Written by: William R. Deedler, Weather Historian
January 16th, 2004

The weather of 2003 will be remembered as quite volatile and relatively cool across Southeast Lower Michigan. Normal to above normal precipitation (rain/snow) patterns favored the region from around Detroit south to the Ohio Border. This was brought about by an unusually persistent Southern Great Lakes/Northern Ohio Valley storm track that did not abate somewhat until late summer. Most areas around Detroit into the northern suburbs, however, did see a dry spell mid-late summer that lasted into early fall.

Probably one of the more outstanding, yet subtle, notes of interest actually began during the fall of 2002. From October 2002 through March 2003 (six months), the monthly average temperature consistently fell below normal, a fate not observed at Detroit Metro Airport since 1979 when eight months in row averaged below normal. Even after April 2003, when the temperature averaged a meager three tenths /.3/ ABOVE normal, May through July 2003 again averaged below normal! In the end, eight months out of the 12 in 2003 averaged below normal (obviously this does not include the three in row that were below normal in late 2002) while in 1979, ten out of the 12 averaged below normal.

The frequent volatility in the weather was exemplified by way of sharply changing temperatures, more severe weather (and warnings) and more snowstorms and cold during the winter of 2002-03, where we will begin...

One of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent years affected most of Southeast Lower Michigan late 2002 into early 2003. Several storms dumped heavy amounts of snow, mainly over extreme Southeast Lower Michigan. This lead to Detroit's ninth snowiest winter on record since 1870 with 60.9 inches measured. Picture of ice accumulations outside the NWS office in White Lake, April 4th, 2003 An early spring ice storm on April 3rd-4th crippled portions of Southeast Lower Michigan. A storm center dropped heavy amounts of rain and freezing rain along with thunderstorms. This led to a significant icing event with ice build-ups of a 1/4" to around an inch north of an Ann Arbor-Detroit line. By far, the worst of the storm was over Oakland County where up to an inch of ice accumulated. Nearly a half-million customers were without power over Southeast Lower Michigan and some stated it was the worst ice storm since 1976. Over 50 million dollars in damage was accrued as a result of this destructive ice storm.

While the spring into the summer period averaged comfortably cool, numerous intrusive fronts instigated quite an active severe weather season. In fact, the 2003 severe weather season contained the most severe weather events on record, along with the second most warnings issued, since the NWS White Lake's inception in 1994. Also, there were a total of 41 days that thunderstorms occurred at Detroit in 2003, 9 days above average /32/ but a far cry from the record, 53 days in 1917.

A very potent squall line surged east across the region early on the 4th of July. Several wind gusts up to 65 mph along with one inch hail blew down trees and power lines, left about 170,000 customers without power and around 10 million in damages. Despite the active weather pattern, moderate drought conditions made an appearance late summer from Detroit's northern suburbs northward across Flint, the Saginaw Valley and Thumb Region.

Overall, autumn into early winter's weather was rather pleasant but contained frequent, sharply fluctuating temperatures. The period was occasionally marred by intense storm centers, the most notable was another classic "Storm of November" on the 12-13th. This storm's fierce wind brought back memories of even worse storms that have assaulted the Great Lakes in the past. This deep and intense low pressure system tracked east near the Straights of Mackinaw into the Eastern Great Lakes. The storm's central pressure cratered to 978 MB /28.90"/ early on the 13th as it approached Quebec. Howling winds gusted to between 50 and 70 mph across the entire region, while Lake Huron buoys reported huge waves up to 25 feet! A maximum wind gust of 88 mph was noted at Dexter, located in Washtenaw County. More extensive power outages occurred along with around 20 million dollars in damage.

Unlike the previous winter, the Winter of 2003-04 got off to a slow start in December as both cold and snow were somewhat deficit.

2 0 0 3

Month Temps/Depart Precip/Depart Snow/Depart Snow Seas/Depart
Jan 20.5/-4.0 0.42/-1.49 13.9/+2.0
Feb 35.6/-1.3 0.66/-1.22 19.2/+9.9
Mar 23.1/-3.0 1.46/-1.06 8.1/+1.1
Apr 48.4/+0.3 2.07/-0.98 5.0/+3.3 60.9/+16.9
May 56.5/-3.3 4.70/+1.65
Jun 66.6/-2.4 2.51/-1.04
Jul 72.6/-0.9 2.59/-0.57
Aug 72.9/+1.1 4.37/+1.27
Sep 63.1/-0.8 4.27/+1.00
Oct 50.9/-1.0 2.74/+0.51
Nov 44.3/+3.6 2.97/+0.31 0.4/-2.4
Dec 33.1/+3.5 2.69/+0.18 3.7/-7.4
--------- ----------
49.0/-0.7 31.45/-1.44


Graph of daily temperature and precipitation for January 2003

The last time a January was as cold or colder than this past January was back in 1994,when the temperature averaged a very cold 17.3 degrees (11th coldest Jan on record). Wile temperatures moderated during the first week of January with slightly above normal temperatures, the passage a strong cold front on the 9th heralded into the region a distinctive change in the upper wind pattern to the northwest. This change lasted right through to the end of January with mainly below normal temperatures. This cold was very persistent and brought the first below zero reading (-2 on the 27th) at Detroit since december 23rd, 2000 /-1/.

Though snowfall was not lacking for the month, total precipitation was significantly below normal. The total of just .38 of an inch made January 2003 the fourth driest January on record and the 17th driest month on record in detroit since 1870.

January 2003 observations for Detroit:
Text or Graphic


Graph of daily temperature and precipitation for February 2003

As were the winter months of December and January, February also averaged below normal. With an average temperature of just 23.1 degrees, February averaged a solid four degrees /-4.1/ below normal. In the midst of a nearly continuous string of cold days, very brief and relatively "balmy" periods surfaced both January and February. With only six 40+ degree days during these two months, that left about 90 percent of the time that temperatures held below 40 and about 76 percent of the time, temperatures held at freezing or below! Like January, the month of February also did not start out cold. In fact, temperatures pushed well up into the 30s and 40s during the first few days. After the brief warm spell, cold weather pretty much dominated through the end of the month.

While snowfalls during the month were somewhat frequent but mainly light, a strong low pressure moving northeast through the Ohio Valley on the 22nd changed all that. The storm dumped quite a range of snowfalls over the region. Snowfalls ranged from around four inches in much of Livingston county, to upwards of near a foot in St Clair County /Port Huron/ and southeast Wayne County /Wyandotte/. Strong north to northeast winds gusted up to 30 to 40 mph and sculptured drifts at least 2 feet high. This storm helped make February of 2003 the seventh snowiest February on record. You can also read the full Winter 2002-03 write-up.

February 2003 observations for Detroit:
Text or Graphic

MARCH 2003

Graph of daily temperature and precipitation for March 2003

March certainly lived up to its changeable reputation with everything from bitter cold and snow, to warm sunny days, to severe thunderstorms. Some of the greatest below normal temperature departures of the "winter" occurred during the first ten days of the meteorological spring month of March. Wave after wave of Arctic air sailed south from northern Canada and engulfed the Great Lakes during this period. Overnight lows plunged into the teens, single digits and even below zero (a low of -4 on March 3rd became the coldest temperature during the "winter" and broke the old record low of -1). The frequency of snowstorms comtinued the result of what seemed like an endless parade of Ohio Valley Low Pressure systems during the Winter of 2002-03.

March wasn't entirely cold, however, as readings pushed well into the 50s and 60s, with even a 71 degree reading on St Patrick's Day that charmed the Irish and Irish at heart. A strong cold front brought a clash of airmasses that spawned a line of strong to severe thunderstorms on the 28th. By that same evening, the majority of reports contained strong to severe wind gusts of 40 to 60 mph. A biting northwest wind behind the front brought sharply colder weather once again for month's end.

This turned out to be the sixth month in a row that temperatures averaged below normal in the Metro Detroit area. To find a similar parallel, one has to go back 24 years to 1979 to find six or more consecutive months below normal. During the period of april 1979 through november 1979, all eight months averaged below normal.

March 2003 observations for Detroit:
Text or Graphic

APRIL 2003

Graph of daily temperature and precipitation for April 2003

The long, cold winter of 2002-03 was not going to give up easily as yet another arctic blast blew into the region during the first week of April. As the strong Arctic front pushed its way south across Southeast Lower Michigan during the afternoon on the 3rd. the temperature extremes across the region were quite impressive and dramatic with lower 30s up in the Saginaw Valley, to near 80 at a few locations in Lenawee and Monroe Counties. A storm center moving east along the slowly sinking cold front, produced rain and scattered thunderstorms with very heavy rain that led to the notable freezing rain event under the intrusion of the low level Arctic air (for more on this ice storm see annual narrative above).

If the ice storm was not enough, mother nature gave us a one-two punch during that first week of April. Another storm moved up the ohio valley on the 7th and dumped generally 3 - 6 inches of snow over extreme Southeast Lower Michigan. This snow made April the 10th snowiest April on record at Detroit. After, a high temperature of only 33 on the 8th was the coldest April 8th ever seen in Detroit. So intense was the cold for early April here at the NWS in White Lake, that the soil temperature,rather then normally rising with the oncoming spring, fell from 46 degrees on the 2rd to 32 by the 6th (and pretty much remained there until the 10th)!

Warmer weather returned mid month (along with our first 80 degree day) when the temperature surged to 85 degrees on the 15th. This 85 tied the old record of 85 set first back in 1976 (and also, came a week after the aforementioned high of just 33). Another approaching strong cold front on Easter churned up scattered severe thunderstorms. Many reports of hail and high winds were received with the passage of these storms. After, another polar air mass made it far enough south into the great lakes to bring more snow showers to Southeast Lower Michigan on the 22nd. Despite its strong cold snaps, April was the first month that averaged above normal (and just barely) since September 2002 (or seven months).

April 2003 observations for Detroit:
Text or Graphic

MAY 2003

Graph of daily temperature and precipitation for May 2003

The dominant, cool upper air pattern since October continued to hold in place with just some occasional breakdowns and seasonal moderation. Like last May, this May proved to be unseasonably cool over the region. There were no 80 degree days registered this May and only nine 70s (generally at least half the month sees readings in the 70s). While May's average temperature of just 56 1/2 degrees was 3.3 below normal, it did not place in the top 20 coldest Mays.

On the evening of the 5th, strong to severe thunderstorms churned up damaging winds, large hail, and even a tornado. Several reports of hail, a few as large as 1 3/4 inches, were received at the NWS. An F1 tornado was confirmed over Northern Oakland county just southwest of Leonard.

Another severe weather event hit Southeast Lower Michigan during the very early morning hours of the 10th. Large hail was the main culprit that was associated with quickly moving warm and cold fronts. Hail up to 1 3/4 inch was reported in Lenawee county, while hail an inch in diameter was reported in Wyandotte in Wayne County and near Milan and Lasalle in Monroe County. Behind the sysytem, very strong winds blew across the land on the 11th, as evidenced by a wind gust of 58 mph at Detroit Metro Airport at 334 pm EDT. The very strong wind gusts resulted in scattered downed tree branches and power outages.

After the storms/wind on the 10th/11th, a distinctive pattern change took hold that brought us back to the more familiar northwest flow- and this held the remainder of the month. An unusually intense and cool low pressure system for late May tracked across the Southern Great Lakes and Northern Ohio Valley. A cool Memorial Weekend was out done the next weekend on the 31st, when colder weather held over the region. Temperatures hovered in the mid 40s to around 50 while a strong northeast wind blew. Heavy rain fell in advance of a storm center with locally over an inch of rain falling. Despite that added rain at month's end, the 4.70 inches of rain did not even clear the 20th position for wettest Mays /4.96/.

May 2003 observations for Detroit:
Text or Graphic

JUNE 2003

Graph of daily temperature and precipitation for June 2003

The first three weeks of June were abnormally cool. In fact, with an average temperature of just 63.8 degrees, the first three weeks of June would have placed in at ninth place for coldest June (and just a degree shy of tying first place /62.8/). A cold north breeze pushed temperatures down in the 50s and 60s at June's opening (and even with the strong June sunshine), while lows dipped into the 30s to near 40. There was even some scattered patchy frost well north of the Metro Detroit Area, though no records cracked in the area. Though on the cool side, there were still plenty of refreshingly delightful sunny days during the second and third week of June, with a notable absence of sticky humidity.

Strong to severe thunderstorms with very heavy rain, strong winds and large hail blew across the area late on the 8th. The storms mainly affected the northern suburbs of Detroit, instigating warnings of all types: tornado, severe thunderstorm and marine. A tornado touchdown in Livingston County just east of Fowlerville did some tree damage.

After the official beginning of summer /21st/, temperatures warmed considerably (80s and 90s) with a high for the month of 91 on the 25th. However, with the return of the heat and humidity, came the storms. Isolated severe thunderstorms with strong winds and hail rolled through on the last weekend (28-29th). Isolated wind damage was reported in Washtenaw, Oakland and Wayne counties at Dexter, Farmington Hills, Livonia and Detroit. The heat late in the month helped erase the below normal temperature departure, somewhat, and lifted the month's average temperature out of the top 20 coolest Junes. The month's temperature departure of -2.4 was still notable, however, for a summer month.

June 2003 observations for Detroit:
Text or Graphic

JULY 2003

Graph of daily temperature and precipitation for July 2003

July of 2003 will go down as a rather pleasant month both in regard to temperature and rainfall, both of which were just slightly below the average. Only two nineties were recorded this July (3rd & 4th), while on average we feel about five ninety degree days. The two ninety degree days paled in comparison to July of 2002 when 12 days contained 90 degrees or higher. In addition, July of 2002 turned out to be the 8th warmest, quite a contrast with July of 2003 and its below normal average temperature.

The storm tracks remained active through July with systems pushing south through the lakes or east across the Northern Ohio Valley. The fronts spawned several events of showers and thunderstorms. One of the most impressive severe weather outbreaks occurred on the 4th of July (along with the highest temperature of the month). A strong squall line roared out of the upper Midwest early on the 4th and pushed into Southeast Lower Michigan by noon. As the line went through the region, several locations reported high winds and some hail. Wind gusts were reported up to 65 mph, along with hail up to an inch in diameter. Numerous tree branches were reported downed mainly in Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Lenawee counties. More strong to severe thunderstorms advanced into the region early in afternoon on the 8th and again, the storms were accompanied by strong wind gusts that downed large tree branches (including a few tree trunks that were up to 3 feet in diameter). Finally, another severe weather event took place on the 21st and these storms were accompanied by numerous reports of large hail (some as big as golfballs), strong damaging winds and torrential rains. More trees sustained damage as these storms plowed through the area.

July 2003 observations for Detroit:
Text or Graphic


Graph of daily temperature and precipitation for August 2003

Overall, warmer temperatures visited the region late this summer with August being the warmest month (and only above normal month) of the summer. Along with the heat came the humidity and the occasional dumping rainstorm. What did not change from the other two summer months was the rather active storm track which remained in place through out the summer. August of 2003 also proved to be very active in terms of thunderstorm days. There were 12 days during the month when thunderstorms were reported, well over twice the norm /5/ and up near the record for August (13 days - which occurred way back in 1877)! The 12 thunderstorm days tied with 1925 and 1947 for second place in august. So August of 1947 (56 years ago) was the last time 12 storm days for August (or any month for that matter) was seen. The record amount of storm days for any month is 14 which occurred back in July of 1892 and 1902.

The month opened with the first in a parade of cold fronts pushing across the region. This front was the strongest of the bunch and created several storms, some severe, with locally damaging winds, large hail and torrential downpours. Much of the severe storm activity occurred west and north of Detroit. Damaging winds were reported at several locations in Washtenaw and Lenawee counties, with isolated reports in Livingston, Macomb and St Clair. The heaviest rain fell over extreme Southern Michigan with radar indicating isolated storm totals of in excess of four inches in Lenawee county.

Severe storms returned with a vengeance later in the month on the 21st. A line of strong to severe storms literally blossomed within a hour over Southern Lower Michigan as a strong cold front plowed into an extremely unstable air mass during the evening. Earlier in the day, temperatures surged into the 90s and overall, it turned out to be the warmest day this summer (however Metro Airport only hit 91 and 92 was registered on July 4th). High relative humidities accompanying the heat pushed heat indices up to around 100 to 110 degrees (locally even higher)! More strong to severe storm raced through the area during the early morning hours of the 26th. The main severe weather culprit with these storms was wind damage to trees/power lines which hit just the extreme southeast corner of Lower Michigan.

The warmest stretch of August's weather occurred mid-late month with high temperatures pushing well into the 80s almost daily. This brought the average temperature of the month up to nearly two degrees /1.9/ above normal.

August 2003 observations for Detroit:
Text or Graphic


Graph of daily temperature and precipitation for September 2003

The first fall month of 2003 was a very pleasant, sunny and relatively dry month - that is until the last week or so. Up until that time /Sep 20th/, temperatures averaged around three degrees above normal and just over an inch and a half of rain had fallen (about 3/4 of an inch below normal). High temperatures frequently rose into the 70s and 80s and were accompanied by considerable sunshine.

Rain from Hurricane Isabel was welcome as she spun up and passed to our east on the 18th-19th. Unfortunately, while some areas over the extreme eastern portion of Southeast Michigan received up to 2 1/2 inches of rain, other areas saw nary a drop.

After Isabel's rain, the weather pattern pretty much cooled down as Canadian air flooded the region and was appropiate for the arrival of fall /Sep 23rd/. After, waves of cool air dropped themperatures into the 60s and even 50s. One such wave of cool air plowed through the region on the 22nd, bringing storms with torrential rains and dropping a whopping 1.73 inches of rain at Detroit Metro Airport. That 1.73 inches of rain was mainly responsible for just placing September in the record book as the 20th wettest September on record. Another strong cold front on the 24th, spawned the month's only severe weather outbreak but it was limited to Lenawee County.

September 2003 observations for Detroit:
Text or Graphic


Graph of daily temperature and precipitation for October 2003

October opened in the depths of some of the unseasonably cold air that arrived late in September. A strong polar high pressure pushed the cold air south into the area from Northern Canada. So cold was it on the 1st, that several locations noted snow flakes mixed in with rain showers. While that was the case here at the NWS in White Lake, it was not officially at Detroit Metro Airport. If snow had been observed there, it would have tied the earliest date for snowfall officially observed at Detroit /Oct 1st 1974/.

The chill hung around for the nearly the entire first week of the month. High temperatures held down in the 50s, while lows fell into the upper 20s to upper 30s. The mean temperature during the first week of the month averaged in the mid 40s (or about ten degrees below normal and more like mid-late november). Despite the unusual cold, no record lows were set that week but the cold took care of most vulnerable vegetation that had yet to be killed off.

Much warmer air was funneled northward into the Great Lakes during the second week and brought true Indian Summer weather to the region. Just a few days after a 33 degree reading /5th/, the temperature surged to 80 degrees on the 8th (warmest of the month). This beautiful warm up lasted right through the 13th with high temperatures rising mainly in the 70s during the period. A vigorous low pressure system and cold front ended the nice weather with a vengeance on the 14th. Nearly two inches /1.78/ of rain was dumped at the airport. This broke the old daily excessive rainfall record of 1.60 inches set well over a century ago back in 1893!

A second stretch of nice but more typical October dominated from the 14-19th and was accompanied by considerable sunshine. Sunny weather and strong southwesterly winds pushed the temperatures back up to 70s on the 20th. During this stretch of warm weather, temperatures averaged about 8 degrees above normal rather than below. However, the roller-coaster ride continued as another strong front knocked temperatures back down into the 40s and 50s. With the exception of the 1.78 inches falling on the 14th, October was really a fairly dry month when speaking of rainfall frequency. Rain fell only on five days (and two of those .01 or less) up through the 25th of the month. Halloween greated trick or treaters with a balmy summer-like evening after high temperatures surged into the 70s.

October 2003 observations for Detroit:
Text or Graphic


Graph of daily temperature and precipitation for November 2003

When comparing all months back to back, it was found that November's weather had the best chance of being the opposite of October's and that was the case this year. The overall mild weather experienced much of November, contrasted well to October's overall cool weather (this, in spite of some nice Indian Summer weather). Temperatures averaged over three and a half degrees /3.6/ above normal making it the 12th warmest November (tying with November of 1883).

Right off the bat, November opened up just the opposite of October with unseasonably warm weather through the 5th. At the height of the warmth, the temperature hit 75 degrees on the 4th, breaking the old record high of 72 hit back in 1978. A sharp cold front pushed through the region early on the 6th and spawned showers and thunderstorms along with dropping temperatures dramatically. After that record high of 75/4th, a high of only 36 on the 8th came within three degrees of the record low maximum /33/.

A very deep and intense low pressure system moved through the Great Lakes on the 12th - 13th. This storm brought back memories of some of the fierce infamous November storms that have pummeled the Great Lakes (for more on this storm, see annual narrative above).

After the intense storm on the 13th, the weather calmed down a few days as temperatures held closer to normal. This was short-lived, however, as the temperature pendulum swung back to the warm side with temperatures averaging about 11 degrees above normal from the 17th - 24th. High temperatures rose to 60 or above on the 18th, 19th, 23rd and 24th, just missing a few record highs by a couple of degrees.

Winter arrived just about on schedule (late November) and right after Thanksgiving. A storm center winding up over the eastern Lakes brought our first notable round of snow and cold. Accompanied by blustery chilly northwest winds, rain over the region on Thanksgiving, changed to snow on Friday. Most areas saw a light coating of snow from a trace to around an inch, with an isolated area or two recording over three inches.

November 2003 observations for Detroit:
Text or Graphic


Graph of daily temperature and precipitation for December 2003

The weather pattern of December 2003 was generally reflective of the Decembers in the in-house Winter Study, especially where snowfall was concerned. December's below normal snowfall /3.7/ was well represented in the study with a large 9 out of 13 Decembers containing below normal snow, while temperature predictions were more mixed. While December did not place in the top 20 warmest Decembers (and no record highs were set), the dominant relatively mild weather was well represented in both daily highs and lows for nearly all the month.

The active storm track of the autumn took a bit of a breather over Southeast Lower Michigan during December. The majority of storms tracked to the south, east, or north of our area. The strongest storms of the month brought heavy amounts of rain, rather than snow, since these storms did track north of the region. Despite a windy opening (peak wind gust of 41 mph on the 1st), the first week of December was rather benign weather-wise. A strong low pressure moved into the Northern Great Lakes late on the 10th and brought widespread rains of an inch or slightly less. The big rain maker of the month, however, came through the area on the 23rd when a loe pressure system tracked north into Southern Michigan. Nearly eight tenths /.79/ of an inch of rain fell at Detroit Metro Airport with this storm.

While winter did get off to an intermittent and slow start in December, the storm on the 23rd did help to set the stage for another white Christmas across Southeast Lower Michigan. On the backside of this storm, colder air, along with another weak low pressure system, filtered south into the region in time to bring light to moderate snow for Christmas. Snowfalls ranged from around an inch /1.4/ at Detroit Metro Airport to six inches /6.0/ here at the NWS in White Lake.

The month of December ended with rather benign but mild weather. The one exception was when a broad area of light to moderate rain moved through the area on the 29th ahead of a cold front. Rainfalls with this system were too, quite generous (especially for December) when totals once again were an inch or less. The rainfall total of .51 of an inch on the 29th, along with the two previously mentioned big rainfall events (.84/10th and .79/23rd), totaled up to 2.14 for just those three days and accounted for 80 percent of the month's rainfall.

December 2003 observations for Detroit:
Text or Graphic

Additional climate information is available on our web site:
/dtx/climate.php is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.