February storms could foretell an active severe weather season

Posted at 5:34 PM, Mar 01, 2017

NILES, Mich. -- While the National Weather Service office surveys damage from last night's storms in southwest Michigan, the atmosphere could be primed for more severe weather this spring.

The unseasonably warm temperatures as of late helped trigger the recent round of storms. February 2017 is going into the record books as the warmest one on record in Grand Rapids with an average temperature of 34.7°.

"We beat the old mark by six tenths of a degree," says Bill Marino, a climate expert at the National Weather Service office in Grand Rapids. "Which, in the climate world to beat a record by that large is absolutely significant."

The warm temperatures combined with an active jet stream could point to an active severe weather season.

"It shows that you've got what I call a meridional pattern where the jet stream is more snake-like," says Marino. "So you're bringing up warm air, then you're bringing back cold air. Whenever you're creating that loopy kind of pattern it tends to be more conducive to severe weather."

Severe storms and tornadoes are unusual in Michigan at this time of year, but not unheard of. The last February tornado on record in the state occurred on February 28, 1974 in the Metro Detroit area.

The warm, stormy February we just had isn't necessarily a sign that severe weather season will be starting earlier and earlier each year. Just two years ago, we had our coldest February on record. February 2015 averaged a frigid 13.3°.