GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As temperatures hover in the single digits and wind chills remain well below zero around West Michigan, many longtime residents have been talking about how this Arctic blast compares with similar outbreaks in the past.
Temperatures Tuesday are not expected to get out of the single digits, with readings staying below zero for much of the day south of Grand Rapids. If the air temperature doesn’t reach 10° by midnight, it will be the first time since February 2007 that the official high has been less than that.
That weather pattern from Groundhog Day weekend in 2007 is the most recent that compares to what we’ve seen this week — three days of temperatures of 10° or below, with wind gusts of 30 to 40 miles per hour whipping around areas of lake-effect snow showers. Grand Rapids ended up with about a foot of new snow, and the storm wreaked havoc on travel conditions with two separate 50-car pileups on U.S. 131 (one of which is shown in the file photo above). Minimum wind chill values, however, were only about -20°. We’ve certainly been colder than that at times this week.
However, only one other time since the turn of the century has the high stayed below 10° — on February 18, 2006. If we use this statistic as a guide, we can find a number of the biggest outbreaks of cold air in the region over the last 50 years. Overall, the high has remained in the single digits a total of 31 times in the last half-century (not counting Tuesday).
Considering that many of these dates are part of the same cold snap, we’ve essentially seen similar bouts of cold air, on average, about once every other winter. However, such cold air has been markedly absent since the year 2000, and it’s safe to say that West Michigan is currently in the grips of some of the coldest air in about 15 years.
Much of the focus this week has been on the cause of the Arctic blast, known as the polar vortex. What you may not realize is that the polar vortex is responsible for most, if not all, of these kinds of cold snaps. Click this link for a detailed (and very scientific) analysis of the polar vortex and its role in some of the coldest weather in U.S. history.
Here’s the complete list, courtesy of the Midwestern Regional Climate Center:
|GRAND RAPIDS INTL AP (MI)|
|Years: 1964 to 2014|
|Conditions are: High Temperature (F) less than 10|