5 King-Sized Snowstorms From Michigan’s Wintry Past

Michigan tracked as much as 30 inches of snowfall during the Blizzard of 1978. (Courtesy/Kalamazoo Public Library)

By Jessica Lee

December 15, 2022

MICHIGAN—The Mitten hasn’t had a White Christmas (at least an inch of snow on the ground on Christmas morning) since 2017. And while Michiganders hold out hopes for Jack Frost’s return, we thought this list would serve as a reminder of what it’s like when he stops by for an extended visit. 

As history shows, it’s not always such a great time.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest snowstorms and snowfalls recorded in Michigan:

The ‘White Hurricane’ of 1913

(Courtesy/Charlevoix County Commission on Aging)

This early November storm was big enough to earn itself a rather intimidating nickname in Michigan: The “White Hurricane.” Over the course of four days, hurricane-force winds (as high as 90 mph) created huge drifts and whiteout conditions, as well as waves as high as 30 feet. Lake Huron saw the worst of it, and it’s easily among the deadliest storms in our state history.

By the time the storm was finished, 12 ships—mostly along the southwestern portion of Lake Huron—had sank, five had gone missing, and 30 more were damaged beyond repair. The National Weather Service estimates that the storm caused the modern-day equivalent of about $117 million in damage. Among the only positives in the aftermath of the storm? Forecasters and shipbuilders used what they learned to create better technology and stronger vessels.

The Summer Squalls of 1923

When May rolls around in Michigan, it’s time to unpack the summer clothes, get the boat ready, and hit the beach—except for when snow shows up. On May 8, 1923, temperatures plummeted below freezing (from 62 degrees), and much of the state saw an inch of snow arrive overnight.

The next day, it kept on coming. Most of Michigan saw at least 6-9 more inches. Flint and Lansing saw a full foot, and residents had to deal with the unseasonable temperatures for a few more days. Fortunately, the snowstorm didn’t cause much damage. It was just a major buzzkill.

The Blizzard of 1967 

(Courtesy/Historical Society of Michigan)

On Jan. 25, 1967, Lansing and other Michigan cities were living large—recording unseasonably warm January temperatures in the high 50s and low 60s. Marquette even reported its first-ever January thunderstorm that same week. So, it follows that most Michiganders were particularly shocked when a monster blizzard rolled into the Mitten the next day. 

According to state records, the heaviest bands of snow during the Blizzard of 1967 included at least 15 inches of accumulation across an 80-mile-wide stretch through the middle of the Mitten, centering on a large storm that raged from Benton Harbor, to Williamston, to Harbor Beach.

The whiteout conditions were so bad that Michigan State University had to cancel classes for the first time since the campus was established in 1855. More than a dozen Michiganders died of heart attacks as a result of pushing stalled vehicles or shoveling heaps of wet snow. Gull Lake and Battle Creek saw the most snow with up to 30 inches falling in the area. 

The Great Blizzard of 1978

(Courtesy/Visit Keweenaw)

The Great Blizzard of 1978 was the result of two storm systems colliding—one from Canada and another that had worked its way up from the Gulf of Mexico. Together, they formed a slow-moving blizzard that dumped at least 10 inches of snow across most of the state, and as much as 30 inches near Muskegon.

All told, at least 20 Michiganders died during the late January storm—most either suffering medical emergencies and not being able to get out to reach a hospital, or dying in car crashes. At least one person froze to death inside their vehicle, and many others were hospitalized from exposure to the cold.

The Upper Peninsula Snowstorm of 2022

The newest entry on this list is from about eight months ago—when a two-day snowstorm crushed previous snowfall records for Marquette and other areas of the Upper Peninsula on Feb. 22, 2022.

Over a 54-hour period beginning on Feb. 21, the National Weather Service in Negaunee Township recorded a total snowfall accumulation total of 37.1 inches. Local residents saw massive snow drifts, and had to deal with frigid temperatures and whiteout conditions that led to several road closures. Fortunately, however, this record-breaking snowstorm didn’t come with strong winds, and the damage was minimal. Ultimately, residents were just left with lots of white stuff for snowmen, sledding, skiing, and more.

‘Gander Editor Kyle Kaminski contributed to this report.

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