This is a revised version of an article I wrote that will be published in the West Bend News this coming Wednesday. I will be posting a more detailed analysis of the storm later this week.
After a winter that has been relatively cold and snowy across the area, I think many of us are ready for the nice, warm, and even wet weather of March and April. This is especially true after the area was recently hit by a strong blast of winter weather, blasting the area with heavy snow, ice, and gusty winds. Now we’re all hoping that winter ends soon, even if Punxatawney Phil disagrees.
On January 31st through February 2nd, the lower Great Lakes region, including northwest Ohio, northeast Indiana, and southern Michigan, was hit by a crippling winter-storm. Stretching from Omaha, Nebraska to Albany, New York, heavy snowfall and freezing rain shut down major highways and cities, with up to 20” of snow observed in some locations. The I-80/I-90 turnpike had travel restrictions due to the dangerous conditions. Hundreds of flights were cancelled at Chicago O’Hare and Midway airports, as well as at Fort Wayne, Detroit, and Cleveland. Many schools were closed on February 2nd due to snow-covered and in some cases, impassable roads.
|Freshly-fallen snow outside of my house in the early morning February 2nd.|
Across Northern Illinois and lower Michigan, snowfall amounts as much as 20" were reported. Chicago reported a snow total of 19.3", making it its fourth largest snowstorm on record. Detroit reported over 16" of snow, making the storm its third largest snowstorm on record. Many other locations reported similar totals.
Where did this storm come from? Why did it form? And can we expect more to come for the rest of the winter?
It began with an upper-level disturbance that moved onshore British Columbia Thursday night, January 29th. Forecast model guidance had suggested that the disturbance would dive southeast into the United States and produce a swath of light to moderate snow from the Central Plains to the East Coast. At most, snowfall of 4-6” was expected across parts of the Midwest, southern Indiana, Ohio, and into Maryland and Virginia. However, by early Thursday morning, forecast guidance began to shift the track northward, foreshadowing the development of a much more powerful storm system.
By January 30th, the development of the storm was fairly certain. The upper-level disturbance across British Columbia would still dive southeast, but it would also interact with a weak upper-level low across the American Southwest. This interaction would strengthen the disturbance, fueling it with abundant moisture from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Forecast models were then showing a significant snowstorm stretching from Chicago eastward into Pennsylvania. Snowfall totals of 16-20” of snow were indicated by forecast models, especially from Chicago to the Fort Wayne area. National Weather Service forecasters indicated that if 16-20” of snow were to fall, it would be one of the area’s heaviest snowstorms to ever impact the area. However, the NWS was not going to predict such high totals due to the uncertainty involved.
By Saturday, January 31st, forecast models were making some uneasy. While they had retained the record-breaking snowfall amounts, models were showing differing placement of the heaviest snow. They were now indicating that the heaviest snow would fall just to the north of our area. For this reason, the National Weather Service kept snowfall amounts in the 10-15” range when they issued the Winter Storm Warning. Not only this, but there was also the possibility that blizzard conditions would be present across the area. The National Weather Service refrained from issuing a blizzard warning due to the fact that the strongest winds were not expected to impact the area until after the snow had ended, but they did note that near blizzard conditions would be possible during the heaviest snowfall.
Widespread precipitation developed across the Central Plains by the afternoon and evening hours Saturday. By nightfall, light to moderate snowfall mixed with rain was impacting the Chicago area.
Snow began falling across our area by 11 p.m. that night. Light to moderate snow fell through most of the night, with most locations reporting 2-4” by Sunday morning. As the low-pressure system developed, however, a break in the snow was observed in many locations, especially east of I-69. Very light snow fell for most of the morning across Paulding and Defiance counties, with heavier snow just off to the west. At the same time, moderate to heavy snowfall continued across northern Indiana, extreme northwest Ohio, and southern Michigan, with snowfall totals quickly approaching a foot by early afternoon.
By noon, moderate to heavy snow had shifted back into the region, dropping visibilities and making roads hazardous.
Snow continued through most of the afternoon, mainly north of U.S. 30. With the strengthening low-pressure system, warmer air was drawn northward into the Lima and Van Wert areas, causing some of the snow to mix with or change over to rain. Surface temperatures rose into the mid and even upper 30’s across these locations. This was something that surprised forecasters, as the warm air was not expected to reach this far north. By late afternoon, cold, Arctic air seeped southward into the area, changing all precipitation to snow, and allowing another period of moderate to heavy snow to blast the area. By 9 p.m., only light snow was being reported across the area, with storm total accumulations approaching a foot in many locations. This was especially true north and west of U.S. 24.
This winter-storm will not likely be forgotten. Although we didn’t see nearly as much snowfall as areas north and west of us did, the 8-14” of snow that many of us did see was enough to shutdown schools and businesses across the area. This certainly reminded us that we are still in winter, and still in an area that is prone to major winter storms.