Comparing the Recent Blizzard to the Blizzard of '78

The Blizzard of February 1-2, 2011 rivals some of the great snowstorms of the past across Lower Michigan. Here is an in depth look at how this storm compared to the fabled Blizzard of January 26-27, 1978 in terms of high winds and snowfall at the three main climate sites in southwest Lower Michigan.

Storm Total Snow

Grand Rapids...1978: 19.2 inches, 2011: 16.0 inches

Lansing.............1978: 19.3 inches, 2011: 12.2 inches

Muskegon.........1978: 30.0 inches, 2011: 12.7 inches

Amount of Time with Sustained Winds over 20 mph

Grand Rapids...1978: 27 hours, 2011: 15 hours

Lansing.............1978: 27 hours, 2011: 9 hours

Muskegon.........1978: 24 hours, 2011: 8 hours

Peak Wind Gust*

Grand Rapids...1978: 50 mph, 2011: 49 mph

Lansing.............1978: 46 mph, 2011: 43 mph

Muskegon.........1978: 49 mph, 2011: 41 mph

 * the 1978 peak winds were obtained from multiplying the "fastest mile" wind speed by a conversion factor of 1.2

As can be inferred from the comparisons, more snow fell across the region in the Blizzard of '78. This was especially true near Lake Michigan, where the northwest winds meant greater lake enhancement of the snowfall than in the recent storm, which had northeast winds during most of the storm. Peak wind gusts were comparable between the two storms, but the high winds persisted much longer during the 1978 storm. This was a result of the area of low pressure being much deeper and larger than the recent storm, and to the track of the low. The 1978 storm, which produced some all-time low pressure records across the Midwest, was moving north. This resulted in our region remaining in the strong pressure gradient a lot longer than the recent storm, which was not as deep and was moving to the east. The longer duration of higher winds and heavier snow meant the drifting was much worse in 1978. The recent storm produced 3 to 5 foot drifts, while the 1978 storm had 5 to 8 foot drifts, and in some cases over 10 feet.

Here are some photos from 2011 and 1978. 

These photos were taken at the height of the recent blizzard around 245 AM on February 2nd. Visibility was less than one quarter mile and winds were gusting over 35 mph.

Here is a photo of the Grand Rapids airport taken after the Blizzard of '78.



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