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Welcome to the Michigan
Winter Hazards Awareness Week website


Winter Hazards Awareness Week
Sunday, November 6th

  Day 1 - A Summary of the Winter of 2015/2016


The winter of 2015-16 will be remembered for the near record strength of the El Nino (warmer than average water temperatures in the Eastern Pacific).  This resulted in the warmest winter on record across the United States, and the third warmest winter for the State of Michigan (see U.S. figure below).  Most locations across Michigan were five to seven degrees above average for the winter season (see regional figure below), which placed it in the top five warmest winters on record for most reporting stations. 

Statewide Temperature Ranks Winter of 2015-2016

The warmer temperatures did limit snowfall across the state, especially in the lake effect areas of Upper and Western Lower Michigan.  The only exception was parts of Southeast Lower Michigan where snowfall was about average. The snowfall pattern across the winter was typical of a strong El Nino.  There were a couple snowstorms early in the season, a prolonged quiet period through the heart of the winter season, and then an increase in storminess at the end of winter that continued through April.    

The winter season started slowly with only a few periodic snowfalls for the Upper Michigan snow belt in mid-October and then again in mid-November.   The first significant snow storm of the season hit Southern Lower Michigan on November 21.  This storm left a swath of six to 16 inches of snow from Benton Harbor across Lansing, Flint, and metro Detroit.  The highest total was 16.8 inches in Howell in Livingston County.  The snow fell at rates closer to two inches per hour during the afternoon virtually shutting down traffic for the hardest hit areas.  In the wake of this storm, heavy lake effect snow fell in areas around Manistee and Northwest Upper Michigan with up to 10 inches of snow.

December was a record warm month for the state with very little winter activity.  In fact, severe weather was more common than snowfall for Southeast Michigan.  The first Michigan December tornado on record occurred on December 23 in Canton with a line of thunderstorms that moved through during the evening hours.   After the cold front passed through the state, strong winds battered Upper and Northern Lower Michigan on December 24. The highest measured gust was 69 mph in Mackinaw City, which resulted in a large amount of tree damage in the region.  Nearly all of the state had a “brown Christmas” for the first time since 2006.  Cold air finally filtered back into the state by the end of the month.  This set the stage for the next winter storm on December 28 and 29.  This storm moved from the Southern Plains into Northern Lower Michigan spreading widespread winter weather across much of the state.  Areas from Southern Upper Michigan to the M-32 highway had eight to 10 inches of snow.  Locations south of that to the interstate 96/69 corridor experience mostly sleet with up to four inches reported!

January was noted for an increase in Lake Effect snowfall.  The first round of lake effect snowfall occurred on January 2-4 affecting Central Upper Michigan, far Southwest Lower Michigan and portions of the Saginaw Valley and Thumb regions with up to 10 inches of snowfall.  A modest winter storm then passed through the Northern Ohio Valley region on January 9 bringing snowfall to Northern Lower Michigan.  In the wake of this storm, more cold air filtered over the Great Lakes region to produce another round of lake effect snow for the traditional snow belt areas in Upper and Western Lower Michigan from January 10-13.   These lake effect areas received up to 12 inches of snowfall.  More lake effect occurred again on January 16-18 and then again January 25-29.  Most of the lake effect in the latter half of the month affected Northwest Lower and Northern Upper Michigan with each event leaving up to 12 to 18 inches of fluffy new snow.

As if on que, the end of the winter season started to become very active with cold air surges and frequent storm systems in February.  The first noteworthy event occurred on February 2-3 as a winter storm left six to 12 inches of snow across far Northern Lower and Upper Michigan.  The next storm hit on February 9-10 as a low pressure system moved across the northern Great Lakes and stalled over Lake Huron.  This system brought eight to 12 inches of snow over the Thumb region.  Behind the low pressure system, northwesterly winds produced heavy lake effect snow for Central Upper and Western Lower Michigan.   Warmer air returned for the middle of the month before a strong cold front pushed through Southern Lower Michigan on February 19. Strong winds in excess of 70 mph downed many trees and limbs, and left nearly 200,000 homes and businesses without power.  The strong winds continued to cause damage and power outages into February 20.  By time the wind subsided, there was nearly $50 million in damage.

The last winter storm in February hit most of the Lower Peninsula on February 24.  Widespread snowfall totals ranging from 6 to 14 inches caused most schools, and state and local government buildings to close.  Strong northeast winds created near blizzard conditions.

March started like the traditional “lion” with a strong winter storm that moved from the southern plains into the Ohio Valley on the March 1.  A swath of heavy snow measuring eight to 14 inches fell from Southwest Lower Michigan into the Thumb region.  This was followed by a modest winter storm that hit the Upper Peninsula on March 16-17.  The next major winter storm affected Central and Northern Lower Michigan and parts of the U.P.   This storm brought mostly snow to Southeast Upper and Northern Lower Michigan with 8 to 17 inches recorded.  Meanwhile areas in Central Lower Michigan were hit with up to 0.4 of an inch of ice which lead to scattered power outages.

April did not go quietly into spring weather conditions.  The first 10 days of the month were brutally cold and featured a pair of winter storms.  The first storm dropped five to 10 inches of snow across parts of Northern Lower Michigan on April 3.  The second storm hit Upper Michigan with heavy snow on April 8.  This storm redeveloped over the Northern Ohio Valley later in the day on April 8 and produced snowfall into the early morning hours of April 9 from Jackson to Toledo were a stripe of six to 8 inches of snow fell.