Story Summary

Tracking West Michigan’s First Winter Storm of 2012-13

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — West Michigan will head into the weekend before Christmas with a shot of wet and windy weather.

Rain will develop late Wednesday, with a transition to snow starting Thursday afternoon and continuing Thursday night.  Snow may become heavy at times Thursday evening into early Friday before winding down with some lingering lake-effect snow showers.

Winds will be gusty, especially as cold air moves in Thursday night.  Gusts of 40 to 50 mph may result in downed tree limbs or power lines, causing scattered outages.

Wet pavement will also turn icy as temperatures fall late Thursday, creating dangerous driving conditions for late Thursday and early Friday.

You can check out interactive radar and the latest 7-Day Forecast on the Weather page.

Photo: Jeff Wood, 1/13/12

Story Timeline
Previous Next
This story has 8 updates

A powerful winter storm that tore through most of the Midwest and through the Great Lakes continue to press off into the Northeast United States. The system produced blizzard conditions and 10 to 20 inches of snow from Nebraska, to Iowa, to Wisconsin. Most locations around West Michigan only tabulated one to three inches, with some slightly higher amounts occurring across our extreme northern counties. In fact, the highest snow total in our immediate area was in Big Rapids with 4.2 inches.

The real threat was the powerful winds that filtered in behind the low pressure system Thursday night into Friday. Our forecast models were showing 50 to 60 mile per hour wind gusts days in advance, and that’s exactly what we saw. The highest wind speed actually occurred in South Haven at 71 mph. Holland had a gust of 63 mph. Muskegon 61 mph, St. Joseph/Benton Harbor 60 mph, and most other locations between 40 and 55 mph. Remember, a 74 mph wind is hurricane strength…so these were indeed very strong with highs waves on Lake Michigan. The attached photo was posted on our FOX 17 Facebook page by Sara Simmons at Holland State Park.

Breezy conditions will remain Through Saturday, but the winds will not be nearly as strong. A cooler, more seasonable airmass will settle into the region with highs the next several days in the low to mid 30s at best. This weekend looks great with plenty of sunshine and quiet, uneventful conditions. Get the complete forecast at www.fox17online.com/weather.

For those of us that may not have realized it, December 21 is the shortest day of the year. Only nine hours in length, compare that to one of the longest days of more than 15 hours in June. The 21st is commonly referred to as the winter solstice…the point at which the sun is farthest south of the equator as it gets all year. This is the start of the summer season for the southern hemisphere, and the start of our winter season here in the northern hemisphere. It’s nice to know the sun now begins its track back to the north and the days will begin getting longer. We’ll add a minute or so each day over the next couple months. You can click here for more information on the solstice.

Have a great weekend and a very enjoyable holiday season. Meteorologist Kevin Craig!

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Even without significant snowfall around West Michigan, a powerful storm system still caused problems with strong winds that resulted in downed trees and power lines.

Rain took its time changing over to snow Friday morning, resulting in unimpressive accumulations around most of the FOX 17 viewing area.  In many spots, temperatures that held up overnight kept snow from sticking to pavement, causing main roads to merely be wet.  However, less-traveled county roads saw some icy patches develop as temperatures slipped to near or below the freezing mark.  Drivers did run into problems even with the lower snow amounts.  Semi trucks were reported sliding off of freeways in places like I-94 east of Hartford, I-196 near Holland, and US-31 near Whitehall.

A single, relatively narrow, band of lake-effect snow developed Friday morning as well, leaving about one to three inches in a few locations before shifting eastward and diminishing.  Northern Michigan saw the bulk of the snow, with accumulations of eight to sixteen inches reported from near Cadillac through Sault Ste. Marie.

Snow will continue to gradually wind down Friday, with only a few flurries expected into the evening.

Wind, however, is an entirely different story; as FOX 17 meteorologists forecast over the last two days, the wind caused more issues than the snow itself around West Michigan.

Gusts of 60 to 70 miles per hour were reported along much of the Lake Michigan coastline Friday morning, with the highest gust of 70 mph coming at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab station at South Haven.  Inland gusts were generally around 40 miles per hour.

Those wind gusts knocked down trees and power lines, resulting in scattered power outages, especially in the southwest corner of the state.  Here are links to updated outage maps from Consumers Energy, Midwest Energy Cooperative, and Great Lakes Energy.

One tree fell on a house in Niles, resulting in two minor injuries, according to a National Weather Service report.  A Montague Area Public Schools bus also hit a downed tree in the road, severely damaging the bus, but not injuring the driver or the handful of kids riding at the time.

Strong wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour are expected to continue through Friday afternoon before slowly diminishing Friday night into Saturday.

The rest of the weekend forecast is uneventful, with partial sunshine and highs in the mid 30s.  You can check out interactive radar and the 7 Day Forecast through Christmas Day on the Weather page.

PHOTO COURTESY: Oceana County Sheriff’s Department

Weather
12/20/12

Powerful Storm Brings Strong Winds

WEST MICHIGAN – A powerful low pressure system and winter storm will bring strong winds to the Great Lakes on Friday.

Many locations around West Michigan tabulated at least three quarters to one inch of rain on Thursday, with even a few inches of snow occurring across our northern counties in the morning. Our high temperature in Grand Rapids actually made 47 degrees. We’ll be cooler on Friday and beyond with highs expected in the mid 30s.

WINTER WEATHER ADVISORIES are in effect for all of our area from 1:00 a.m. through 7:00 p.m. Friday. A combination of strong winds, light accumulating snow, and blowing snow will make for some tougher-than-normal travel. Most of our area will see about one to two inches of snow, with some isolated three inch amounts. Berrien and Cass Counties in the extreme southwest portion of the state are under WINTER STORM WARNINGS. It’s possible a little more snow occurs there if a persistent lake-effect snowband materializes with a northwest wind.

Expect sustained winds in inland locations around 20 to 30 mph, with gusts of 40 to 50 mph possible. At the lakeshore, look for sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts of 50 to perhaps 60 mph. With STORM WARNINGS on Lake Michigan, waves will build to 15 to 20 with the highest occurring from South Haven to Benton Harbor with a strong north/west flow. These winds will certainly rival that of Superstorm Sandy that occurred a couple of months back. You can track current conditions across the state, including wind speeds and gusts each hour here.

The attached photo is a snapshot at 9:00 AM Friday from our computer forecast model. Look at the position of the low and remember that everything rotates around it in a counterclockwise fashion. That said, the strongest winds, coldest air, and snow are on the backside of this system for us on Friday. The white/gray lines around the low are lines of constant/equal air pressure…we call them isobars. The more there are,/the closer they are together, the stronger the wind field. The snow will taper off through Friday afternoon for most locations, but the winds won’t completely relax until later Saturday.

This system produced blizzard conditions across several states (Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska) with 8 to 12 inches of snow, even some isolated 18 inch amounts. I talked extensively about the track of this system on Monday. The reason? If this storm had tracked another 100 to 200 miles further south/east, the blizzard would have been over Michigan. In the big scheme of things…that was a near miss! On the southern end of this system in the deep south, strong damaging winds, perhaps even a tornado or two were reported across Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. This storm has already impacted travel with delays at several airports and at least some carriers canceling flights.

Make sure to send your weather reports and photos to weather@fox17online.com or post them on the FOX 17 Facebook page. Thanks in advance! Get complete weather updates as well as radar, temperatures, and a look at our FutureTrack HD forecast model by going to www.fox17online.com/weather.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Snow-lovers around most of West Michigan will have to keep wishing for a big snowfall, as forecast trends indicate less snow is expected around most of the region.  However, wind and cold will make for unpleasant and potentially hazardous conditions for the area through Friday.

Thursday morning started with a mix of rain and snow, with some areas north of Grand Rapids receiving a quick one to three inches of accumulation.  Snow will continue a transition to rain in those locations through midday and into Thursday afternoon.  Wind will gust around 30 miles per hour during the day as well.  The combination of wet snow and windy conditions has resulted in a number of power outages, especially north of Grand Rapids.  That, in turn, forced some schools to close or let out early for the day.  Click here for the updated closings page.

As the main low-pressure center tracks across the state, there will be a lull in the heaviest rain, and winds will diminish temporarily this evening.

But late tonight (after midnight in most places), winds will shift to the northwest and intensify, pulling in colder air and changing rain to snow.  A period of moderate to heavy snow and blowing snow is likely through early Friday morning before the main area of moisture moves out of West Michigan.  This will leave one to three inches of snow across most of the area.  Behind it, lake-effect snow will drop another inch or two west of U.S. 131 during the day Friday, but that snow will gradually end Friday night.

So, how will this impact drivers and others around the area?  It depends in large part how much, and how quickly, temperatures drop as the cold air moves in.  It now looks more like temperatures will hold near the freezing mark even into the daytime on Friday, which will make it unlikely that a lot of ice will form on the roads.  However, visibilities will be very low in bands of snow.

Without big snow amounts expected, and without extremely cold temperatures, it should be fairly easy for road crews to clean up as the snow winds down Friday.  But driver reactions will be difficult to predict — those who become overconfident without much snow on the pavement may easily run into problems.

Another factor that will be difficult to predict will be school closings.  Normally, this type of event would not cause widespread school closings; however, administrators may feel more inclined to cancel school on the last day before the extended winter break.  Human behavior is not something that even the best weather computers can predict.

We’ll continue streaming live weather conditions as much as possible here at FOX17online.com, and have updates on FOX 17 News or during programming if it becomes necessary.  You can check out interactive radar and the full forecast on the Weather page.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — As a significant winter storm continues to develop to our southwest, it appears that the band of heaviest snow will stay generally north of the FOX 17 viewing area.  Still, significant effects on travel are expected around West Michigan during the day Friday.

As the FOX 17 meteorologists have discussed in previous posts (see Tuesday evening, Tuesday morning, Monday evening), the basics of the forecast have become pretty clear: a mix of rain and snow will transition to mainly rain Thursday, then back to snow Thursday night before winding down Friday.

There are two primary questions yet to be answered that will help determine our final snowfall amounts:

  • Where will the rain/snow line stop its progress northward during the day Thursday?
  • How much longer will the storm hang around once the rain changes to snow Thursday night?

Currently, forecast model projections are fairly consistent in telling us that the rain/snow line will get north of Grand Rapids and Muskegon Thursday.  It’s likely, then, that the heaviest snow will fall in areas north of U.S. 10.  Parts of northern lower Michigan may easily see up to a foot of accumulation Thursday into Friday.  However, there will also be some areas in Oceana, Newaygo, and Mecosta counties that end up with totals of six inches or more.

For the majority of West Michigan, however, rain will make up a large portion of the precipitation from this storm.  That cold, wind-driven rain will persist through much of Thursday and into Thursday evening after some areas see minor slushy accumulations of snow early Thursday morning.

A burst of heavy snow Thursday night into Friday morning will make up the majority of the accumulation for most of the area.  Current forecasts keep that snow around until around midday Friday, with an average of about two to four inches of snowfall.

The other wild card in that forecast is lake-effect and lake-enhanced snow, which could add another inch or two to totals west of U.S. 131.  That snow will be blowing and drifting Friday as winds gust to 50 miles per hour or more.  The southwest corner of the state will be most affected by snow coming off Lake Michigan.

The National Weather Service has issued Winter Storm Watches (which will likely be changed or upgraded to warnings eventually) along the lakeshore and for the northern section of the FOX 17 viewing area.  It should be noted that this storm does not meet the traditional criteria for a winter storm in many of these locations (six inches of snow or more in 12 hours, or eight inches in 24 hours).  However, the combination of snow, falling temperatures, and extremely strong winds will create hazardous conditions for much of the region Thursday night and Friday.

Because the main thrust of snow is still about 36 hours away, we will continue to refine the snowfall forecast.  Check out the latest information, plus interactive radar, on the Weather page.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – As we’ve been tracking for several days now, a powerful low pressure system is expected to move into the Great Lakes Thursday and Friday this week. The system is coming from Colorado and pulling in a fair amount of Gulf Moisture along with it. That means plenty of rain and snow, and a deepening (strengthening) low pressure system with a very strong wind field. This system dropped between one to two feet of snow across the Sierra Nevadas and the Cascade mountain ranges in the west. More than a dozen states have some type of winter storm watch, warning, or advisory out for this system. Click here to see national watches/warnings. Michigan is no exception…Oceana, Muskegon, Newaygo, and Mecosta Counties are under a WINTER STORM WATCH that goes into effect Thursday at 1:00 PM and runs through Friday at 1:00 PM. Click here for the information on our local watches.

While we were trying to pin down the track of this low pressure system on Monday, Tuesday we were already able to offer rainfall totals, snowfall totals, and sustained wind speeds through the entire event. While these amounts will be refined over the next day or so, I would expect most of them to be fairly accurate and on track for West Michigan. The attached photo is our FutureTrack HD forecast model and a snapshot at 3:00 PM Friday. This is showing sustained wind speeds (two-minute average) in miles per hour of 30 to 40 mph. That means wind gusts of 50 to 60 mph, especially at the lakeshore will be possible from this system. Remember Superstorm Sandy a couple of months back? These winds will rival that system with 18 to 22 foot waves on Lake Michigan, and perhaps higher along the southern base of the lake. Storm warnings have already been issued for that time frame…which are the highest you can get on an inland lake. Click here for more information on Lake Michigan waves.

The other parts of this story deal with accumulated precipitation. Rain will develop Wednesday night and go through most of Thursday. A majority of our area will pick up about .75″ to 1.0″ of liquid rain, while snowfall amounts across Ottawa, Kent, and Ionia Counties southward will be on the order of one to three inches, perhaps two to four. Further north where less rain mixes in, I anticipate a swath of three to six inches of snow, with six inches or more likely in areas that never see a changeover or rain mix. Specifically, northern Muskegon County, Oceana, northern Newaygo, Mecosta, and points further north along the U.S. 1o corridor.

The worst driving conditions will occur Thursday night into mid-day Friday as winds ramp up and accumulating snow will be blowing and drifting. Near blizzard conditions are possible in some of these locations…many across our northern counties.  Take a look at our computer forecast models and where this low will be on Wednesday evening. Note the “L” over northern Oklahoma. Here’s the location of the storm center Thursday morning over west central Illinois. All of the purple is accumulated precipitation, while the blue is heavier accumulated precipitation. The location of the “L” Thursday evening  is directly overhead. These are the same forecast models meteorologists look at each day as guidance to help us formulate a forecast.

Get the complete West Michigan forecast updated several times daily at www.fox17online.com/weather. Don’t forget to send your weather reports and photos of this event to weather@fox17online.com. Also…take a boatload of photos of the giant waves at the lake, but make sure to stay off the piers for safety reasons!

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — New information this morning has revealed more about the forecast track of the winter storm poised to impact West Michigan, but has not allowed for a confident snowfall forecast just yet.

Computer forecast models have now come into better agreement that the center of low pressure will take a path from around Chicago through lower Michigan and over Lake Huron Thursday and Friday.  This means that enough warm air will invade West Michigan during the day Thursday to keep the initial burst of precipitation mostly snow.

Only areas around and north of US-10 are likely to see mostly snow, resulting in overall higher snow totals.  Elsewhere, the transition from rain to snow will take place Thursday afternoon and evening, with snow and blowing snow continuing into early Friday.

The best initial guess of snow amounts is approximately two to four inches, on average, around West Michigan.  If there are significantly higher totals, they will occur well north of Grand Rapids (where precipitation stays mainly snow); in lake-effect snow bands that develop briefly Friday morning; and possibly in areas southeast of Grand Rapids (where some computer models develop a burst of heavier snow overnight Thursday night).

Regardless of the final snow amounts, we can be confident that Friday morning commuters will see a significant disruption, if only because of wet pavement that will freeze Thursday night.  In addition, blowing and drifting of snow will make it somewhat more difficult to remove from the roads.  I expect that schools that have their last day before winter break scheduled Friday may cancel classes more quickly than in a normal situation, in part due to the impending holidays, and because few schools have used any snow days yet.

The image above shows the areas that have been placed under Winter Storm Watches for this storm; it clearly shows that the heaviest snow is likely to carve a swath to our west and, eventually, north of us.  Parts of northern and perhaps central lower Michigan may be added to the watch later on Tuesday.

Click here for meteorologist Kevin Craig’s description of earlier storm forecasts, and click here for the updated 7 Day Forecast on the main Weather page.

Weather
12/17/12

Powerful Storm Arrives This Week

As I outlined in detail with a post on Sunday, a rather powerful low pressure system will be pressing into the Great Lakes Wednesday night bringing wind and rain with it.

That rain will continue through most of Thursday before mixing with and changing to snow Thursday evening. Accumulations are likely through the first half of Friday.

The last few computer forecast model runs (there are several of them per day) are still showing a strong, developing, and deepening low pressure system coming out of the southern Rockies and Southern Plains. The exact track of this system has been changing from model run to model run.

The attached photo is a snapshot of our in-house forecast model we call FutureTrack HD. It’s very reliable and has proven to be accurate on previous occasions from severe weather to big snowstorms.

A low pressure system will develop well south and west of Michigan and begin moving our way Wednesday night. Clouds and rain will overspread the area Wednesday night into Thursday. The low will actually strengthen (or deepen) as it tracks into the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Thursday and Friday.

The exact track will play a major role in the type of precipitation we see:

  • A track further north and west of the Great Lakes (as our model shows) will mean more warm air, a slower changeover to snow, and perhaps northwest to west-northwest winds on the backside of the system Thursday and Friday for some lake-enhanced and lake-effect snow. This wind field will drag the snow further inland, so we all see accumulations.
  • Other models show this track just south of Michigan. That would mean we stay north of the low with cooler air, a quicker changeover to snow, and a north-northwest wind behind the system would give appreciable snow only areas along and west of U.S. 131.
  • If our northern counties stay mainly in snow through this event, then could be looking at more significant accumulations versus areas from Grand Rapids south that see more rain or a mix.

What we know for sure is the wind with this low will be quite strong, probably on the order of at least 20 to 30 miles per hour  with gusts of 40 to 50 mph possible.

Last Tuesday I stated on our 5:00 PM and 6:00 PM newscasts that it looked as if we may not see a white Christmas (according to our forecast models). This storm looks to be our only real chance for one.

The models do agree that a ridge of high pressure, cool temps, and somewhat uneventful weather will settle into the Great Lakes behind this system for the weekend before Christmas.

For those of you that would like to see what these forecast models look like and what I see as a meteorologist, click here to see where this low is on Wednesday evening. Notice the location of the “L” south/west of Michigan over southeast Kansas.

  • Click here to see the location of the “L” by Thursday morning over northern Illinois around Rockford. All the purple on the map is potential precipitation. The white/gray lines around the low represent sea level pressure lines (isobars). The closer together they are, the windier and stronger the storm.
  • Click here to see the location of the “L” by Thursday evening…over northern lower Michigan around Traverse City. To see the difference in model tracks, take a look here. This model has the low over St. Louis on Thursday morning. Quite the difference.

Get your cameras ready: the winds and sharply colder air will likely generate some impressive waves on Lake Michigan Thursday and Friday, but please stay off the piers, Snap all your photos from shore and email them to us at weather@fox17online.com. They can also posted on our FOX 17 Facebook page. I’ll say thanks in advance.

Get the complete West Michigan forecast updated several times daily at www.fox17online.com/weather. Have a pleasant and safe week.

Advertisement