WEST MICHIGAN — Winter Storm Warnings and Winter Weather Advisories have been issued for parts of Michigan as a developing storm system will move into the region bringing the potential for heavy snow and below zero temperatures. Light snow will start to fall Saturday afternoon as a cold front drops south into West Michigan. Most of the snow will stay on the light to moderate side with accumulations between 1 to 3 inches by Sunday morning. Temperatures will also be slightly warmer despite gusty winds this afternoon with high temperatures in the upper 20’s and low 30’s.
Temperatures will fall as we head into Sunday as cooler arctic air filters in behind the cold front. A system from the Great Plains will move into the Great Lakes allowing for heavy snow to develop Sunday afternoon and evening. The heaviest snow totals will likely stay south of I-96 and be heaviest along the I-94 corridor and south to the Indiana border through Monday morning. Temperatures will drop into the single digits and below zero, which will make for efficient snow development making higher snow accumulations possible especially along the southern Lakeshore where lake enhancement will only increase the potential for large totals. Winds will also start to pick up Sunday night and Monday morning creating dangerous wind chills of 20 to 30 degrees below zero. Wind chills of this magnitude become hazardous and can even become life-threatening if left to the elements for an extended period of time. Wind chills of 20 below zero will cause frostbite to form in under 30 minutes to any areas of exposed skin. When the wind chill drops to 30 below zero it only takes a mere 10 minutes for exposed skin to develop frostbite. Gusty winds Sunday evening and overnight will lead to blowing and drifting snow making for treacherous travel conditions through Monday morning.
As for snow totals, the models are fairly split at this point with half of the forecast models suggesting light to moderate snow totals and the other half suggesting fairly large totals. As we’ve discussed with previous storms, the challenge with forecasting this time of the year is that many times the system we are forecasting has not even formed. Here is a look at the four of the weather forecast models we use and the scenarios they suggest.
#1: The European model, has the least amount of snow by far from any model and takes the heaviest snow well to the east and south of West Michigan. At this point, this model seems to be an outlier when it comes to snowfall totals but lines up nicely with the American model.
#2: The American model is more similar to the European model in terms of placement, timing and track but brings slightly more widespread accumulations. In this scenario, there would be widespread totals of 4 to 6 inches of snow.
#3: The North American model brings far more accumulation, but is somewhat similar to the American model in terms of placement, bringing widespread heavy snow to most of West Michigan. Something to note with this particular model is that this model brings snow slightly father north, which would impact the metro Grand Rapids area more than the previous two models.
#4: The Future Track HD model, is our in-house model. This particular model has a smaller resolution meaning that it does fairly well on the local level by taking into account local influences and will usually give a more detailed forecast. You can tell that this model obviously has the most snow accumulation of any of the three. A swath of very heavy snowfall can be drawn from Benton Harbor, through southern Grand Rapids and east towards Lansing. While this model does have the largest snowfall totals, it isn’t totally out to lunch. The North American model is fairly similar in placement and intensity. This particular model would bring heavy snow totals of 8 to 12 inches of snow will locally heavier amounts in excess of a foot.
It’s relatively easy to see where the problem lies when forecasting snow totals as models are fairly wide-spread as far as snow totals go. At this point, with the current model forecast we are leaning towards a mixture of a few scenarios. While it is completely possible to see snow totals in West Michigan reach over a foot through Monday, it is more likely that if that does occur it will be a few spots in Southwest Michigan and along the Lakeshore. The heaviest snow should line up south of I-94 with the heaviest snow band closer to the Indiana border. With that said, anywhere south of I-96 could see totals of 8 to 12 inches through Monday.
What is important to remember with this storm is that it will be a triple threat. Snowfall will not be the worst or only hazard. The combination of below zero air temperatures, extreme wind chills, and heavy blowing snow make this storm especially hazardous and even life-threatening if left exposed to the elements. It is important to plan ahead and be prepared especially if you need to travel Sunday and Monday. We will continue keep you updated on any changes to the forecast with team coverage through Monday morning.