It’s Still There: Persistent Snow Cover Reaches Two-Month Mark

Posted at 8:51 AM, Feb 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-11 08:51:06-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Feb. 11, 2014) — Over the weekend, West Michigan passed the notable mark of having at least an inch of snow on the ground for two months straight.  While it may not seem like a big deal in the winter, that’s an event that has become increasingly rare over the last quarter-century.

Intermittent snow began in West Michigan back in November, but it was the morning of December 9th that the snow finally stuck for good in Grand Rapids, when the official snow depth was measured by the National Weather Service at three inches at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.  Since then, the snow has been at least three inches deep — and recently reached a maximum of 23 inches, the deepest snow cover officially measured since 1979.

Now, two months of snow cover in West Michigan might seem like it could be taken for granted, but that isn’t the case.  Even in some of the snowiest winters in recent memory, a mid-winter thaw has gotten rid of the snow at least temporarily.  Take the winter of 2008-09, for example.  December 2008 was one of the snowiest months in Grand Rapids history at 54.6″.  However, temperatures climbed to 50° in the middle of the month, and then to 60° just after Christmas; both times, it melted all the snow that had piled up.   One of the things that has made this winter exceptional is the lack of any real thaw — it is common to see at least a couple of the days in the 40s to 50s between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, even if the overall pattern is cold and snowy.

If we go back through the climate records, we can see a sharp trend in winters with at least 60 days of constant snow cover.  In fact, it hasn’t happened at all since 2002-03!  The mark was also reached in 2000-01.  Prior to that, we only saw two months of snow cover once in the 90s (the very cold winter of 1993-94).

There’s one other interesting point in the data over the last 50 years, and it lends credence to those who say, “When I was growing up, it was like this every winter!”

From 1964 to 2014, the two-month mark has been reached 19 times in total; 15 of those came in the period from 1964-65 to 1985-86.  In other words, the consistent snow cover happened about two-thirds of the winters prior to the mid-80s; since then, it has happened less than one in every seven seasons.  That’s a very noteworthy change in our local winters!

Here is the full list, courtesy of the Midwestern Regional Climate Center:

Years: 1964 to 2014
Conditions are: Snow Depth (in) greater than 0
Minimum Days in the Run: 60
Time Period No. of Days
1965-01-09 to 1965-04-09 91
1967-12-22 to 1968-03-07 77
1968-12-14 to 1969-02-27 76
1969-12-17 to 1970-02-22 68
1970-12-11 to 1971-03-17 97
1971-12-28 to 1972-03-20 84
1975-12-16 to 1976-02-25 72
1976-11-28 to 1977-03-09 102
1977-12-20 to 1978-03-31 102
1978-11-27 to 1979-03-17 111
1980-12-18 to 1981-02-20 65
1981-12-15 to 1982-03-13 89
1983-12-15 to 1984-02-14 62
1985-01-01 to 1985-03-10 69
1985-12-02 to 1986-03-15 104
1993-12-21 to 1994-03-07 77
2000-12-05 to 2001-02-08 66
2003-01-11 to 2003-03-14 63
2013-12-09 to 2014-02-09 63