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Two of Michigan’s worst blizzards occurred on January 26th. There’s a separate thread for the 1967 storm.
The Blizzard of 1978 made me a household name in West Michigan. Along with the Derecho of May 31, 1998, it was the most disruptive storm of my career. The blizzard brought everything to a standstill. There were no cell phones, no computers. All people did was stay inside and watch television…and there I was, morning – noon and night. The ratings those few days were huge. After that storm, I couldn’t go to the store without people coming up wanting to talk about the storm. I was supposed to be at a convention of meteorologists in Savannah, Georgia – but, of course, I never made it down there.
The 16.1″ of snow that fell in Grand Rapids that day remains the biggest midnight-to-midnight snowfall ever. Here was my snow forecast typed on an old Royal typewriter. I think the only other time I forecast that much snow was the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011.
The low pressure system was in western West Virginia and backed up to the NNW to sit over Port Huron, Michigan. Grand Rapids had its lowest air pressure ever (28.55″) during that storm. The pressure dropped to 28.23″ at Mt. Clemens – the lowest pressure ever recorded in the Midwest. Notre Dame and Ohio St. Universities closed for the first time ever.
The Traverse City area received about 28 inches. Some schools in West Michigan were closed for nearly two weeks. Wind gusts of 40 mph blew the snow into immense drifts that I measured as high as 14 feet. Muskegon had up to 52″ of snow in 4 days, with 30″ of lake-effect snow following the blizzard.
There were 70 storm-related fatalities, 51 of them in Ohio. Of those deaths, 13 people were found dead in stuck cars and 13 in unheated homes. More than 125,000 vehicles were abandoned in the storm. Wind gusts were as high as 70-80 mph in N.Ohio. Up to 40″ of snow fell in SE Wisconsin with some added lake-effect from northeast winds. A Blizzard Warning was issued for the entire state of Indiana. 5,000 National Guard members were called out to help with snow removal. Officials asked for anyone with a snowmobile to help transport doctors and nurses to hospitals. Winds gusted to 55 mph at Indianapolis, where an Amtrak train was stuck.
The Michigan State Police pronounced Traverse City, Michigan “unofficially closed” and warned area residents to stay home. WTCM radio staffer Marty Spaulding, who closed the bayfront radio station the previous night at 11 pm, was called to reopen it the next day at 6am as regular staffers couldn’t get there due to impassable roads. Upon arriving after a 45-minute walk in waist-deep snow from his home 10 city blocks away, he had to dig down “a foot” to put the key in the front door.
The picture above shows the aftermath of the Blizzard of 1978 and the heavy snowfall of 2014 in Benton Township in SW Lower Michigan. A meteorologist in SE Michigan said: ” About 20 people died as a direct or indirect result of the storm in Michigan, most due to heart attacks or traffic accidents. east one person died of exposure in a stranded automobile. Many were hospitalized for exposure, mostly from homes that lost power and heat. About 100,000 cars were abandoned on Michigan highways.”
The blizzard was followed by the coldest February Grand Rapids had ever had and the 5th coldest March. It took until April for some of the snow piles to melt.
Here’s An oddity – both the lowest air pressure ever and the highest air pressure ever in G.R. occurred on the same day of the year. The lowest during the Blizzard of Jan. 26, 1978 and the highest (31.07″) on Jan. 26, 1927.
Two of Michigan’s most famous blizzards occurred on January 26. The first was the Blizzard of 1967. The picture above was Lake Shore Drive in downtown Chicago. Even the expressways were impassible due to gigantic drifts and buried vehicles. The 23 inches (58.4 cm) of snow that fell on Chicago in 29 hours beginning the morning of January 26, 1967 was a record for a single storm. The 19.8 inches (50.3 cm) that fell on January 26–27 was the greatest amount of snow for a 24-hour period.
I was sophomore at New Trier East High School in Winnetka – just north of Chicago. We actually had more snow than Chicago, because Winnetka picked up a few extra inches of lake-effect snow. The school dismissed us shortly before noon – one of the very few times the school had ever closed. They just turned us loose on the streets. I remember one guy driving in a circle around the school (we had over 4,000 students – it was like going to high school in the Pentagon) in an old convertible with the top down. Everyone…well, not everyone, I didn’t do it…was pelting him with snowballs until the car was totally full of snow.
The next day, we couldn’t open the doors to get out of our house. My brother climbed out a 2nd story window onto a porch roof and literally walked off the porch roof onto a snowdrift. I spent the day shoveling snow and collecting some decent $$.
Here’s some snowfall totals in Southern Lower Michigan from the storm. They were heaviest in a band from Berrien County to Battle Creek to Lansing to the Thumb area.
Unseasonably warm air preceded the blizzard. The high temperature in Grand Rapids on Jan. 24 was a daily record 62. The temperature was 57 at midnight. Then the cold air roared in during the 25th to set the stage for the blizzard on the 26th.
N. Illinois and SW Michigan were under a rare January severe thunderstorm watch during the evening of the 24th. I was at a meeting of the St. Joseph Teen Club and I left the basement meeting to go watch the storm, which had strong winds and frequent lightning. Chicago reached 65 deg. on the 24th and was still 60 at 9 pm.
The forecast called for up to 4″ of snow – and the public was unprepared for a blizzard. Snow fell continuously in Chicago from 5:02 am on Thursday, January 26 until 10:10 am Friday the 27th. Winds gusted to 53 mph and the visibility was reduced to near zero in heavy snow and blowing snow. Drifts were measured up to 15 feet high!
Thousands were stranded in offices, in schools, and on buses. An estimated 50,000 cars were abandoned and 800 Chicago Transit Authority buses littered the streets and expressways. People living near main roads took in strangers who had abandoned their vehicles. Snowplows were sent from Iowa and Wisconsin to help Chicago dig out. The airports were closed. There were drifts up to 10 feet on the runways at Midway Airport. The airports didn’t reopen until around midnight Monday night. It took 3 weeks before every street in Chicago had been plowed. Some schools reopened on the 31st. There were 26 fatalities in Chicago due to the storm…many from heart attacks shoveling the snow. Helicopters were used for medical transport.
Here’s the weather map from the day before the Blizzard. A strong low pressure area was located over Green Bay WI. That low had pulled up the warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. A sharp cold front swept through before sunrise on the 25th. A second low pressure center formed on the trailing cold front and then moved up toward Ohio, passing southeast of West Michigan.
Chicago got another 4″ of snow on February 1. The following Sunday, February 5, another storm dumped 8.5 inches (21.6 cm) of snow”. Between Jan. 26 and Feb. 5, Chicago got more snow than they normally see all winter. It was hard to find places to put the snow. Snow was dumped in the Chicago River. A train was loaded with snow and sent to Miami where dozens of kids got to play in snow for the very first time.
Great Lakes water levels remain very high, with Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and possibly Lake Superior poised to set record high levels for the month of January.
The graphs below are plots of the 12-month daily lake levels (blue) compared with last year’s levels (black) and last year’s annual average (dark red). The monthly averages are shown as a step plot through the daily averages. Plotted in the background are the coordinated (official) averages (green), record highs (cyan), and record lows (brown) per month as documented here along with additional water level data. Daily levels are from each lake’s master gauge, produced by NOAA/NOS/CO-OPS.
The water level of Lake Superior is unchanged in the last month, up 4″ in the past year and is now 15″ above the January average. The lake at the moment is tied with Jan. 1986 for highest January water level ever. Snowfall has been above average this winter in Upper Michigan. Marquette has had 122″ of snow this winter, as of early Fri. AM (1/24) and that’s 16.5″ above average. Several locations (Mt. Horace Greely, Tamarack…) have already topped 200 inches this winter.
The water level of Lake Michigan-Huron (one lake for lake level purposes) is up 3″ in the last month. This is due to high runoff from Lower Michigan Rivers due to significantly above average precipitation. This is not good news. This is a time when lake levels should be trending downward. Lake Michigan-Huron is also 20″ higher than it was a year ago and 39″ higher than the January average. The lake is 5″ higher than the previous January record high level set in 1987.
The water level of Lake Erie is up 6″ in the last month. I don’t know for sure, but that looks like an unprecedented rise for the month of January. The lake is up 8″ year-to-year and is now 32″ above the January average level. The level is 2″ below the record January level set in 1987.
Lake Ontario has gone up 3″ in the last month. It’s up 8″ in the last year and is now 20″ higher than the January average. It’s still 3″ below the highest January level set in 1946.
The water level of Lake St. Clair is up 4″ in the last month and up a whopping 21″ in the last year. It’s 37″ above the January average and only 1″ below the highest January level set in 1986.
All the rivers that connect the Great Lakes have significantly above average flow. The St. Mary’s River that flows from Lake Superior down into Lake Huron has a flow of 89,000 cubic feet per second. The St. Clair River at Port Huron has a flow of 254,000 cfs, compared to an average Jan. flow of 159,000 cfs. That’s 160% of average flow. The Detroit River at Detroit has a flow of 267 cfs, compared to an average flow of 165 cfs. That’s 162% of average flow. That’s a lot of water.
Great Lakes ice cover is near the satellite-era low with only 10.3% of the lakes covered by ice. There was a significant increase in ice over the past 10 days on smaller Lake St. Clair. Relatively warm air will keep ice extent low into early February.
GREAT LAKES NEWS: Uncharted territory – tracking high water on the Grand River. Lake Michigan reaching record January water level. Large sinkhole caused by erosion closes Michigan road. Marinas brace for even higher water levels. Lake Michigan home falls off the bluff. Sea wall helps to fight erosion. Tension between homeowners and regulators. Lakeshore road in danger of being washed away. Watching the big waves on Lake Michigan. Fighting back with amphibious dump truck and boulders. Rising waters destroy merchandise at SW MI business.
MORE NEWS: Great Lakes Naval base put on lockdown – also vehicle fire. More Great Lakes cruises will start in 2022. Would you like to sail the Great Lakes this summer on a tall ship? Residents trying to move homes away from shore. Ice safety on the Great Lakes. 97 million dollar modernization.
Rivers are below flood stage, but well above average flow – here’s some river levels early Sat. AM (1/25). The Grand River in Grand Rapids has a flow of 9,690 cubic feet per second – compared to an average flow of 2,770 cfs. The Kalamazoo River at Comstock has a flow of 1,750 – compared to an average flow of 842 cfs. The St. Joseph River at Three Rivers has a flow of 3,100 cfs – compared to an average flow of 1,180 cfs. The Muskegon River at Croton has a flow of 3,160 cfs – compared to the average flow of 2,080 cfs.
This is the 4th wettest start to winter (since Dec. 1) and 5th warmest start to winter for Grand Rapids. So far this month of January is 6.4 deg. warmer than average. December was 4.0 deg. warmer than average. Since Dec. 1, Grand Rapids has had 7.36″ of precipitation and that is 3.23″ above average.
The long-range outlook continues to show a warmer than average pattern for the Great Lakes and most of the country.
The Precipitation Forecast from the Climate Prediction Center continues the trend of above average precipitation for the Great Lakes for Jan. 31 – Feb. 6.
We’ll continue to see areas of rain today, with perhaps some wet snow mixing in (mainly north of G.R.) and roads will be wet much of the day. Saturday look for an occasional mix of light rain and snow. Temperatures will continue to be in the mid-upper 30s during the day.
Mild air covers most of the U.S. High temperatures warmed back up into the low-mid 70s over the Central and Southern Florida Peninsula. Bismarck ND was the only U.S. station on the map to stay below freezing. The warmest temp. in the country was 82 at four locations in S. Texas, inc. McAllen. The coldest in the contiguous U.S. was -7 at Berlin NH and Island Pond VT. The coldest in Alaska was -36 at Arctic Village. Honoluly had a high/low of 80/64.
Thursday was the Muskegon Channel Thursday PM, with ice on the breakwater, some ice in the water and ice on the shore, which is good – acting like a buffer to keep the waves from eroding the dunes and shoreline.
Thursday was the 9th day out of the last 15 days without a single minute of sunshine. In the last 15 days, we’ve had only one day with more than 17% sunshine. January will be the 5th month in a row with below average sunshine in West Michigan.
Daylight continues to increase. Today (Fri.) we get 2 minutes and 4 seconds more daylight than yesterday, with our sunrise at 8:05 am and the sunset at 5:44 pm. We have gained 38 minutes of daylight since the Winter Solstice. The sun angle at solar noon has climbed from 24% on the Winter Solstice to 28% today. Solar noon is at 12:54 pm (not at 12 noon because we live at the west edge of a time zone).
Here’s season snowfall through Thursday. These numbers are below average, but above last year’s totals to this date…except for Marquette. The U.P. has had a lot of snow this winter. Marquette is 15.3″ above average. Houghton Lake is slightly above average snowfall to date. Here’s Regional Radar:
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Thursday, we had the first sunrise of 2020 at Utqiagvik, Alaska – the northernmost tip of Alaska. Formerly known as Barrow, it’s a city of roughly 4,440 people that sits north of the Arctic Circle.
Utqiagvik goes through a period in winter of 65 days with the sun staying below the horizon, with only a brief period of twilight. The sun last set on Nov. 18, 2019.
In the summer, this is the land of the “midnight sun”. They get 24/7 daylight from May 10 through the end of July.
Surrounded by cold water, it never does get “warm” in Utqiagvik. The warmest month is July, with an average high temperature of 47. They get an average of 24 days a year when the temperature reaches 50. The warmest temperature ever was 79 on July 13, 1993.
Utqiagvik’s coldest month is usually February, with an average high temp. of -8F and an average low temp. of -20. The coldest reading ever recorded was -56 on Feb. 3, 1924.
It’s an “Arctic Desert” with an average of only 4.53″ of precipitation per year. That includes an average of 37.7″ of snow. The snowiest month is October and it can snow in any month, including July and August. Over the course of the year, the average high temp. is 17.2 and the average low temp. is 6.4. The Arctic Ocean is usually frozen over until late July – then refreezes again in late October. Note the frozen ocean behind the sign on an early summer day.
Here’s a street view of the city. Streets are unpaved due to the permafrost. Houses are built up on stilts so they don’t sink into the frozen ground from the heat of the house.
A sod groundcover grows there, but no trees. Surrounded on three sides by ocean and the flat landscape allows a view to the horizon on rather rare clear days. Over 50% of the days are completely overcast.
Barrow High School actually has a football team, and a blue field (like Boise State) to play on. The “Whalers” played 9 games, flying to away games, and was a very respectable 7-2 last season. Here’s a webcam view of Utqiagvik.
Jeff Baurs sent us this picture of a sun halo, taken Wed. PM in Barry Co. A halo is caused by the sun shining through a thin layer of cirrus clouds (ice crystals).
We had 51% of possible sunshine in G.R. on Wednesday or roughly 293 minutes of sunshine. That was more sunshine than we saw in Grand Rapids in the previous 13 days COMBINED (151 minutes – or 11.6 minutes per day).
This is the Thunder Bay Lighthouse – pic. from NOAA Coastwatch Wed. Jan. 22 PM. As of Thurs. 1/23, Grand Rapids has gained 36 minutes of daylight since the Winter Solstice occurred back on 12/21.
We’ve had 3.31″ of precipitation in G.R. this month. That’s 1.74″ above average. We’ve also had 11.4″ of snow and that’s 3.8″ below average.
So far, the month of January is 6.1 deg. warmer than average in G.R. The month of January is running only 4.1 deg. cooler than November 2019.
This is the 8-14 Day Temperature Outlook from the Climate Prediction Center for Jan. 30 – Feb. 5. CPC sees coast-to-coast warmer than average temperatures. However look at the cold pattern in Alaska. Often, when the contiguous U.S. is warmer than average, Alaska is cooler than average and vice versa.
We can’t seem to break this above average precipitation pattern. Once again, the Great Lakes are expected to have above average precipitation as we enter the month of February.
The National Weather Service issues alerts for falling snow, sleet and hail, but tonight there’s an alert from the NWS in Florida for falling iguanas!
Temperatures are expected to drop to near or even below freezing tonight in Central Florida and to the upper 30s to low 40s in southern Florida, so low that forecasters are warning residents about falling iguanas.
Iguanas are not native to Florida. They arrived in the 1960s and have multiplied. They’re actually allowed to be kept as pets in Florida but are not protected by any law except anti-cruelty to animals. They can live to 10 years in the wild and 19 years in captivity.
Iguanas aren’t dangerous or aggressive to humans, but they damage seawalls, sidewalks, landscape foliage and can dig lengthy tunnels. The males can grow to at least 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and weigh nearly 20 pounds (9 kilograms).
The low temperatures stun the invasive reptiles and they can literally start falling out of trees. The iguanas won’t necessarily die from the falls. Many will wake up as temperatures rise the following day.
Female iguanas can lay nearly 80 eggs a year, and South Florida’s warm climate is perfect for these prehistoric-looking animals. Iguanas are native to Central America, tropical parts of South America and some Caribbean islands.
The last Wind Chill Advisory for Miami-Dade County was on Feb. 17, 2013.
This satellite picture of Lake Michigan was taken Monday afternoon. It was sunny in Wisconsin with snow on the ground. We had the lake-effect clouds in West Michigan, caused by the cold air coming across Lake Michigan. Farther east, away from Lake Michigan it was mostly sunny in Southeast Michigan.
Note that in Wisconsin, there are two inland lakes that remain unfrozen. That’s because these are very deep lakes. The northernmost like (in the dark color) is Green Lake. That lake has an average depth of over 100 feet and a greatest depth of 237 feet, making it deeper than Lake Erie. You can see ice in Green Bay.
The other unfrozen lake is Geneva Lake, which is northwest of Chicago and southwest of Milwaukee. That lake has an average depth of 61 feet and a greatest depth of 130 feet. Contrast that to much bigger Lake Winnebago, which is totally frozen over. Winnebago has a deepest point of just 21 feet.
At sunset, the sun was able to shine under the cloud deck for a couple minutes creating this pretty shot from Steve Damstra.
Here’s the MODIS Lake Superior satellite picture from Monday afternoon – 1/20/20. You can see some lake-effect clouds over the eastern half of the lake. Note how they form “streets” in the lower right of the picture in the eastern U.P. Most all of Lake Superior is open water, with ice in Nipigon Bay, Black Bay and Thunder Bay.
This is the Lake Ontario satellite picture from Monday PM 1 20 20. You can see just a few l;ake-effect clouds forming and coming off the south end of the lake. You can also see the Finger Lakes. You can also see the Niagara River that flows from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario.
Over the last 12 days, January 9-20, Grand Rapids has had just 150 minutes of sunshine – 2 1/2 hours. That works out to an average of 12.5 minutes per day or 1.67% of the daylight hours. I call it a cloud-a-thon. If we could turn clouds to money…Grand Rapids would have won the lotto!
After all the windy days we’ve had this winter, it was a nice change–of-pace to see the calm conditions on Monday. It’s seldom you get a day in January (the month with the highest average wind speed of any month in G.R.) that is this calm…with average winds under 3 mph.
Here’s low temperatures Monday AM – note the contrast, with Holland north along the lake being warmer, due to overcast conditions and a light wind off the 33-degree water of Lake Michigan. Inland it was colder where skies went partly cloudy. Grayling and Roscommon dropped to 17 below zero, while Manistee didn’t get lower than 22.
The Blizzard that hit eastern Newfoundland, Canada last Friday was extraordinary. A total of 30″ of snow fell in 24 hours. The storm had hurricane force winds, with a peak gust to 81 mph.
The sun came out after the blizzard and the wind slowly diminished. Look at the picture above. There are cars buried here on the street. City crews said they had plowed through drifts that were 15-feet high.
You can see that transportation came to a standstill. How do you get a fire truck or ambulance through that?
Here’s houses almost totally buried by the snow. One nice thing about the strong wind was that it blew much of the snow off the roofs, so roofs collapsing was not an issue.
Seems like shoveling out of this with a standard shovel would be like trying to get to Seattle by walking.
St. Johns is a city slightly bigger than half the size of Grand Rapids. It has a long history, going back to when John Cabot sailed into the harbor in 1494 on the feast day of St. John the Baptist.
You shovel and shovel…first you have to find the car…then you have to dig it out…then, you have no where to go.
Some folks did try and travel…with skies, snowshoes.
St. Johns is the windiest, cloudiest and foggiest major city in Canada. They get an average of 132″ of snow per winter. February is the coldest month, with an average temperature of 23.2 deg. and August is the warmest with an average temperature of 61.0 deg.
This is what it looked like in the blizzard. The vicious wind blew the snow into gigantic drifts in a short period of time.
Once you get your driveway clear…there’s nowhere to go. The warmest temperature ever in St. Johns was 93 on Aug. 14, 1876 and the coldest was -21 on Feb. 16, 1875. The climate extremes coming in successive years.
Most of the trees are conifers in Newfoundland, with the birch being the most common deciduous tree. Buildings and infrastructure is built to account for intense winds and significant weight loads from heavy snow and periods of freezing rain. This area also can get the very windy remains of tropical storms that move up the east coast of North America.
Someone(s) worked hard to clear this “snow canyon”.
Today and Tomorrow (Jan. 20 and 21) mark the mid-point of winter (temperature-wise). The average high and low temperature for Grand Rapids is now 30/18 and that’s as low as they go. It’ll be a very slow process, but average temperatures will now start to go up. Top pic. from Austin Hamilton.
This pic. from NOAA Coastwatch was just before sunset looking out over Lake Michigan at the Muskegon Channel. You can see two layers of clouds in the distance. There are high level cirrus clouds – the sun will shine through these thin clouds. There are also low clouds where the mid-lake band of snow showers is occurring.
Average temperatures lag the position of the sun by roughly one month. The shortest day of the year is the Winter Solstice (occurred on Dec. 21). On that day the Northern Hemisphere gets the least amount of heat energy from the sun. One month later, we have the coldest average temperatures.
We are gaining daylight at the rate of approx. 2 minutes each day. Today (Mon.) Grand Rapids gets 9 hours and 31 minutes of daylight, a gain of 30 minutes since the Winter Solstice. The amount of daylight increases fastest from February to April. In one month – on Feb. 20, Gr. Rapids will get 10 hours and 47 minutes of daylight – a gain of one hour and 16 minutes.
Up until today, this winter has been very similar to last winter, weatherwise, but in late January, that trend will end. Last year we had the coldest period of winter from Jan. 25-Feb. 1…that’s when the Polar Vortex came south to Michigan. This year the colder air will lift out after a couple days and we’ll be back to our mild pattern as we close out January.