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Metro Detroit braces for most brutal stretch of cold weather in generation

Wind chill warning in effect Tuesday night through Thursday

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We are now entering the most brutal stretch of weather in a generation.  

I vividly remember the day – January 19th, 1994 – which is the last time we stayed below zero (-18 degrees Celsius) for an entire calendar day.  

That has only happened five times in recorded Detroit weather history. Here are the high temperatures on those days:

  • January 19, 1994:  -4°  (-20 degrees Celsius)
  • December 29th, 1880:  -3°  (-19 degrees Celsius)
  • February 9th, 1899:  -3° 
  • February 10th, 1899:  -1°  (-18 degrees Celsius)
  • January 17th, 1982:  -1°

That stretch in 1899 was particularly brutal, as we stayed below zero for sixty-seven straight hours…from 7:00 p.m. on the 8th through 2:00 p.m. on the 11th.

The way things are shaping up, Wednesday will be added to the ultra-rare list of days where the Detroit area high temperature failed to reach zero. But we also have some snow to talk about.  

Wednesday forecast

Gusty southwest winds bringing that cold air across the relatively warmer waters of Lake Michigan are generating significant lake effect snow, and some bands are extending eastward.  

Some of you in the northern half of our area will be affected, but not everybody: Remember that these lake effect streamers are narrow. If you happen to be under one tonight, you could get anywhere from an inch to three inches of new snow. But just a few miles either side of you, it could be just a dusting.

Accordingly, the National Weather Service has issued a Winter Weather Advisory for Oakland, Livingston, Genesee and Shiawassee Counties until 8:00 a.m.  Again, not everybody will get this snow, but also remember that the windy conditions will blow and drift our snow.

Wind chill warning

This wind combined with temperatures dropping down to between -5 and -10 degrees (-21 and -23 degrees Celsius), means that wind chills will be very dangerous…dropping to near -40 degrees (same temperature on the Celsius scale!).  

When it’s this cold, frostbite can occur in ten minutes, or even less on exposed skin.  

The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Chill Warning from 6:00 p.m. this evening through 11:00 a.m. Thursday.

The cold temperatures means that salt will be comprised tonight…wet roads from salt-melted snow will freeze toward morning, and the salt dissolved in the water won’t begin working until it gets some sunshine on Wednesday…and that’ll only be for a few hours when the sun is high enough in the sky. So be careful if out late tonight.

Partly cloudy to start on Wednesday, but clouds will quickly increase, with scattered snow showers still possible.  High should remain below zero…perhaps topping out at -3 degrees (-19 degrees Celsius), with wind chills around -30 degrees (-34 degrees Celsius) all day.  

Most schools will be closed this day due to the severe cold.  Track school closings here.

Southwest wind at 15 to 25 mph.

Wednesday’s sunrise is at 7:49 a.m., and Wednesday’s sunset is at 5:45 p.m.

Becoming partly cloudy Wednesday night, with lows around -13 degrees (-25 degrees Celsius). Wind chill will once again drop to between -30 and -40 degrees (-34 to -40 degrees Celsius).

Thursday forecast

Mostly sunny on Thursday, with highs around 2 degrees (-17 degrees Celsius).  It’ll be interesting to see if we get above zero this day...if not, then we could be facing one of our longest stretches of consecutive below zero hours in recorded Detroit weather history, as discussed above (we won’t break the record, but easily be in the top five).  

Once again, most schools will be closed this day due to the severe cold. Track school closings here.

By the way, we’ll likely break three temperature records each day on Wednesday and Thursday: lowest temperature, lowest high temperature, and lowest average temperature for the day.

Partly cloudy Thursday night, with lows around -6 degrees (-21 degrees Celsius), and wind chills rising to -10 degrees (-23 degrees Celsius) by dawn Friday. This will be close to Friday morning’s record low.

Friday forecast

Mostly cloudy on Friday, with a chance for some light snow across our South Zone as an upper level disturbance slides to our south – we’ll keep you updated on this. Highs in the low to mid teens (-10 degrees Celsius).

Weekend warm-up still on track

Partly cloudy on Saturday…a fantastic day to head down to Winter Blast, or just to hit the slopes.  And the kids will finally be able to go out and play in the snow…take advantage of this great winter day!  

Highs around 32 degrees (0 degrees Celsius) will feel pretty nice!

Cloudy on Sunday with rain…that’s right, rain…possibly developing (some models bring it in early, some hold it off until late).  Highs in the low 40s (6 degrees Celsius).


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