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Welcome to the Michigan
Winter Hazards Awareness Week website


Winter Hazards Awareness Week
Sunday, November 5th

  Day 1 - A Summary of the Winter of 2016/2017


The winter of 2016-17 will be remembered for the second near record warm winter in a succession. Unlike the winter of 2015-2016 which featured a record strong El Nino (warmer than average water temperatures in the Eastern Pacific), last winter had no such distinguishing climate forcing feature.  Last winter was another very warm winter for the eastern United States, and the seventh warmest winter for the State of Michigan (see figure below).  Most locations across Michigan were 3 to 5 degrees above average for the winter season, which placed most reporting stations in their top ten warmest winters on record.  

Temperature Ranking

The winter season started slowly with no appreciable snowfalls for even Upper and Northern Lower Michigan through mid-November.   The first significant winter storm of the season hit the state on November 18 and 19. A strong low pressure moved from Minnesota to Lake Superior. Persistent record warm weather would give way to the coldest air of the season. Ahead of the cold front severe thunderstorms broke out from Jackson northeast into the Thumb region of Lower Michigan.  Lake enhanced snow and very gusty winds developed across parts of Upper and Northern Lower Michigan as the cold air flooded across the state. Wind gusts to around 60 mph were recorded near Lake Michigan and Whitefish Bay shorelines. Snow amounts were highest southeast of Grand Traverse Bay, with Sharon picking up 11 inches of snow.  

Some of the biggest winter events of the year occurred in the first half of December.  First an extremely cold early season air mass produced locally very heavy lake effect snow across Upper and Western Lower Michigan.  Snowfall totals of up to 2 feet occurred in some locations downwind of Lakes Superior and Michigan.   Gusty winds created additional problems with blowing and drifting.   As that cold air settle over the Great Lakes region, a low pressure system over the Central Plains moved northeast over Lower Michigan on December 11.  The accumulating snowfall lasted for almost 24 hours.  By the time the snow had ended, total snowfall accumulations ranged from 7 to 11 inches across most of Southern Lower Michigan.

The end of December and for most of January was highlighted by milder temperatures.  There were just a couple of intrusions of cold air to kick off some lake effect snow.  Only one winter storm affect the state during the month. A Plains low pressure system moving into the Great Lakes dumped moderate to heavy wet snow over much of Upper Michigan on the January 10. Behind the system moderate to heavy lake enhanced snow continued into the next day for the west to northwest snow belts of Lake Superior.

Record warm air pushed northward across much of the state for the latter half of February. Two rounds of rare February severe thunderstorm developed across Lower Michigan.  The first severe weather episode occurred on February 24 with severe thunderstorm winds knocking down trees and hail as large as one and a half inches in diameter in locations such as McBain, Lucas and Comins in Northern Lower Michigan.  The next round of severe weather was associated with a much stronger storm system on February 28 which produced heavy snowfall across parts of Upper Michigan and severe weather across extreme Southern Lower Michigan.  The first February tornadoes in Michigan’s recorded history touched down near the communities of Niles, Dowagiac, Brownsville and Wasepi.  All four tornadoes were rated as EF1 (86 to 110 mph).

During the cold season, late autumn through early spring, Michigan weather risks also include damaging winds from strong areas of low pressure that traverse through the Great Lakes.  One such low pressure system affected Michigan on March 8. High winds brought widespread wind gusts up to 70 mph for almost 8 hours!  The high winds took out power lines and trees, along with numerous reports of structural damage to buildings. There were also reports of brush fires and tractor-trailers flipped around the state. Over 1 million homes and businesses lost power during the event.  Due to the extensive damage, many areas were without power for several days.  The high winds caused around $500 million in damages statewide.  These types of high wind events not only cause a disruption to everyday life, but are also life threatening.  The high winds were in part the cause of the University of Michigan men’s basketball team’s plane to be pushed off the runway at Willow Run Airport.  Fortunately, no deaths or injuries were reported.  Two people were killed in Central Lower Michigan in Clare County near the Osceola and Clare County line when a large tree fell on their vehicle while they were driving on M-115 in Freeman Township.

Last winter ended as quietly as it started.  The only late spring winter storm to hit the state was an ice storm across the higher elevations of Western Upper Michigan on April 26 and 27. A pair of low pressure systems moving along a stalled out frontal boundary produced the moderate to heavy freezing rain.