The Biggest Storms That Have Happened in Michigan

In the midst of Michigan’s cloudy and snowy 2023 season, we’re looking back on some of Michigan’s biggest snowstorms in history.
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Stock photo of a man walking through a snowstorm. // Photograph by Zac Durant via unsplash.com.

It’s been a bit dreary in Michigan lately. According to a report from Great Lakes Snow, as of Jan. 18, the skies above the Mitten State have been covered with clouds for approximately two weeks since the start of the year, which means there have been few days that we have been able to feel the heat of the sun beat down on us.

Even though the Great Lakes are a state treasure, they’re one of the biggest factors to Michigan’s cloudy days. The cold air that winter brings and the warmer water in the Great Lakes causes moisture to form, resulting in the formation of clouds — and in some years, lots of snow.

Here, we take a look at some of the monster snowstorms our lakes and their clouds have dumped on us over the years, from “The White Hurricane of 1913” to “The New Year’s Monster Snowstorm of 1999.”

The Super Storm of 1886

According to Only In Your State, in April of 1886 snow began to fall in Michigan, which was very unusual for that time of year. By the end of the first day, 24.5 inches of snow had fallen. Many businesses had to close as snow drifts piled up to 40 inches. The temperature went down into the 20s and was accompanied by 30 mph winds. Even when The Super Storm was over, Michigan was left with a coating of froze, glittering snow all over the state.

The White Hurricane of 1913

Over 100 years ago, The White Hurricane of 1913 seized the Great Lakes and wreaked havoc on maritime travel for four days. The National Weather Service reports that ships were face to face with a blizzard that produced 90 mph winds and 35-foot waves. Not only were those conditions hard to maneuver through, but sailors were also faced with a whiteout and ice formations on their ships. Forecasting technology at the time isn’t the same as what we have today, so ships left the port because there was no way of telling how bad the storm ended up being. It’s estimated that a total of 250 lives were lost during the storm. The White Hurricane of 1913 is one of the largest inland maritime disasters due to the nine ships lost.

The Late May Storm of 1923

Michiganders are used to the inconvenience of inclement weather scattered throughout the year, but a snowstorm in the beginning of May was something nobody was expecting on the radar. According to the National Weather Service, The Late May Storm of 1923 started with a temperature drop from 64 degrees at 1 p.m. to 34 degrees by 6 p.m. that same day. Snow started falling heavily which resulted in 6-9 inches of snow on the ground. Wind averaging 15-25 mph accompanied the storm on this odd day. Damage had been done to trees, power lines, and telephone poles. The next day, everything that The Late May storm brought had melted away.

The Great Blizzard of 1978

The Great Blizzard of 1978 is on par with The White Hurricane of 1913 when it comes to power. The National Weather Service reports that it was during one of the coldest winters on record in Michigan that this blizzard formed. Michigan issued a Heavy Snow Warning, a Travel Advisory from the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula, and a Blizzard Warning across the Great lakes and Upper Ohio Valley Region. 35 mph winds roared through Southeast and Lower Michigan while Eastern Michigan reported hurricane-like winds. Snow also fell for 24 hours straight, resulting in 16.1 inches of snow in Grand Rapids and 15.4 inches at Houghton Lake. “About 100,000 cars were abandoned on Michigan highways,” Meteorologist C.R. Snider wrote in 1978 as part of a summary of the storm.

The New Year’s Monster Snowstorm of 1999

The Monster Snowstorm that swept North America caused schools and businesses in Michigan to close for several weeks. Not only did businesses have to bear with the closure of their stores due to the weather, but roofs were also collapsing across Michigan. The storm caused temperatures to drop below freezing and 12-24 inches of snow was covering the land. Temperatures did eventually get to above freezing, but that caused snowfall to turn into freezing rain that showered on top of the heavy snow across the state, according to the National Weather Service.

Do you remember any of these big snowstorms in Michigan? Share your experience with us in the comments.