Written by: William R. Deedler, Weather Historian - Southeast Lower MI

As with the huge snowstorm of December 1974 another even more powerful (in terms of intensity/extent) storm is of strong interest to all meteorologists who have studied winter storms in the Great Lakes. This storm is also of interest and remembrance to many longtime residents of the Great Lakes, the Upper Ohio Valley and Ontario, Canada who had to deal with winter's full fury late in January of 1978. In addition, the storm certainly casts many memories for those of us (author included) who were on duty and worked during the storm...while being in awe of the development and subsequent immense strength of this great monster. With the 38th anniversary of this Great Blizzard at hand, it is worth taking a step back in time to re-live this monumental example of nature's fury.

While there are several contenders for the worst blizzard ever to hit the Great Lakes in relatively modern times (since 1870 when records began in Detroit), the immense and intense Blizzard of January 26-27th 1978 must rank at or near the top along with the Great White Hurricane of 1913 with its similar track and powerfulness.

The incredible Blizzard of January 26-27th, 1978 evolved out of a winter that was infamous for cold and storms. The Winter of 1977-78 thus far had been one the coldest, since records began, in many areas from the Rockies eastward to the Appalachians. Mammoth blizzards occurred late in January and early February from the Midwest to the East Coast as strong Arctic plunges dove south into the country and met up with the warmer winds from the deep south. The winter of 1977-78 was similar to its predecessor (1976-77) in terms of cold. The main difference between the two winters, however, came in February. In 1977, temperatures moderated rapidly during February, while in 1978, the cold actually worsened - with several locations reporting their coldest recorded February to date. The Winter of 1977-78 is written down in the record books as Detroit's seventh coldest winter, Flint's fifth coldest and Saginaw's sixth. West of the Rockies, it was a different story as a dominant upper ridge of high pressure provided a relatively mild winter, with some stations even reporting one of their warmest winters on record.


The Great Storm


Since there were some forecasted variances of the intensity and track of the storm, and considering the primitive model of the day (LFM - Limited Fine Mesh), forecasters did an admirable job in forecasting one of the most severe winter storms ever to hit the Great Lakes Region.

A Winter Storm Watch was posted as early as Tuesday night, the 24th, for the southern half of the Lower Peninsula for Wednesday Night into Thursday. Gale Warnings for the Great Lakes were hoisted the following Wednesday morning, along with the Watch. A weaker system had moved through the region earlier during the day on Tuesday and already dropped some snow on the region (a Winter Storm Watch had been issued for this system as well, earlier on Monday, the 23rd). After Tuesday's snow, the headline on the Special Weather Statement that was issued by the NWS Tuesday evening read as follows: "Another Winter Storm Threatens Lower Michigan" and thus, a second Winter Storm Watch was officially posted.

Meanwhile, the ingredients of what would later prove to be a truly fascinating yet vicious winter storm were coming together from different parts of the country. As with the "White Hurricane of 1913," the massive storm actually began as two smaller but distinct storms. A strong low pressure with an attending arctic air mass was entering the Northern Plains by way of Northern Minnesota on Tuesday evening (24th). At the same time, another developing low pressure system was taking shape over the eastern Texas/Louisiana area.

The phasing of two distinct jet streams aloft proved to be the key as to the subsequent strength and massive extent of the storm. A very strong and energetic Arctic impulse surged almost due south and plowed the Arctic front through the Northern Plains late on the 24th. At the same time, another very strong upper wind impulse surged south through southern Arizona. These two jet streaks made up the larger North American jet stream as a huge upper ridge of high pressure along the West Coast of the U.S. diverted the powerful Pacific Jet north into Northern Canada. This northern jet (containing a wind max of 110 knots) then dove due south, like on a giant roller coaster, across the western U.S. as the second, subtropical jet (with an even stronger wind max of 130 knots) surged across southwestern states. On Wednesday (25th), a deepening area of low pressure made its way east across the Gulf States into Georgia by evening (surface | 500mb). Meanwhile, across the north, the Arctic front barreled east across the Upper Midwest into the Western Lakes by Wednesday evening.

Earlier that Wednesday morning, the Winter Storm Watch for Southeast Lower Michigan was changed to a Heavy Snow Warning, while a Travelers Advisory was issued for Western and Northern Lower Peninsula. Later, at the issuance of the evening forecast, the entire Lower Peninsula was upgraded to a Heavy Snow Warning. Meanwhile, a rapid deepening of the surface low over the southeast portion of the country also commenced on Wednesday evening. As the low intensified over Alabama and Georgia, Atlanta registered its lowest barometric pressure ever late on the 25th. At the same time, further north in Michigan, snow was falling over much of the Lower Peninsula. In and around the Ann Arbor and Metro Detroit, the snow mixed with or changed to light rain Wednesday night as slightly warmer air surged northwest into that area ahead of the deepening storm.

While the storm was organizing in the lower levels of the atmosphere over Georgia, the Subtropical and Arctic jet aloft began to merge and phase over the Southeast part of the country. This merging of jet streaks contained a wind max of 150 knots which helped induce a rapid intensification of the Georgia Low as it surged northward into West Virginia early on the 26th. Record low barometric pressures were set all along its path as an ominous track (trough) began to materialize toward the Eastern Great Lakes.

Bands of heavier snow spread north into much of Southern Lower Michigan during the very early morning hours of the 26th. Rain continued to fall, however, over the extreme southeast corner of Lower Michigan. At 1 AM EST, rain was observed at Detroit Metro Airport with the temperature comfortably above freezing at 36 degrees. Further north at Flint, however, sleet and freezing rain were falling as the temperature hovered around freezing. Air pressure tendencies were noted as falling rapidly /PRESFR/ and continued that way for several hours (in fact, several stations in this storms path had to re-adjust their barographs for station pressures traces that were BELOW initial chart scale).

The aforementioned Arctic cold front that was across the Western Great Lakes advanced steadily east into Lower Michigan as the main southern low underwent explosive deepening (this low's central pressure fell 40 millibars in 24 hours)! The central pressure was recorded at 28.28 inches as it tracked north across eastern Ohio, just west of Cleveland, at 7AM EST. As the low moved out over Lake Erie, the Arctic cold front over Southeast Lower Michigan was pulled sharply east into it's mammoth cyclonic circulation. Any residual rain over Southeast Lower Michigan quickly changed to heavy snow and blowing snow during the pre-dawn hours of the 26th. As the Arctic front plowed through the Cleveland area, the wind gusted to an incredible 82 mph! As the Arctic air flooded the Cleveland area, the temperature dropped from a relatively balmy 44 degrees at 4AM EST to a bitterly cold 7 degrees by 1000 AM EST.

Blizzard Warnings were hoisted across much of the Great Lakes and Upper Ohio Valley Region by daybreak Thursday. The center of the huge storm (surface | 500mb) continued to trek north northwest across Southwest Ontario (roughly between Chatham and London) while Detroit measured its lowest pressure reading at 28.34 inches at 650 AM EST. The incredibly deep center made its way north along the St. Clair River with Sarnia ON reporting the lowest pressure on land at 28.21 inches. Not only was the depth of this mammoth storm's center very impressive, so too was the extent of low pressure from its center. Even locations that were far removed from the storm's center also reported record low pressures. Stations such as Cincinnati OH, Rochester NY and Toronto ON and even as far east as Wilmington N.C., all recorded record low pressure readings from this monster. In fact, at Toronto, where records go back as far back as 1840, the lowest pressure reading of 28.40 inches broke the old record of 28.57 inches by 0.17 inches. In addition, dozens of other cities, with records going back a century, also recorded their lowest pressure reading of all time or, for at least the month of January. This massively intense storm was responsible for strong wind gusts as far away from the center as Boston /72 MPH/ and Chesapeake Bay Bridge /90 MPH/ with even damaging winds reported as far south as Tallahassee FL.

As the Arctic air circulated throughout the storm while it made its way over Lake Huron, the lowest pressure was reached around 950 millibars or a hurricane-like 28.05 inches! "A Great Storm is Upon Michigan" read the headline of the 800 AM EST Special Weather Statement issued by the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Ann Arbor that Thursday /26th/ morning. Heavy snow and blizzard conditions were extensive as wind gusts in excess of 35 mph whipped the snow into huge drifts across much of Southeast Lower Michigan. Other areas of Eastern Michigan, Indiana and Ohio reported near hurricane-force winds, heavy snow and temperatures hovering between zero and 10 above, resulting in extreme blizzard conditions. These conditions later expanded further east into Pennsylvania and West Virginia and prevailed into the night (26-27th) across much of the Eastern Great Lakes, Southern Ontario and the Upper Ohio Valley. With the storm generating copious amounts of snow and very strong winds, whiteout conditions were widespread. All land and air traffic came to a stand still in the affected regions. Several major roads were closed for at least two to three days, if not longer, while clean up got underway. Numerous NWS employees were stranded at work, home, or on the road somewhere between the two. Several employees worked double shifts into at least Friday (some longer) because of the impassable roads with others simply unable to get to work.

The Blizzard Warnings were allowed to die across Michigan during the forenoon hours of Friday, the 27th. Record 24 hour snowfall totals from the storm included, 16.1 inches at Grand Rapids, 15.4 inches at Houghton Lake and 12.2 at Dayton, OH. Snowfalls for the entire storm (25-27th) included a whopping 30.0 inches at Muskegon (some of which was Lake Michigan enhanced), 19.3 inches at Lansing and 19.2 at Grand Rapids. Snowfalls were less over Southeast Lower Michigan (mainly because of the rain that fell for a period) and included 9.9 inches at Flint and 8.2 inches at Detroit.

The following is a quote from the summary written about the storm by Meteorologist in Charge, C.R. Snider on January 30th, 1978 at the National Weather Service Ann Arbor:
"The most extensive and very nearly the most severe blizzard in Michigan history raged throughout Thursday January 26, 1978 and into part of Friday January 27. About 20 people died as a direct or indirect result of the storm, most due to heart attacks or traffic accidents. At least 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, most of them in the southeast part of the state."
The employees of the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Ann Arbor had just set up shop at the new quarters at the Ann Arbor Federal Building a WEEK before the storm hit. The forecast staff had transferred from the Detroit Metropolitan Airport Office while the observing and radar staff remained at the airport. The majority of employees still lived in and around the metro Detroit area and all major roads between Detroit and Ann Arbor were blocked for approximately 18 hours due to the storm. Several employees put forth efforts beyond the call of duty, stated Mr. Snider in his storm report.

Yet, as mentioned earlier, the Winter was not yet over by any means as the month of February (after the storm) was brutally cold across much of country. The below normal temperature departures of February 1978 were strikingly similar to that of January 1978 (and in some places, February was actually colder). The average temperature for Detroit that winter came in at just 20.5 degrees /normal 27.1/ which again, made it the seventh coldest winter on record. Snowfall totaled a hefty 61.7 inches which made the winter of 1977-78 the ninth snowiest winter on record at Detroit. Flint's average temperature of 19.1 degrees made it the fifth coldest winter on record, but Flint received less snow than Detroit with 50.6 inches. Saginaw's winter average temperature of 17.9 degrees made it the sixth coldest winter on record and was accompanied by 55.6 inches of snow. The 1977-78 snow season at both Flint and Saginaw has since dropped off the top 20 snowiest winters list.

More on the storm in surrounding areas can be found here.

Making weather fun while we all learn,
Bill Deedler -SEMI_WeatherHistorian


After a January Cool-Down to More Normal Temperatures the Past Few Weeks; Back to More Battles for the Second Half of the Winter?

A few weeks ago; I talked about El Nino taking a few week holiday and more typical winter weather would overspread and takes over the region. During the past few weeks, the main competitor for El Nino, was the "dreaded" or, our more typical mid-winter companion - the Polar Vortex. After pushing 4 - 6 degrees above normal the first third /10 days/ of the month, we were able to erase just about all of the above normal departures at Detroit /25.8, +0.3/ through the 24th. At both Flint and Saginaw; climate data still reflects a 2 to around 3 degrees above normal departure - mainly due to lower normal's at both sites and thus, larger above normal departures (remember; Detroit's normals have been inflated due to mainly, the large urban-heat affect).

In any event; we are now in transition again from the colder, more typical Polar/Arctic air dominance (or "Polar Vortex aided") back to a more mixed pattern, at least thru the first week of February. This is mainly due to the "bi-polar" Polar Vortex spinning around in the northern hemisphere and creating a variable NAO/AO  patterns the next few weeks. Initially; the NAO/AO retreats north-northeast and allows El Nino/Pacific Polar enhanced air to overspread much of the country again. This will produce a normal to above normal temperature pattern for the end of January across the Great Lakes and Southeast Lower Michigan. After; it appears the NAO/AO is in a major flux but with a decided negative direction after some sort of storm developing over the Midwest and Lakes Region early February.

Milder temperatures early in the week will bring some rain showers, while colder readings mid-week bring back some colder temps and snow showers but nothing major. Toward weeks end, a more zonal flow will commence off of the Pacific; overspreading the region with milder air once again over the weekend. The map below is an estimate of the 250 MB/~34KFT wind flow over the Northern Hemisphere by Sunday morning, 01/31/16

I started the blog with stating a more mixed pattern is evolving the next few weeks; after our milder, end of month pattern; February into March looks to be somewhat more active at times which also gets a thumbs up by our Winter Outlook guidance. The problem comes in just as it has much of the winter; nearly all of the major activity has been out West, East and South - actually the way it should during a strong El Nino.

From my earlier Outlook:


With snowy winters (above normal snowfalls) dominating the past 10 - 15 years, the season snow outlook for snow lovers is rather dreary. In fact, like the warmer temperature dominance this analogue go-around, snowfall averaged on the lightest side of past analogue winter totals seen at Detroit. Snowfall deficit runs from around a foot at Detroit to just a inch or so at Saginaw. This also fits with thinking of the polar jet still affecting the Lakes enough to bring near normal snows in that region.

However, all is not lost snowfall lovers! Two winters contained normal snowfall at Detroit, one normal and two above normal at Flint and finally; two normal and three above normal at Saginaw. Therefore, the most obvious pattern seen in these winters is that the further north one goes in Southeast Michigan, the better chance for more snow. The same can be said for general precipitation across the region. The Winters of 1991-92 and 1972-73 saw the best snows across the entire region with normal to above normal. The Winter of 1940-41 saw the next best "snow showing" the entire region but still well below at Detroit /26.8/ to near 50 at Saginaw /49.7/. The actual snow pattern for this winter will be watched for updates.

The best snows in the analogues on average were more likely to occur very early in the season, November and then again later in the season. November did indeed see above normal snowfalls with snowfalls running mainly below normal across much of the region since. There still is at least two and a half months for potential snowfall into mid April.

We shall see what winter's second half, snow-wise brings....

Look for any potential major storm updates through the rest of the winter.

Making weather fun while we all learn,
Bill Deedler -SEMI_WeatherHistorian


Say goodbye to El Nino - at Least for the Next Week or Two as a "Changing of the Guard" Takes Place

The unseasonably mild weather of December, for the most part, has held into the first week of January. Temperatures across Southeast Lower Michigan still remain 3 - 5+ degrees above normal for January and the new year. This has been due to two main hemispheric weather patterns; a stiff El Nino jet crossing the Pacific and flooding (some times quite literally) the country with mild and moist Pacific air and an absent Polar Vortex which has been mainly hanging around in its stomping grounds - obviously in and around the North Pole. This is in the process of changing this weekend as these dominant patterns, highlighted in the Winter Outlook for Southeast Lower Michigan  with reverse dominance over Southeast Lower Michigan. This was expected this winter when I discussed the overall winter pattern, in my interpretation of analogues and local data and thus - it was not going to be all comfy and warm due to El Nino.

As the Polar Vortex dives south toward southern Canada in the upcoming days; it will usher in the cold air that has been charging-up the first third of the winter up over the Pole while we basked in unseasonably mild air the past five weeks or so. Have faith though; the polar/arctic air associated with these Polar Vortex's is not as severe as last February's nor January, in the Winter of 2013-14. The cold air will surge south along with the Polar Vortex into mainly the North-central and Northeast part of the country. This "Changing of the Guard" will bring more typical winter weather into the region with normal to even below normal temperatures at times. At this time; the coldest of the air will come in waves with the first due tomorrow, then a reinforcement scheduled for Tuesday into Wednesday. Latest indications are a moderating trend is likely by weeks end before another shot of colder air pushes into the country next week.

The initial fanfare of the mixing of the air masses (mild, Pacific and Gulf air with Polar and Arctic air) will brew a deep but somewhat moisture limited storm over the southern Great Lakes and Northeast. While this storm will deepen nicely, there is not a great moisture supply feeding it, so all precipitation in the form of rain and then snow will be light to moderate.

As far as snowfall, generally light amounts of mainly 1 - 2" can be expected over most of Southeast Lower Michigan with patchy 3" areas over the Saginaw Valley into Monday. Be advised, heavier snows due to lake enhanced moisture will fall over on the west side of Lower Michigan and Northern Indiana this week where several inches will fall in the snow belt regions! If heading out that way; keep abreast to those regions GRR forecast IWX.  

The worst of the weather over Southeast Lower Michigan will be the plummeting temperatures along with the light snow and snow squalls and wind on Sunday which will undoubtedly give rise to worsening driving conditions due to the formation of ice underneath on untreated roads. Temperatures will dive down through the 20s on Sunday. Reading will fall further into the teens by Monday morning. Look for temperatures to be in the teens and 20s for highs this week while lows fall to around zero to the single digits on the coldest mornings.

Maps for placement of the storm and weather Sunday morning and Monday morning.

Gone But Not For Good

El Nino's not gone for good across much of the country - just temporarily. However; I do believe he will be challenged more than recently by the pattern changes and the cold winds over the far northern hemisphere, as agreed upon in my Outlook for mid and late winter. As of now;  he's taking a imposed vacation as the Polar Vortex and associated colder air takes up residence up in the northern part of the country. A split flow will hold sway of the country the next week or two with the aforementioned area reverting back to more typical winter weather, while the southern areas are more dominated by El Nino enhanced sub-tropical jet. Here are recent long term trajectory upper wind weather maps into next week. Of course the further out, the less reliable but their use for trends are decent. Any development of significant storms with these pattern variations are possible and thus, will be monitored the next few weeks.

Try to get out and enjoy winter while we have it - as later in the month is less certain at this time. Look for updates regarding pattern reversals and/or resulting storms.

Making weather fun while we all learn,
Bill Deedler -SEMI_WeatherHistorian


Update 12/27/15 - Look for a New Battle of Air Masses and Jets to Commence at the Week's Open to Top off an Exceptionally Warm December!

 Update - 12/2715 

Freezing Rain and Strong Easterly Winds to Cause Problems in Areas with the Longest Periods of Freezing Rain Monday Afternoon into Early Night

Very little change to original analysis: 
If anything I am even more definite on the freezing rain and associated problems along with the strong gusty easterly winds which will accompany the battle of the systems mentioned below. Look for mixed precipitation to over spread Southeast Lower Michigan from south to north during the afternoon on Monday. Most of the freezing precipitation from this system should be in the form of sleet then freezing rain as a thicker warm wedge of air surges north quickly on the southern jet over the colder, relatively drier Polar air. Freezing rain will become rain during the evening into night from south to north with time.

Strong high pressure in excess of 1040+ MB will but-up against the deep but slowly weakening low pressure over the middle Mississippi and cause a decent period of freezing rain. Most of the region, especially away from the Southeast corner has the biggest risk of ice build-ups up to around .2" with some "hold-out freezing or below temperature areas" from Detroit suburbs northward of around .2" - to as much as .4 - .5" of ice possible. This along with strong easterly winds of 20 to 30 mph with gusts to near 40 will bring the risk of icy roads and falling weaker tree limbs and power outages where conditions hold on the longest before the changeover. Temperatures hovering from upper 20s to lower 30s early in the event will gradually rise into the lower to mid 30s by evening.

Original Post 12/26/15

Earlier in the month, I sent out a blog about how the second half of the month would see a resurgence of the battle of the two distinct air masses that would dominate our winter weather. I stated it would not all be about El Nino this winter and from time to time, an impressive battle would brew between the Pacific energized El Nino jet stream and the Polar/Arctic jet stream. All indications are a new battle will commence in style early this upcoming week but first; lets look at this exceptional December...

Thus far this December has held true to form for an El Nino December with unseasonably warm weather, so much so, it should be at the top of the warmest Decembers on record at all three sites; Detroit, Flint and Saginaw! Even though cooler weather is expected this upcoming week; it shouldn't be enough to knock Detroit's standing out of first place while both Flint and Saginaw are more than safe.

In our analogue section for this winter; December had the best chance at being above normal and notably so - but admittedly, not ranking in first place. In the December analogues, there were three distinct very mild Decembers; 1877 - 38.1, 1940 - 35.6 and 1982 - 37.3. Overall; early in the game, the Winter of 1940-41 seemed to be the best analogue fit for the entire winter but with the two very strong El Nino's of 1982-83 and 1997-98 contending for very close seconds. In winter of '97-98, which arguably has had a very good showing for similar Pacific "goings-on" this past summer into early winter, its December locally though was not all warm as this years - nor the other three mentioned. December of '97 had an average temperature of just 32.2 (didn't even make the top 20 warmest Decembers). The exceptional warmth occurred later in that Winter of '97-98.

Top 20 Coldest/Warmest Decembers in Southeast Lower Michigan
Rank Detroit Area* Flint Bishop** Saginaw Area***
Coldest Warmest Coldest Warmest Coldest Warmest
Temp Year Temp Year Temp Year Temp Year Temp Year Temp Year
1 17.8 1876 42.2 2015 16.1 1989 42.42015 16.2 1989 40.62015
2 18.0 1989 40.6 1881 16.6 2000 37.2 1982 17.2 2000 35.3 1923
3 19.2 2000 39.3 1889 17.4 1976 36.8 1923 18.8 1983 34.5 1982

The second half of December has not all been tranquil and nice as our former air mass battle that occurred last week; brought an outbreak of severe weather over the Midwest and South - and a very rare tornado in Southeast Lower Michigan near the border of Canton and Plymouth. Never had a tornado been reported in Michigan during the month of December - a very rare bird indeed! This severe weather outbreak across the country was preceded by record warmth over the Midwest and East. Detroit broke an very old record high from 1893 /56/ with a 58 on the 23rd...while Flint topped the 60 mark with a 61 for both the 23rd/24th. Its previous records occurred in 1982 (an analogue) with 55 and 56 respectively. Other warm records occurred during the month and can be found here.

Now on to our new battle...

This time around an intense low pressure center over Texas expected to produce a news worthy blizzard over portions of eastern New Mexico and western Texas (see map) overnight into Sunday.

Dawn Sunday 12/2715

The deep low will track north northeast aided by a strong jet streak over the south which came aboard from the Pacific. Note the 135K jet feeding into the storm at 250 MB at that time.

As the low approaches, the cold dome of high pressure will glide across Southern Canada. Timing of these systems, along with cold air in place after being advected in Sunday by the high pressure will determine what sort of mess  (snow, sleet and freezing rain) will be on the docket for Monday and Monday evening. in addition; ground temperatures are unusually warm for late December which only complicates matters. At this time, the risk of mixed precipitation will be the greatest at the onset of the approach of the low later Monday.

The surge of moisture remains robust even with the cold, dry air and subsidence advected in by the 1040+ high pressure - a fairly impressive strength. And thus, our battle commences locally between the deep low moving north northeast toward
western Illinois/eastern Iowa and large Polar high to our northeast in Canada. this will also create strong easterly winds across the region. One thing noted at this time is the remarkable agreement with various models on positioning and affects of the aforementioned systems.

It's interesting and passing to note, a few days ago this storm was progged to move more northeast into the Ohio Valley, which would have put Southeast Lower Michigan in heavy snow and/or a possible ice storm. That solution remains more transitory at this time as the air masses and jets have become bettered sampled. That is not to say Southeast Lower Michigan is out of the woods for mixed precipitation and possible icing, just not extent that was telegraphed a few days ago. This system appears to have enough wind at its sail to surge far enough northward to drag milder air back over the region.

At this time; the best chance for mixed precipitation runs from Monday afternoon into mid evening; the map below /Mon, early eve/ shows the classic mixed precipitation of snow, sleet and freezing rain set up when the clash of air masses takes hold over a the region. Picture warm, moist air being pushed northward aloft while colder, around freezing or below air remains trapped below near the ground. If a stand-off develops, an extended period of mixed precipitation, including destructive freezing rain as it accumulates on surfaces. The warm air is expected to win the battle and therefore, an extended period of freezing rain is not anticipated. However, the situation will be watched as new guidance and actual events unfold.

In any event, look for a mix of precipitation to move into the region later Monday into Monday evening with icing to affect mainly "exposed in the air items" as opposed to warmer ground surface areas, including roadways. Temperatures should hover in the lower to mid 30s for a time until the low pressure and jet streak has enough "umph" to push aside the cold residual affects of the high pressure. Any mixed precipitation accumulation is expected to be limited and transitory over extreme Southeast Lower Michigan with a slower change over time as one moves into Detroit's northern suburbs and points north and northeast toward Saginaw and the Thumb. At this time I look for ice to accumulate any where from a trace over the extreme southern regions to up around a 1/4" possible further north before any changeover to rain.

Various model solutions for Mon eve:

 Any important updates will be forthcoming for this holiday period.

Making weather fun while we all learn,
Bill Deedler -SEMI_WeatherHistorian


Ghost of Christmases Past; The Whitest of Christmases and Other Christmases Past - 2015 version

The Whitest of Christmases and Other Christmases Past 
By: William R Deedler; Southeast Michigan Weather Historian
Date: 4PM Saturday Dec 19th, 2015

Frequently during the Christmas Season, meteorologists are asked; Are we going to have white Christmas?  Generally, it is agreed among meteorologists that in order to "officially" have a white Christmas, an average of an inch of snow must cover the ground, but not necessarily have to fall on Christmas. 

At this time /19th/, at this time it is highly unlikely for a white Christmas across Southeast Lower Michigan even though temperatures should drop some for Christmas after a cold front pushes through, reading should still be above normal into the 40s with no or little precipitation. In fact, at this time the weather looks very conducive for holiday travel across Southeast Lower Michigan with tranquil weather.

Over the years extreme Southeast Lower Michigan has averaged about a 50 percent chance for a white Christmas.  Some years it's already on the ground, some years not, some years it melts while other years it falls on the day.  Now officially there must be an inch of snow on the ground Christmas MORNING at 7am. That is how the official "white Christmases" have been tallied in the past. So theoretically, you could actually have nothing on the ground Christmas morning and have a snowstorm dump a foot on the region during the day and still have NO official white Christmas under the standing rule. It works the other way too; you could have a several inches on the ground at 7am 12/25 but warmer air and/or rain melts it away by afternoon or evening and still officially have a white Christmas.

Last year's December /2014/ and Christmas time was very similar to this year's with record setting low amounts of snow for the month (in the top 5 snowless) and the chances for a white Christmas last year, also being almost non-existent. Even with the normal snowfall throughout last winter, officially on 12/25/14 at 7am; Detroit Metro Airport only a TRACE of snow that fell for the month with nothing on Christmas nor on the ground at Detroit Metro Airport. Most areas into the remainder of Southeast Lower Michigan had a few tenths Christmas eve or Christmas but with less than the amount needed and mild temperatures rising into the upper 30s to around 40...none of the area saw a white Christmas. 

Previous recent Christmases:

In 2013even with all the snowfall throughout last winter, officially on 12/25/13 at 7am Detroit Metro Airport had only a TRACE of snow on the ground. Most areas into the remainder of Southeast Lower Michigan had some residual snow and ice on the ground for a white Christmas. Back in 2012, enough snow did fall at Detroit Metro Arpt (an inch of fresh snow Christmas Eve) to make it an official white Christmas was on the ground as of 7AM. The necessary inch or more was also on the ground at both Flint and Saginaw. Ironically the day after Christmas, the best snowstorm of the winter season hit the region...a day late and several inches short for Christmas. A year earlier in 2011, it was a relatively mild Christmas with temperatures in the 40s and no snow on the ground; so no white Christmas. However back in 2010; residents across Southeast Lower Michigan did enjoy a white Christmas with generally 1” to 6” of snow across as temperatures hovered in the 20s. Then further back in 2009, much of the Detroit area south did not have a white Christmas but points north across Flint, Saginaw and the thumb region generally had a 1” to 3” snow cover. Back in 2008, we saw a “sloppy, melting white” Christmas. That white Christmas involved the melting of a heavy snow cover from past snows that accumulated throughout December. The best of the snowstorms came before Christmas on the 19th (with another, lesser intense snow falling on the doorstep of Christmas, 23rd -24th). After, however, the heavy snow cover melted in earnest as milder air overspread the region Christmas Eve right through the 26th. Christmas of 2007, saw temperatures rise into the mid 40s to mid 50s a couple of days prior to Christmas and that, combined with light rain, pretty much took care of any hopes for a white Christmas as then, like the later Christmas of 2008, the  previous heavy snow cover melted (but this time in its entirety before Christmas). Some scattered light snow did return, skirting the landscape on Christmas Eve but most areas around Southeast Lower Michigan still only had a trace of snow for Christmas. At White Lake and Saginaw, however, the official inch of snow to make it a white Christmas was barely attained in 2007.

Going back further to the Christmas of 2006; it was also mild and therefore, there was no white Christmas. In 2005, we just barely squeaked out a white Christmas (at Detroit Metro Airport, anyway) as a mild spell moved in just before Christmas along with rain, melting the snow down from 4” to 1” by Christmas morning. Originally, there had been 8” of snow on the ground on the 15th. The last really scenic (no slop)  with fresh white snow for Christmas occurred in 2004. A snowstorm brought heavy snow (ranging from 8”at Detroit to around 4” in Saginaw and Flint) on the 23rd, which left the region with a nice white cover for Christmas. It was also a cold Christmas also with highs only in the teens and overnight lows below zero. 

Looking over historical weather records of Christmases past since 1900, a wide range of weather conditions were found. While most people would like to believe that Christmas in the Detroit area should be snowy-white and picturesque, more often than not, they're not. Over the past 115 (including 1900) Christmases in Detroit, 54 (47%) have been what would be called "white" with an inch or better of snow on the ground. Keep in mind however, these records are for Detroit; farther north in Flint, the chance of a white Christmas jumps to 56 percent, while in Saginaw and the Thumb region it rises to 61 percent.

Based on the Detroit records, the Santa award for the "whitest" (most snow on the ground) and also the second snowiest Christmas (snow falling on Christmas) goes to the Christmas of 1951! Just over a foot /13 inches/ of snow was recorded on ground late Christmas day with 6.2 inches of the snow falling on Christmas. Temperatures held well below freezing (HI-26/LOW-18), so what snow did fall, remained. A close second to the "whitest" Christmas, occurred the Christmas after the big stock market crash in 1929. Eleven and a half inches of snow was measured December 25th, 1929 at Detroit but only three tenths /.3/ fell on Christmas. Recently, the Christmas of 2000 was very white indeed, but as to how much of a white Christmas (snow depths) is where the confusion came in. Let me elaborate, officially at Detroit Metro Airport, just six inches of snow was recorded on the ground at 7AM Christmas Day. However, just about anywhere west/north and in the city of Detroit itself, amounts were considerably higher with generally 8 to at least 15 inches. At the National Weather Service in White Lake, 15 inches was observed on the ground Christmas 2000 morning. No additional snow fell on Christmas Day (nor was anymore really wanted with the surplus already at hand). In any event, for Detroit and surrounding communities, the six inches at Detroit Metro Airport is the official snow depth used for the area.

The snowiest Christmas (most snow falling on Christmas), occurred in 1915 when 6.4 inches fell with a snow depth of seven inches on the ground. The timing of this snowfall was impeccable for Christmas with it actually starting Christmas Eve around sunset. Then, it continued to snow through the night into Christmas day. Actually, even more than the 6.4 inches fell from the entire storm with an additional 1.6 inches falling on Christmas Eve. This gave a snowstorm total of eight inches.  A little light rain did mix with the snow during the forenoon hours of Christmas but with a high temperature of only 33, it did little to mar the "Christmas card" scene. Speaking of "Christmas card" scenes, another heavy wet snowfall blanketed the area just after the turn of the century early on Christmas in 1901. The scene is described in the historical weather books as follows:

    "Night of the 24 - 25 cloudy; moist snow continued,
     heaviest between hours of 1:30 and 4:30 am, ended
     at 6 am. amount of precipitation .62 inches. The
     street cars ran all night to keep the tracks open.
     the snow adhered to trees etc, and made a very
     beautiful scene. Depth of snow on ground at 8 am,
     5.5 inches".

 This "Norman Rockwell Christmas scene" was further enhanced by a heavy coating of frost deposited on the buildings and windows Christmas Eve due to the moisture-laden air. But just like memories of some Christmases past, this majestic Christmas scene quickly faded (melted) during the day as temperatures climbed to 41 degrees, leaving just slush , slop and water. During the Christmases of 2002 and 2003, the weather was similar to both of the white Christmases mentioned above /1901 & 1915/. Here again in 2003, snow started falling Christmas Eve and lasted into at least part of, if not all of Christmas Day. On Christmas Day 2003, snowfalls ranged from at least an inch in the far southeast corner of Lower Michigan to as much as six inches across Detroit's northern suburbs, extending northward across Flint and Saginaw. On Christmas Day of 2002, total snowfall at Detroit Metro Airport was measured at 6.4” inches for both days (Christmas Eve and Christmas) with 3.4” of it falling on Christmas Day, itself. Across all of Southeast Lower Michigan snowfalls generally ranged from four to seven inches. A picture perfect Christmas was created both years with the freshly fallen snow. Like the Christmas snowstorms of 1901 and 1915, the snow Christmas 2002 was also somewhat heavy and wet with high temperatures in the lower 30s and lows only in the mid 20s.

Probably one of the slushiest and sloppiest Christmas Days happened in 1973. What started out as a white Christmas with a heavy 7 inch snow cover, quickly melted to a meager 2” slush mess by nightfall. To add insult to injury, it rained nearly a half an inch during the day.The wettest Christmas on record occurred in 1945 when 1.16 inches of rain fell. The rain actually began Christmas Eve as a light freezing rain and continued freezing until nearly dawn on Christmas, when the temperature pushed above freezing. Until the ice melted, a few tenths of an inch of ice coated everything by Christmas dawn. Needless to say, walking and driving early the Christmas of 1945 was treacherous but Santa was in and out of town in a flash!

Without a doubt, and still in the memories of long term inhabitants of Southeast Lower Michigan, is the warmest Christmas on record, the Christmas of 1982. It was as though the whole area was shipped to Florida for the holiday! The official record high at Detroit was 64 degrees, while Flint did one degree better at 65! These readings are about normal for Tallahassee, Florida! Scenes of shirt sleeved people with shorts running or riding bikes, instead of visions of sugar plums, made the Christmas of 1982 to some Michigan Christmas traditionalist, very hard to take.  This spring-like day was complete with scattered showers and, of all things, thunderstorms! Ironically, the bitterest cold Christmas came just a year later in 1983! Maybe a payback from Mother Nature for the warm weather we were treated to, the Christmas past? The temperature plummeted Christmas eve to a record low of -9 at Detroit and was accompanied by a stiff west wind averaging 25 to 30 mph, creating life threatening wind chills at times of near 40 below zero! Santa certainly brought the North Pole with him the Christmas of 1983, when he made his rounds very early that morning. In addition to the record low Christmas eve, another record low /-10/ was established during the very early morning hours of Christmas.

These Christmases past discussed are more the extreme than the norm across extreme Southeast Lower Michigan. But they do show the variable weather that can occur at Christmas (or any other time for that matter). The "normal" (or average) highs in extreme Southeast Lower Michigan Christmas Day are in the lower 30s, while lows average in the upper teens.

And now, I'd like to wish all who read this a very Merry Christmas and/or Holiday Season and the best in 2016! I plan on continuing my blog for the new year if the fates allow and look forward in reaching out to more people (and hear their comments and ideas) across the globe.

Making weather fun while we all learn,
Bill Deedler - SEMI_WeatherHistorian


Will the Battle Reignite?

 Will Second half of December Resemble the Second half of November?

Back in mid November; El Nino energized central Pacific Jet along with the normal dive of the late autumn Polar Jet created a stormy battle across the country as the two patterns competed for dominance. It now appears this will again commence during the second half of December as both air masses and associated jets begin to carve out deeper upper level troughs over the West (were the initial battle will commence) and push northeast in time across the country into the Great Lakes. As time wears on, heights drop across the country and the Polar jet/air mixing with the Pacific Jet becomes more established, basically from the US Southwest to the Northeast. Of course this is a favored storm tracked for storm lovers as the churning of jets and air masses brew storms. This track of storms will bring rain, snow and likely difficult driving conditions depending on each particular storm and available cold, warmth and moisture - and where. Early in the battle anyway, it appears the systems will bring mainly rain to Southeast Lower Michigan but as colder air filters in behind systems, this would set up the region for snow.

As an example of the jet configurations the GFS model 18z 12/09/2015 is projecting, it is easy to see the strong El Nino Pacific enhanced jet gradually becoming mixed with the lowering heights and colder air from the polar region. Note; not only the jet express from the Pacific but also toward the end of the period, the large ridge block developing over Alaska. I would initially take this strong block with a moderate grain of doubt this far out but examining the upper pattern daily for weeks now, suggests at least transitory ridging developing with time toward Christmas in that region as heights lower across the lower 48. One thing that has been trending toward the negative is both the NAO/AO with time which reflects the lower heights..

Check out the loop of the 250MB Jet 18z GFS 12/09/20115 (click on arrow). Of course this will dance around with exact features and storm tracks the next couple of weeks but we are mainly interested in the trend, which shows a definte lowering of heights with time as the NAO/AO appraoch negative territory. How much they move into negative territory will strongly dictate the amount of cold air delivered into the country. Anorther factor I'm watching is the EPO which so far remains positive.

In any event; the second half of December is beginning to look very active and changeable - something holiday travelers will want to watch, especially after mid month.

I'll return with a new blog when specifics become more apparent and affecting the region.

Making weather fun while we all learn,
Bill Deedler -SEMI_WeatherHistorian


*Update - Sunday - 11/22/2015 - Snowstorm Epilogue Over Southeast Lower Michigan

Sunday  - 11/22/2015 - Snowstorm Epilogue

As many years as I've been involved with weather; still occasionally a storm comes along that surprises me or takes me back, reminding me of another. This storm was not only an over-achiever; it had a tricky snowfall forecast placement due to all the things mentioned in the previous posts.

Probably the most surprising item about the storm was the amazing snow depths that focused on the expected heaviest snow area (in the center of Southeast Lower Michigan). In every forecast I observed, I didn't see anyone forecasting 12-16" of snow, even in last forecast period before the storm's arrival- with notably less amounts in the days leading up to the storm. It goes to show you how even with as much meteorological science as we have, the last say will always be Mom Nature! And that my friends; is why I'm still a weather-enthusiast spelled.... N U T.... the unpredictable excitement that still happens.

Observing snowfall rates personally during the storm and seeing video in the worst (or best, depending point of view) snowfall regions with the huge, continuous snowflakes and near zero visibilites for hours as temperatures hovered near freezing. This reminded me somewhat of the first monster I observed many years ago in my infancy with the NWS - see: The Thanksgiving Weekend Snowstorm of December 1st, 1974 in which the 40th anniversary was just reached last year. The storms were different as far as synoptic pattern and max snowfalls but similar as far as personal visual observance, snowfall patterns with its sharp highest snowfall amounts over Southeast Lower Michigan and ironically, also occurring near Thanksgiving (the weekend before rather than the weekend after). Even the storm hour timing was similar; starting near dawn in some areas and lasting into part of the night. The heaviest being the mid-late morning into the early evening

The present day storm only approached max snowfalls in a small area seen back in 1974 (with the core being further north yesterday) since   in 1974, the heart of the heaviest core was further south from Jackson to Detroit with Detroit Metro /DTW/ recording 19.3", which was pretty much the highest over the area (though much of immediate Detroit area saw similar amounts). The '74 storm also contained more wind overall causing more substantial drifting. I worked that storm and to this day, nothing has equaled it for me as far as long continuous large snowflake rates nor snowfall amounts over the Detroit Metro area. Those who remember the 1974 storm and now live up in this recent heaviest snow areas might also have some comparative memories. BTW - The Blizzard of '78 was a much larger, widespread super snowstorm in more ways than the '74 and I also worked and wrote about here, BUT snowfalls were less over the metro Detroit area than in 1974.

Here is a nice summary of November 21st 2015 Snowstorm from the NWS in White Lake, who also keep forecasters on their toes! It was the largest snowfall recorded at the office /DTX/ since the office was built in 1994  

Making weather fun while we all learn,
Bill Deedler -SEMI_WeatherHistorian


Sat - 11/21/15 Update 

Very interesting storm in progress as far as snowfall rates and sharp delineation of visibilites and accumulations. Look for quite a range of intensities over the extreme southeast corner of lower Michigan through the afternoon and early evening - where the sharpest change of snowfall accumulations will occur. This mainly runs from the immediate Detroit area, southeast to the Ohio border (see map). Otherwise; boosted snowfall amounts somewhat in the best snowfall area to account for heavier band of snow projected this afternoon into early evening. Of course, the best snow amounts will be on grassy areas along with some settling/melting. ENJOY!

As discussed below; 

Snowfall positives for highest snowfalls include system's more southern track, upper energy and available moisture. Negatives include atmospheric low level temperatures mainly in the lower to mid 30s through the afternoon, possible period of snow mixed with rain over the extreme southeast corner of Lower Michigan and of course, some melting due to the relatively warm ground.

*Fri - 11/20/15 Update


Latest guidance from last night continues the trend of dropping the track of the low pressure south into the the northern Ohio Valley. Earlier consensus tracks brought the low to the Michigan/Ohio border. Better sampling of the phasing of the two areas of energy spoke about at the onset now suggests the further south track.

With that in mind and looking at the latest surface and upper air data; snowfall projections (+/- an inch) are being updated in accord with latest information.  


As discussed below; 

Snowfall positives for highest snowfalls include system's more southern track, upper energy and available moisture. Negatives include atmospheric low level temperatures in the lower to mid 30s, possible period of snow mixed with rain mainly at the onset over the extreme southeast corner of Lower Michigan and of course, some melting due to the relatively warm ground.

*Thu - 11/19/15 Update 

No major changes from yesterday as current modeling continues projection of the development and progression of the low pressure responsible for snow potential. At this time, it appears the low will track across extreme Northwest Ohio/extreme Southeast Lower Michigan region. I stated below a snowfalls of a Trace to around 4" across Southeast Lower Michigan for the system and that still is close to my analysis possible higher amounts in the Saginaw Valley. That being said, I can narrow down the particulars:

Snow should begin Friday overnight into Saturday and diminish off to flurries Saturday night. The snow should mix with rain over the far southeast corner of lower Michigan.Temperatures should hover mainly in the 30s through much of the snowfall.

Snowfall Estimate Map (give or take an inch)

Snowfall positives for highest snowfalls include system's track, upper energy and available moisture. Negatives include atmospheric low level temperatures and possible mix with rain.

Look for updates if needed.


Original - 11/18/15

In my Winter Outlook issued last weekend, I discussed the upper wind pattern getting charged up under the Fight Has Just Begun paragraph:

The Fight Has Just Begun!

While El Nino has been strong over the Pacific, its downwind affects for the most part, have yet to be seen much in our neck of the woods. We've had a relatively beautiful, warm fall thus far - somewhat uncharacteristic of strong El Nino's (dependent on El Nino strength and timing) which tend to be cooler, see Autumn Outlook analogues. During the strong El Nino's of 1982-83 and 1997-98 the atmospheric characteristics and downwind affects really didn't peak until the winter period. Thus far, along the central and southern West Coast, the "wave-train" of storms has yet to materialize but if history is any indicator, next month should see things pick up some. Things have begun to change here in November though with some storms tracking further south into the West Coast, deepening on the lee side of the mountains and heading into the Great Lakes. However, this pattern is really not unusual for any late fall period so, nothing too El Nino-like.

At the same time; the Polar/Arctic jet has shown signs of expanding and phasing further south into the sub-tropical jet, typical for November. While the subtropical jet is becoming more active, so is the Polar/Arctic jet. This has created a combative, progressive rolling jet pattern across the country. I look for this pattern to continue into at least into early December as timing is always an issue this far out

This upcoming weekend we have a fine example of discussed phasing of the Polar Jet and the Pacific jet energy over the western portion of the country and trekking east across the Plains, Midwest and Great Lakes/Ohio Valley. This mixed/phased system should brew a low pressure over the Midwest into the Great Lakes. 

Depending on the exact track of the low, along with lower atmosphere/surface temperatures and ground temperatures will determine the exact amounts of snow/rain accumulation. She's not even on the map yet but her "parents" are so let's take a look at this "mating" of weather systems. Realistic snowfalls depending on existing conditions at the time could range from a trace to potentially as much as 4" across portions of Southeast Lower Michigan since this system hasn't even formed yet. Let's give it time to get better sampled and tracked.

 Updates as development and track becomes more apparent.

Making weather fun while we all learn,
Bill Deedler -SEMI_WeatherHistorian