Winter Storm Freezes Northern Indiana County Warning Area
Ice accumulations between one quarter and three quarters of an inch brought down trees and power lines and created havoc on roads across northern Indiana, southwest lower Michigan and Northwest Ohio (IWX CWA) between Wednesday January 30th and Thursday, January 31st. Prior to the ice, heavy snow blanketed northwest Indiana and southwest lower Michigan, where up to 11 inches of snow
fell (See snowfall map).
This storm was well forecast ahead of time. The NWS Northern Indiana Office (KIWX) issued its first outlook on the storm at 521 AM EST Saturday morning, January 26th! Daily updates were issued through Tuesday, then a winter storm watch was issued Tuesday morning, January 29th. Winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings began Wednesday morning and continued through the event.
This first major winter storm of the season finally arrived for the IWX CWA, waiting until late January to do so. After a week of very warm, record breaking temperatures, and a winter season that so far has been mild, the strong storm system took its aim on the area. The core of this storm system began in the Gulf of Alaska around January 25th, then moved to the coast of northern California by January 27th. As the storm moved south along the west coast of the United States, many areas from Washington state to southern California experienced snow. Even parts of southern California experienced winter conditions as a dusting of light snow fell on the beaches of Malibu by January 29th. As this part of the storm began to turn east and move toward Texas, deep moisture from the Gulf of Mexico streamed north ahead of it, encountering an arctic front that had moved south out of Canada. Widespread precipitation formed in the central US, with many states from California to Maine feeling the winter wrath in the form of snow, freezing rain and ice, and heavy rain that caused flooding by January 31st.
The IWX CWA experienced a wide range of weather conditions during this week. Record breaking warm temperatures began the week with highs in the 50s and 60s on Sunday and Monday. As the artic front moved toward the region on Tuesday, moderate to heavy rains dropped between a quarter and one inch of rainfall. By early Wednesday, the front had moved into southern Indiana and we began to feel the affects of the cold Canadian air. Highs on Wednesday were only in the 30s, and enough cold air had moved into our northern areas to change the rain to snow. Central areas experienced a mix of rain, sleet and snow, while southern locations received additional rainfall.
Surface low pressure formed on the southern end of the arctic front Wednesday afternoon in the Oklahoma vicinity. The low moved north along the front Wednesday night. This low pumped large amounts of moisture north across the cold front and into our region. With surface temperatures ranging from the upper 20s in lower Michigan to the middle 30s across central Indiana and Ohio, the stage was set for a mixed bag of precipitation. Snow continued to fall north and west of a line from near Laporte Indiana to Hillsdale Michigan through midnight Wednesday night, before changing over to freezing rain and sleet. Freezing rain poured the entire night south of this line, and north of a line from about Monon in White county Indiana to Van Wert in Ohio. The heaviest concentration of ice accumulation was across far northern Indiana, southern lower Michigan and far northwest Ohio, generally north of Highway 6. The southern portion of the KIWX CWA was spared from freezing and frozen precipitation, but heavy rainfall of over an inch did cause some streams and rivers to rise. Flood warnings were issued for many rivers on Wednesday and Thursday.
Snowfall amounts ranged from just a few inches to almost a foot. A short wave radio operator and observer in Cassopolis, Michigan reported 11 inches of snow. Snowfall amounts from Laporte, St. Joseph, and northern Elkhart counties were between 2 and 6 inches (see a list of rain and snow observations from our faithful observers). After midnight Wednesday night, most of the precipitation changed over to freezing rain and sleet. Weather observers reported between one quarter and one half inch of ice accumulations on most objects. The addition of this ice on top of the heavy wet snow was too much weight for many tree limbs and power lines. By daybreak Thursday morning, residents of the tri-state region awoke to the sound of tree limbs crashing to the ground and no power. Initial reports from power companies indicate well over 100,000 people were without power on Thursday morning. Hundreds of trees and tree limbs were reported down, many of them on power lines. Roads were ice covered and treacherous, and several communities issued states of emergencies.