Short-lived thaw for W. MI after historic cold snap

While on her winter holiday break, Ada Christian school teacher Jolene Holtrop throws a boiling cup of water into the air in Emo, located in western Ontario, Canada. Temperatures at the time were approximately -30 degrees Farenheit. (Doug Holtrop/ReportIt)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan residents have once again proven how hardy they are, after nearly two weeks of enduring temperatures that only reached the teens.

From Christmas Eve until Jan. 7, a relentless shot of cold air from the Arctic region gripped the Great Lakes area, resulting in a 12-day stretch when temperatures didn’t crack 20 degrees.

Map: Temperature anomaly between Dec. 25 through Jan. 7.


Much of the eastern half of the U.S. recorded its top five coldest stretch of weather between Dec. 28 and Jan. 3rd. With an average temperature of 8 degrees, Grand Rapids ranked No. 1 between those dates. In other words, our recorded mean temperature between Dec. 28 and Jan. 3 has never been colder.

Map: Rankings of mean temperature between Dec. 28 and Jan. 3.

The 12-days of sub-20 degree temperatures we shivered through  was also the second longest stretch on record. You have to go back more than a century to find the last time it happened, which was 13 consecutive days recorded in 1912.

Chart: Highlights from the recent cold wave.


The cold temperatures also ignited significant snow and most was lake-effect or lake-enhanced. Wrap your mind around this: During the period between Christmas Eve and Jan. 7,  Grand Rapids received 16.5 inches of snow, Kalamazoo was blanketed in 21.1 inches of snow, and Muskegon dug out from a back-breaking 42 inches of snow.

Here’s how we know it was lake-effect: During that same stretch, Milwaukee was dusted by a mere 1.1 inches of snow. That means the air crossing approximately 90 miles of Lake Michigan led to 40 times more snow in Muskegon!

Map: Total snowfall between Dec. 24 and Jan. 1.
Map: Total snowfall between Jan. 1 through Jan. 7.

Of course, the lake-effect system led to a snowier Michigan. As of Dec. 24, 86.5 percent of the state was covered with snow, at an average snow depth of 4.6 inches. However, there were only trace amounts of snow in and around Grand Rapids.

Comparably on Jan. 7, 99 percent of Michigan was covered with snow (don’t ask me where that one percent is,) with an average depth of 7.7 inches.

Map: Michigan snow cover as of Dec. 24, 2017.
Map: Michigan snow cover as of Jan. 7, 2018.

From Dec. 6 through Jan. 7, Grand Rapids recorded 27 of 33 days with below average temperatures, which means more ice. The Great Lakes went from approximately 3 percent ice coverage on Dec. 24 to nearly 30 percent by Jan. 7. That’s far ahead of the same time last year, where only 11 percent of the Great Lakes were covered with ice.

Image: Percentage of ice on the Great Lakes as of Jan. 7, 2018.


The snow and ice will recede slightly in the coming days, with a mini January thaw heading this way, peaking Jan. 10 and 11.

However, winter is far from over. Colder conditions will return Friday, running through the weekend.

Chart: Forecast high temperatures for the next eight days. (Jan. 8, 2018)

It appears a much more significant January thaw could be looming towards the end of the month, so take advantage of the snow and ice that is currently out there.

Map: The CFS forecast temperature anomaly between Jan. 22 through Feb. 1.


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