May 12-16, 1997: The Snowy Week

Published: May. 13, 2016 at 4:33 PM EDT
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There may yet be some snow over parts of Upper before the weekend is out. This is not totally unprecedented. In fact, as early as 19 years ago, a good share of the U.P. was enduring at least some snow every day for the better part of a week.

After the snowiest winter recorded at the time, a warm spell in early April 1997 quickly whittled down the huge banks left by a record March snowstorm. Then the typical slow struggle to spring settled in; a generally disagreeable weather pattern dominated the rest of the month into early May, punctuated by a nice early spring day here and there. Then from May 9-16 it snowed six out of eight days in most sections of the western and central Upper Peninsula.

The big snow of this period hit the far west on the 12th. Ironwood collected a foot of snow, while Ontonagon measured 13.6 inches. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, straddling Gogebic and Ontonagon counties, accumulated even more: 16 inches at the park office. Workers who visited Summit Peak (1,950 feet) at the conclusion of the storm measured an astounding 36 inches! While the snow was wet and heavy at the office, typical of a late season fall, the summit snowfall was said to be as fluffy and dry as if it had fallen in January.

The last snow in the series began quickly during the afternoon of the 16th. A strong, clipper-like low-pressure system raced in from the northwest. At 4:00 eastern daylight time, moderate snow was reported at both the Houghton County and Marquette County airports. A quick 3.2 inches fell at the NWS in Negaunee Township, causing slippery roads, which resulted in a number of accidents. The snow disappeared just as quickly the next morning.

Warmer weather finally visited Upper Michigan the last half of May 1997. More moderate weather the last two weeks raised the average temperature at month’s end to 44.8 degrees, still a healthy 5.4 degrees below the long-term average. The NWS recorded its first official 70 degree day on May 23, 1997, one of the latest on record.

We’ve already had two “official” 70-degree days and one day in the 80s at the NWS. Now an unseasonably cold air mass is filtering into Upper Michigan. This looks like winter’s last gasp. After the cold slowly retreats early next week, it appears the pattern will shift to a trough out west. That could mean some almost summer-like air for us in a week or so.

Images: May snow one year ago; May 19, 2015 and European model upper-air forecast for next Friday showing a trough out west.

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