Memorable Weather Events in Southeast Michigan
While severe storms and severe winter weather are common in Michigan, there have been some events that are quite notable in terms of their destructiveness and societal impacts. The following are a few of the most severe weather events recorded in southeast Michigan in chronological order.
April 6, 1886 - Detroit's Biggest Snowstorm on Record – 24.5 inches of snow fell in Detroit. Wind gusts up to 40 MPH created drifts up to 12 feet high. All forms of transportation in Southeast Michigan were halted.
November 7-10th, 1913 – The Great Lakes Blizzard, aka White Hurricane – Strong winds, gusting over 60 MPH at times, and heavy snow created one of the worst blizzards in Southeast Michigan during the 20th century. While Detroit only received 4 to 5 inches of snow, Port Huron and the thumb received up to 2 feet, with drifts over 5 feet. 273 sailors perished on the Great Lakes in shipwrecks as winds gusted over 80 MPH (hurricane force) over the lakes.
The July 7-14th, 1936 Heat Wave – The summers of the 1930s produced several episodes of heat waves and dry spells. The worst of these heat waves occurred over this seven day period. Detroit recorded high temperatures of 100 or higher every day during this period. Saginaw actually hit 111 degrees on the 13th, the highest temperature ever recorded in Southeast Michigan. This is the longest stretch of 100+ degree high temperatures ever recorded in Southeast Michigan. Since most homes and businesses did not have air conditioning at the time, people had nowhere to go to escape the heat. An estimated 500 or more people died from heat related illnesses (the largest loss of life due to a single weather event in this area). Many businesses, including the automotive factories, had to shut down.
The September 25, 1941 Wind Storm – This was actually the remnants of a Hurricane that had made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast on the 23rd. The storm raced into the Great Lakes region and merged with a cold front, leading to an intense wind storm. Wind gusts up to 75 MPH hammered southeast Michigan for several hours and led to extensive damages. This is the only record of the remnants of a hurricane moving into Michigan and actually producing hurricane force winds.
The June 8th, 1953 Flint Beecher Tornado - This is the only recorded F5 tornado to ever strike Southeast Michigan. It hit the Flint Beecher district in north central Genesee County killing 116 and injuring 844 along its path) The tornado actually began northeast of Flushing and ended in Lapeer County. In addition to this tornado, there were several other strong tornadoes in Southeast Michigan on this day. An F4 tracked across Lapeer and St Clair counties, while another F4 tracked across Monroe County. An F3 tracked across Washtenaw County and an F2 Tracked across the Livingston/Oakland County Border.
April 11, 1965 – The Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak – This was part of a huge tornado outbreak that affected several states in the Midwest. 6 F4 tornadoes occurred in Southeast Michigan on this day. (2 in Lenawee County, 3 in Monroe County, and 1 in Shiawassee County). In addition, there were a couple of F2 tornadoes that tracked across the Saginaw Valley and thumb.
January 26-27th, 1967 – The Great Midwest Blizzard of 67 – This is the biggest snowstorm on record for both Flint and Saginaw. Heavy snow with winds gusting over 50 MPH impacted the region. 23.8 inches of snow fell in Saginaw and 22.7 inches fell in Flint. Drifts up to 15 feet were reported. Some warmer air and rain mixed in farther south, so Detroit ended up with only 4.2 inches of snow. Locations from Flint northward were paralyzed from this storm. Many people were stranded for several days.
November 9-10, 1975 (the storm that sank the Edmund Fitgerald) – An intense low pressure system moved across the northern Great Lakes. The main impact from this storm was the strong winds. Wind gusts of 60 to 90 MPH were common across northern Michigan, while the southern half of the state saw frequent gusts of 40 to 70 MPH. Waves on Lake Superior actually exceeded 20 feet.
March 3rd, 1976 - the Midwest Ice Storm – This has been noted as one of the greatest natural disasters to ever hit the state of Michigan. A large area of the Midwest was impacted by this storm, hardest hit was Wisconsin and southern Michigan. Several inches of ice accumulated onto trees and power lines. Over 500,000 people were left without power, some for several days. Many communities also lost such services as water and sewer. Sixteen people in the Midwest were killed by this storm and damages were estimated well into the millions. Several counties in Michigan and Wisconsin were declared disaster areas.
The Extreme Cold from Dec 27, 1976 to Jan 31, 1977 – The winters of the 1970s were known for their frequent cold snaps and snowstorms. The most severe cold snap occurred during the middle of the 1976 to 1977 season (one of the coldest winters ever in Southeast Michigan). During this month-long period, high temps did not break the freezing mark and many days saw highs only in the teens. Overnight lows were almost entirely in the single digits or below zero. Wind chill readings on some of these days were well below zero. This is the longest continuous stretch of arctic temperatures ever recorded in Southeast Michigan.
The Great Blizzard of Jan 27-28, 1978 – An intense winter storm led to Detroit’s lowest pressure ever, recorded at 28.34 inches of mercury. The pressure of this storm actually dropped to 28.05 inches of mercury as it moved across Lake Huron. Saginaw recorded 22.5 inches of snow, while Flint had 8.9 inches. Drifts across the area ranged from 5 feet to well over 12 feet. This is perhaps the biggest blizzard ever to impact the region. Hurricane force wind gusts impacted most of the eastern US. About 20 deaths occurred in Southeast Michigan alone. Approximately 100,000 cars were stranded on Michigan highways and commerce across the area was halted for several days.
The derecho of July 16, 1980 – Between 7:30 AM and 9:30 AM an intense line of storms tracked across far southern Lower Michigan. Hardest hit were locations along and south of the I-94 corridor from Ann Arbor to Detroit. There were reports of wind gusts over 100 MPH. Extensive damage occurred to homes and businesses across the area. Railroad cars were blown off the tracks in Allen Park and several windows were blown out of the Renaissance Center downtown Detroit. Damage was estimated well into the millions.
The Great Flood of September 10-12, 1986 - During this three day period, frequent thunderstorms impacted the Saginaw Valley and thumb region along a stationary front. Rainfall totals through this period ranged from 6 to as much as 14 inches, much of which fell on the 11th. Extensive river flooding occurred as a result of these rains. The town of Vassar was inundated and substantial flooding also occurred in Saginaw, Midland and Bay City. Damage amounts were estimated at 400 to 500 million “1986 dollars”, 120 million of which was crop damage. Ten people in the state died and 22 Michigan Counties were declared disaster areas. This was the worst flooding event ever recorded in the State.
The 1988 Summer Drought and Heat - Not only was the summer of 1988 one of the hottest on record, it was also one of the driest. It was arguably the worst drought in Southeast Michigan since the droughts of the 1930s. The drought was worst early in the summer, as rainfall began to increase late July through August. Between June 3rd and July 15th, rainfall at the three climate sites was as follows; Detroit – 0.64 inch, Flint – 0.12 inch, Saginaw – 0.69 inch. Had it not been for two days with measurable rain, there would have been 37 consecutive days with no rain at all, not even a trace at all three climate sites. Particularly hard hit was the agricultural community where losses were well in the millions. The dry conditions were only worsened by the extreme heat. Detroit, for example, broke 90 degrees on 39 days and had 18 days of 95+ high temps. There were also several days where highs came close to or exceeded 100 degrees across the entire region.
The Arctic Air Outbreak of Jan 14 – Jan 21, 1994 – A plunge of arctic air into the eastern US brought a stretch of exceptionally cold weather to Southeast Michigan. Highs during this time period ranged only from the single digits to the teens and lows were well below zero. The cold was worsened by gusty winds, which sent wind chills well below zero. The dangerous wind chills forced many schools to close for a couple of days. Several record low temperatures were also set during this period.
July 2, 1997 Tornado Outbreak - The combination of a strong cold front and an extremely unstable air resulted in 13 tornado touchdowns across southeast Michigan on the 2nd; the largest number for a single day since records have been kept. Three tornado-producing supercell thunderstorms developed along the front during mid-afternoon. The northern-most supercell produced 9 tornado touchdowns over southern Saginaw, northern Genesee and northern Lapeer counties, including two F-3's. A woman was killed in Thetford Township when she was hit by a falling tree. Another supercell produced F-1 tornadoes in northern Livingston and northern Oakland counties. The tornado in northern Oakland County destroyed a mobile home park near Holly, resulting in one fatality. The southern-most supercell produced an F-2 tornado that passed over densely populated northern Wayne county, including the northern part of the city of Detroit. The result was nearly 100 million dollars in damage in northern Wayne county alone, as the tornado cut a swath of heavy damage from northwest Detroit through Highland Park and Hamtramack. Miraculously, no one was killed in that area, although nearly 100 injuries were reported. Meanwhile, just to the north, an F-0 tornado and strong straight-line winds did about 30 million dollars in damage in Macomb county. Tragically, the greatest loss of life on the 2nd occurred in Grosse Pointe Farms, where straight-line winds of nearly 100-mph blew a gazeebo full of people into Lake Saint Clair. Five deaths and 8 injuries resulted.
The May 31st, 1998 Derecho – This intense line of storms tracked across the entire lower peninsula during the early morning hours. Wind gusts of 60 to 90 MPH were reported all over Southeast Michigan. Thousands of homes were damaged due to fallen trees. Several counties in the state were also declared disaster areas. Over 800,000 people lost power in the state, the largest power outage due to thunderstorm winds ever in Michigan.
The Wind Storm of November 10-11, 1998 – This storm occurred on the 23rd anniversary of the storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald. Like the 1975 storm, this storm was also the result of an intense low pressure system which tracked across the northern Great Lakes, sending a powerful cold front across southern Michigan. Wind gusts of 60 to 70 MPH across the area caused hundreds of trees and power lines to be blown down. There were even reports of some buildings which had their roofs torn off and many barns were blow down. There was one fatality with this storm. The southwest winds on Saginaw Bay actually blew the water out into the open lake and created the lowest recorded water levels on Saginaw Bay.
The Midwest Blizzard of Jan 1-3, 1999 – This powerful storm dropped heavy snow across all of Southeast Michigan, generally between 6 and 14 inches. Up to 16 inches was reported in and around Ann Arbor. Wind gusts up to 40 MPH created drifts up to 7 feet deep. Thousands of motorists across the area were stranded. This storm essentially shut the city of Detroit down for several days. Several counties in southern Michigan were declared disaster areas.
The Snowy December of 2000 – This was the snowiest month ever recorded at both Flint (35.3 inches) and Saginaw (40.3 inches). Although several snowstorms occurred during this month, the worst occurred from the 11th through the 12th, when 6 to 15 inches of snow fell across the area (up to 20 inches in some locations in the thumb). The snow came so frequently and in such great amounts that it became difficult for road crews to keep the roads clear. Many motorists were stranded on Michigan highways. Several counties in Southeast Michigan were declared federal disaster areas. Frequent cold snaps and dangerous wind chills followed in the wake of the storms, reminding many of the harsh winters of the 1970s.
The Wind Storm of March 9th-10th, 2002 – An intense cold front raced across the state during the afternoon of the 9th. Wind gusts up to 70 MPH accompanied this front. Strong winds then continued into the early morning of the 10th as arctic air poured into the region. Hundreds of trees and power lines were blown down. A few buildings lost their roofs and several barns were blown down. Over a hundred thousand homes had damage from either fallen trees or loss of shingles and siding. The steeple on the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Detroit was actually blown onto the street. There were a few minor injuries and damages were estimated at over 10 million dollars.
The Ice Storm of April 3rd – 5th, 2003 – Several rounds of showers and thunderstorms erupted along an arctic front. Heavy freezing rain impacted locations from the northern Detroit Suburbs up through the Tri Cities and thumb region, while just rain occurred farther south due to warmer air. Hardest hit areas included Oakland, Lapeer, Macomb and St Clair Counties, where ice accumulated over an inch. The ice brought down thousands of trees and damaged hundreds of homes, businesses, and cars. An estimated 450,000 people lost power, many of which were without power for up to a week. Three deaths and several injuries were attributed to this storm.
The Wind Storm of November 12-13, 2003 – A deep low pressure system tracked across the region, triggering widespread wind gusts of 50 to 70 MPH across Southeast Michigan. There were a few gusts up to 80 MPH recorded. Considerable damage occurred to trees and property. An estimated 230,000 people were left without power and damage was estimated around 10 Million dollars.
The June 8th, 2008 Derecho – A line of severe storms raced across the region during the afternoon. Wind gusts of 60 to 90 MPH were reported as this line of storms moved through. Hardest hit areas included parts of Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer and St Clair Counties, where hundreds of trees were blown down.
The July 2011 Heat Wave - The entire month was unusually hot and humid. In fact, this was the hottest month ever at Detroit, the third hottest at Flint, and the fourth hottest at Saginaw. A strong upper level ridge blanketed much of the central US through most of the month, leading to extreme heat from the Great Lakes region all the way to the southern Plains. The worst of the heat occurred from July 16th to July 23rd with several days of 90 or higher daytime highs. Heat indices ranged from 95 to 110 degrees through most of this period. On July 21st, highs across the area reached 100 degrees, while heat indices broke 110 degrees.