January Thaws: How Common are they for Northern Michigan?

Just about anyone who has lived in northern Michigan for a number of years can attest to the fact that most winters feature a January thaw. While there is no true definition of what constitutes such an event, the January thaw is typically seen as a period of abnormally warm temperatures that occurs sometime during the month of January, which is typically the coldest time of year in Michigan. Some unofficial definitions state that temperatures must average at least 10 degrees above average for a period of 1-2 days, but more commonly, most folks see the thaw as a brief relaxation of cold and snowy winter weather that usually results in at least moderate, if not significant, snow melt.

Not all years have seen January thaw conditions across northern Michigan, but the majority have. Below is a look at the number of years in which selected cities saw high temperatures at or above 38 degrees (roughly 10 degrees above normal) for at least 2 days during January. As can be seen, January thaw conditions are quite normal for most of the area, with the location least likely to see a significant thaw being Sault Ste Marie.






Traverse City

Houghton Lake

Sault Ste Marie

Number of January Months with at Least 2 Days Above 38ºF

 65 since 1917

42 since 1952

66 since 1909

71 since 1893*

83 since 1897

72 since 1913

41 since 1889

Probability of a Significant January Thaw








* Missing data for Petoskey 1942-1952 

While this winter season has been anything but cold and snowy, we have recently experienced a 3-week period of more typical chill along with a few periods of snow that began back in mid-December. As we are looking ahead, however, that cold is quickly abating, courtesy of a deep trough of low pressure parking itself over the western United States, sending a strong southerly wind flow from the Gulf of Mexico through much of the eastern half of the country. This pattern will bring us an extended stretch of quite warm weather for this time of year, beginning Thursday and continuning through Saturday.

A few highlights of the upcoming thaw include:

  • High temperatures warming well into the 40s, and perhaps lower 50s, today and Saturday.
  • Significant snow melt across the entire region, with many spots likely losing most if not all all remaining snow.

For additional information on weather conditions across Michigan, visit the National Weather Service web pages from Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Marquette.


Multimedia Weather Links

Daily Weather Story

Click to open daily weather story

The daily weather story is designed to provide a broad overview of expected weather conditions. It is normally updated once or twice each day. This product is not updated during severe convective weather events.

Click the "X" in the upper right corner to close this window.

Expert Hazardous Weather Briefing

Click to view the latest briefing.

The Multimedia Hazardous Weather Briefing is a product designed to keep you informed of any upcoming hazardous weather. The briefing is normally updated twice per day, usually between 4:00 and 6:00 am/pm, with a primary focus on potential weather hazards over the next 7 days.

It may take a few minutes to load.

Click the "X" in the upper right corner to close this window.


Click for expanded view

Last Map Update:  .

This map shows the latest watches, warnings advisories, and statements in effect for various counties and marine waters across northern Michigan. For more information, please visit our Hazards Page.

Click the "X" in the upper right corner to close this window.

Internet Explorer Users: You may need to move this pop-up window around in order to display the county map.




Return to Latest News

USA.gov is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.