Twenty years ago -- on March 13, 1993 -- snowflakes "as big as goose feathers" were coating the region, brutal winds raged, temperatures plunged to 1 degree, and highways, local airports and bus service were shut down in what became known as the Blizzard of '93.
As a testament to the determined Irish, hundreds still marched in the annual St. Patrick's Day Downtown.
By day's end, 24.6 inches of snow had been dumped on Pittsburgh -- the most in a century at one time -- and it took days for residents to dig out.
Even though rain is predicted for Saturday, it's expected to be a far tamer scene -- in terms of weather but not necessarily partying -- for the annual parade that kicks off at 10 a.m. Organizers say Pittsburgh's St. Paddy's Day parade is the second largest in the country.
"Everyone wears the green, and it becomes a rite of spring for the city, marking the end of winter and beginning of spring," said Tim O'Brien, parade public relations chairman. "All the good comes with the warmer months in Pittsburgh, and the parade is a tribute toward that."
The parade this year will feature more marching units and a new official parade T-shirt to commemorate the holiday.
"Last year, because of the warm weather, we had a huge turnout of 358,000 people watching the parade, and a lot of them were wearing green T-shirts," he said. "After a lot of demand for T-shirts, we came up with one this year which we thought would help add to the experience. The proceeds will go directly to help the cost of the parade."
Another new addition this year will be a pre-parade Roman Catholic Mass at St. Patrick Church in the Strip District.
Glenn Cannon of Highland Park will head the parade as the 2013 grand marshal. Maggie Marie Donaldson of Cheswick has been named 2013 Miss Smiling Eyes Irish Queen and will be crowned before the parade. Ms. Donaldson, a senior at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, is a founding member and president of the Junior Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians Division No. 23.
"This parade is a community celebration. We say that everyone's Irish for a day, and it's true in Pittsburgh because it doesn't matter where you come from or what your ethnic heritage is, everyone is wearing green and celebrating together," Mr. O'Brien said.
The 2013 parade will begin at the Greyhound Bus Station at Liberty Avenue and 11th Street. Staging for the parade's 23,000 participants will take place from the bus station and away from Downtown to 28th Street.
The parade will proceed from the intersection of Liberty and Grant streets, down Grant to the Boulevard of the Allies, where it will turn right. From there, it will proceed to the end of the parade route at Commonwealth Place near the Point.
Parade spectators and participants are urged to donate food for the hungry at drop-off sites.
Non-perishable food items and monetary donations can be dropped off to the "Food and Funds Drive" at the City-County Building at 414 Grant St. or with volunteers along the parade route.
One thing is for sure, Saturday's parade is not going to be anything like the one during the Blizzard of '93. Reflections about that day from parade participants and spectators can be found at www.pittsburghirish.org (go to the parade section).
One post comes from a dancer with the Burke Irish Dancers (now the Burke-Conroy School of Irish Dance), based at the Irish Centre of Pittsburgh.
"On the morning of the parade my mom got a call that we wouldn't be marching and that the parade was probably going to be canceled," she said. "Myself and a few other brave dancers actually showed up to march in the blizzard! ... It was so cold, windy and almost unbearable, but the group of us wanted to show our pride in our heritage no matter the weather!"
Noel Um: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published March 14, 2013 4:00 AM