May 4, 1907: The Most Backward Spring

Published: May. 4, 2016 at 4:38 PM EDT
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You’ve seen me use the term “backward spring” several times over the years. The term refers to a spring season that reverts back to winter or at least won’t break out of a cold, wintry pattern. One of the best examples of a backward spring in Upper Michigan was in 1907. On May 3, 1907, Ironwood reached 17 degrees for a daily-record low. This marked the first of two nights in a row with temperatures in the teens.

Here’s the story of the spring of 1907:

The headline in the mid-May paper read “An Almost Unprecedented Backward Spring.” The story that followed gave details on how cold weather had affected farming and business across a large part of the nation during the spring of 1907. In Upper Michigan, this historically cold spring began with a snowstorm on April 7. Up to a foot of wet snow fell in many parts of the Keweenaw and in the hills west of Marquette. Trains were completely blocked around Houghton for the first time that winter.

Another storm “resumed hostilities” over the entire area on the 11th and still another dumped more snow about mid month. At that point, an old Copper Country resident declared, “I have been here since 1851, and I have never seen anything like this.”

While strong April sunshine depreciated the snow cover significantly the third week of the month, cold weather remained the rule. The high temperature in Marquette on the 25th struggled to only 28 degrees. Through the end of the month, highs in the 30s were common.

The cold weather slowed navigation. The first boat reached the dock at Marquette on April 27, the latest arrival in years. At the end of the month, some 200 vessels were reported stuck in ice at Whitefish Bay. One captain, who plowed his vessel through the bay, stated the ice “is not of the crumbly variety either, but good thick ice and it is being piled up at an astonishing rate by the wind.” On Big Portage in the Copper Country, ice was still more than a foot thick at the beginning of May, the thickest on record so late in the season.

Fishermen had a rough opener on May 1; the ground was too frozen to dig worms, “a necessity in trout fishing early in the season.” Farmers became discouraged early the second week of May. Snow one to three feet deep still drifted on some fields around Ishpeming. On May 17, farmers were “doing nothing” owing to the wetness of the fields. A farmer east of Negaunee claimed his timbered land was still covered with one to two feet of snow.

High temperatures in Marquette failed to get out of the 30s from May 12-15. After a brief warm spell where readings popped into the 50s, more cold, wet and even snowy weather greeted residents after the 20th. Snow fell across much of Upper Michigan on May 27. It melted rapidly, wrote a reporter in the Copper Country, because “the language used when the beautiful started to fall was sufficiently warm to melt more than snow.” The reporter went on to state that while there had been snowstorms this late in the Copper Country, the persistence of the “cold a record breaker in itself.”

April 1907 came in with an average temperature of 29.8 degrees, almost 8 degrees below the long-term average. May registered an astounding 39.8-degree average, more than 9 degrees below the standard for the month. Both April and May 1907 were, by far, the coldest of their respective months on record in Upper Michigan.

Ironically, just three years later one of the quickest starts to spring occurred with an unusually warm March similar to what happened here in 2012.