Strongest winds occurred inland Friday

Posted at 8:27 PM, Feb 20, 2016

WEST MICHIGAN — Normally, one might expect the strongest winds with a high wind event like we had yesterday to occur along the shore of Lake Michigan. There, the flat, open water surface allows air to flow unimpeded by trees, hills, and other land barriers.

Yesterday, however, that was not the case. We had a 70 mph gust in Grand Rapids, 71 mph near Jamestown in Ottawa County, and 62 mph in Battle Creek (see yesterday’s story for more details on the warm, extremely windy day).  Along the shoreline in Ottawa County, Holland Harbor reported a peak gust of “only” 47 mph. A 48 mph gust was reported along the shoreline near Saugatuck, and 46 mph at the Muskegon Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL).

For most of autumn and early winter, the strongest winds do indeed normally occur along the shoreline with the water generally being warmer than the surrounding airmass. But now that we’re in late winter and approaching early spring, the relatively cold lake waters can have a stabilizing influence on the atmosphere during an unseasonably warm day. Yesterday was a prime setup for this, with warm, less stable air aloft mixing and accelerating to the surface at inland locations. Meanwhile, the cold lake waters acted as a barrier to this downward mixing process. Therefore, lakeshore areas didn’t experience the strongest winds.

Right now, we’re talking about much lighter winds (see image above) and temperatures that are slowly returning to more seasonable levels for late-February. The winds could pick up once again on Wednesday as another weather system (a colder one this time) passes just to our south. The winds don’t look nearly as strong, however, and the main focus will be the possibility of picking up some snowfall with minor accumulations. The colder, somewhat snowy pattern should hold through the weekend.