Intense Lake Effect Snow Band Causes 75-Vehicle Chain Reaction Pile-Up
February 7, 2003

One person was killed and 47 people hurt, including six seriously, when a sudden snow squall swept over Interstate 94 near Benton Center, Michigan, in Berrien County, at 1:30pm, causing a large chain reaction accident.  Vehicles were strewn about both carriageways of the busy Chicago-Detroit link for a mile and a half, and closed down a nearly 12-mile stretch of the expressway for over 10 hours.  Some vehicles caught fire during the whiteout, and some were so badly damaged that the cars had to be cut apart to extract the occupants.  One woman was trapped in her truck for two hours.

The intense band of snow that caused the deadly conditions was part of a system meteorologists call a "mesolow".  This mesolow was able to concentrate the snow into a powerful, narrow band and sweep it through extreme southwest Michigan.  Snowfall rates were as high as two inches per hour within the band, with total accumulations up to a foot.  Winds were around 20 mph.

The Northern Indiana office of the National Weather Service issued a Lake Effect Snow Warning for Berrien County at 11:30am, two hours before the crash.

The graphic below shows how one of the National Weather Service's computer forecast models predicted the mesolow.  The center of the low is represented by the red "L" over northwest Allegan County.  Wind barbs and streamlines show how the wind swirled in a counterclockwise direction around the low, and converged at the center. 

mesolow

The next two pictures are radar images of the snow bands that were spiraling around the low.  The first picture was captured at the time the accident occurred.  The band of very heavy snow, represented by the white and purple colors, was moving southeastward through Berrien County.

snow     snow


Questions or comments on this page can be sent to iwx.webmaster@noaa.gov



USA.gov is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.
  • Web Site Owner:
  • National Weather Service
  • Northern Indiana Weather Forecast Office
  • 7506 E 850 N
  • Syracuse, IN 46567
  • 574-834-1104
  • Page Author: IWX Webmaster
  • Web Master's E-mail: w-iwx.webmaster@noaa.gov
  • Page last modified: 1-Feb-2010 9: 09 PM UTC