.
Originally six to seven feet tall, they had grown to over double their height in the ensuing 16 years providing a nice screen and making a nice addition to what we sometimes referred to as our backyard Garden of Eden.
It was a couple of months later before we could get our tree man out—due to his huge backlog of work from the storm—to remove the felled trees.
And in no time, they had replaced them with another row of arborvitaes.
It also took a cherry picker to get all of the broken limbs down from the tops of other trees in our yard.
We know it will be a number of years before these will reach the height of their predecessors but at least we are back on track to restore our garden paradise.