Winter storm in Michigan: Putting this weekend’s ice storm in perspective

Metro Detroit ice storms history (WDIV)

DETROIT – Ice storms are the most destructive winter weather event we have here in southeast Michigan, and the ice storm that hits part of our area Saturday will likely be historic.

More: Potentially ‘crippling’ ice storm could knock out power across Michigan

The best way to convey the seriousness is to look at our most recent historic ice storms…if you’re old enough, you may remember some of these.

New Year’s Eve / Day 1984-85:

Of all times to get an ice storm, New Year’s Eve has to be one of the worst. Freezing rain, light at first, moved into the area New Year’s Eve afternoon, and then became heavy overnight. I was in Lansing for that one, which was hit very hard. In fact, I vividly remember looking out my hotel room window and seeing the rain coming down as heavy as if it was a summertime thunderstorm. I then turned on The Weather Channel, and the current temperature was 28 degrees.

The next morning, it took me thirty minutes to get enough ice chipped off my car just to get a door opened so I could start it and get the defrosters on. I also remember that the rain / ice line barely moved during the duration of this storm. In fact, that line hovered around 14 Mile Road, and I remember somebody telling me that the north end of the Oakland Mall parking lot was icy, while the south end of the lot was just wet!

March 13-14, 1997:

This ice storm hit the central part of our area with a lot of ice. I cannot get out of my mind how many limbs came down in my backyard as a result. It truly looked as if a bomb hit the backyard…there was that much lumber strewn across the yard, including one big limb that came down so hard that it impaled itself in the ground.

It took me about six hours to get all of those limbs cut up and dragged down to the street – my city (Farmington Hills) scheduled emergency yard waste pickup to help us all out. Otherwise, all of that would have sat there for another month. An estimated 425,000 home and businesses lost power, some for nearly a week. I was one of those, and spent that week at my mother-in-law’s condo…she had power.

April 4, 2003:

This was similar in nature to the March 1997 ice storm. A total of 500,000 homes and businesses lost power as a result of up to an inch of ice accumulation. My memory of this ice storm involves neighbors helping neighbors. A limb came down on my side of my street and took out a power line, so those of us on that side lost power. However, everybody across the street still had theirs. So we all ran extension cords across the street to our neighbors’ houses! I was without power for five days, and some in the northern half of Oakland County, which was hit the hardest, were without power for a week. Yes, by the way, it was another week at my mother-in-law’s.

Computer models have been consistent in projecting a half-inch or more of ice across especially the northern and western parts of our area. But something else to consider is the wind, which could gust near or over 40 mph overnight Saturday night / early Sunday morning. This wind adds a considerable load onto ice-laden trees and power lines, which will only bring down more limbs and lines.

If you haven’t already, make sure you are stocked up with fresh batteries for flashlights and other battery power items. For some of us, this could be an extended period without power. Now is the time to prepare, including making arrangements in advance with family and friends to either go to or host if the power goes out.

About the Author:

Local 4 meteorologist Paul Gross was born in Detroit and has spent his entire life and career right here in southeast Michigan. Paul has researched, written and produced eight half-hour documentaries for WDIV, as well as many science, historical and environmental stories.