March 2012: A Most Extraordinary Month - 03/14/13
From time to time, I'm asked about the most extraordinary weather I've witnessed in nearly a quarter-century of weathercasting in West Michigan. Maybe a two-week stretch in January 1997, when slammed with 43" of snow? Perhaps the uber-cold December 1989, when minimum temperatures were below zero on seven mornings, four consecutively?
On the other side of the thermometer, maybe the intense heat wave of July 1995 (which left at least 600 dead in Chicago), when we had back to back days with a Heat Index above 120, and we had the highest minimum temperature ever recorded in West Michigan, an unbelievable and unbearable 82. When talking about unusually hot weather, who could forget last summer: an amazing 37 days with temps at or above 90, including four consecutive 100 days in early July? For the first two weeks in July, Kalamazoo had a higher average max temperature than Orlando, Florida!
How about torrential downpours? I remember more than 7" of rain falling in three days in Setpember, 2008. More than 11" of rain fell during that super-soggy month, creating flooding along West Michigan's major rivers. Or, maybe the heavy rain that fell the evening of June 20, 1997; it came down so hard and fast that basements crumbled under houses near Holland.
There have certainly been some wicked winds blowing through West Michigan over the years. For example, the "tornado-not-a-tornado" that passed through Schoolcraft, October 24, 2001, eventually heading through Portage, leveling trees in Augusta, and causing damage all the way to Lansing.
Then, there was the derecho of Memorial Day weekend, 1998. A line of very intense, severe thunderstorms raced out of Minnesota, traveling all the way to upstate New York in about 13 hours; the line crossed the Lower Peninsula in just two hours! The National Weather Service called the derecho the most powerful line of thunderstorms on the planet in 1998. That's impressive! I remember reporting live from Walker, just NE of Grand Rapids, for our evening newscast after the storms blew through. I was standing in front of a pharmacy/drug store that had sustained incredible damage; the cinder block walls of the facility had been knocked down, but amazingly, there were several shelves of product still standing, undisturbed.
I'm sure I missed numerous other, notable weather events, but these are a few that stick out in my mind. However, of all the extraordinary weather I've witnessed in the last 24 years at WWMT, at the top of the list is the nine-day long stretch of unseasonable warmth which was going on one year ago. On March 14, 2012, the high temperature reached 80 in both Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids; record highs for both cities, and the earliest day of the year that Grand Rapids has seen 80 in recorded history. For eight straight days following, highs were either in the 70s or 80s.
Here are some more highlights from that amazing stretch: nine consecutive days with record high temperatures (itself, a record); an average high temp of 83.5 between March 19-22, a four day stretch which included a max temp of 87 in Grand Rapids (85 in Kalamazoo), the all-time record high temperature for the month. Perhaps the most eye-popping of all the stats: the average high temperature in West Michigan for March was actually WARMER than the average high for the month of April. March 2012 had an average high of 61.0; the average high the following month was 60.0. The climatological (30 year) average high temps for the two months shows that April should be 12 degrees warmer than March. I don't think I'll ever see anything like that again!
Though the warm weather was appreciated by many in West Michigan, for fruit farmers, it spelled disaster. The spring-like conditions encouraged many fruit trees -- most notably, apples -- to begin budding. When freezing temperatures inevitably returned in April, the crops were devastated. State agriculture officials say ninety percent of the state's apple crop was lost, the biggest hit to production since the 1940s.