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Top 3 West Michigan weather stories of 2019

From an arctic freeze to wild waves on Lake Michigan, Mother Nature brought a lot of weather ups and downs to West Michigan in 2019. (WWMT/Randi Burns){p}{/p}{p}{/p}{p}{/p}
From an arctic freeze to wild waves on Lake Michigan, Mother Nature brought a lot of weather ups and downs to West Michigan in 2019. (WWMT/Randi Burns)

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When you think of West Michigan weather imagine a roller coaster of weather conditions, from extreme cold in the winters, to wet and humid summer days and 2019 featured many of those temperature and precipitation up and downs.

The top three weather stories from 2019 covered the impacts many faced as a result of that roller coaster weather.

Polar Vortex

At the start of the 2019, the polar vortex sent Arctic air down into the Midwest, bringing a stretch of subzero temperatures to West Michigan.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defined the polar vortex as a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding the North Pole and South Pole. The term vortex refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air close to the poles.

During winter in the Northern Hemisphere often the polar vortex becomes less stable and expands sending cold Arctic air southward over the United States with the jet stream.

High temperatures fell below zero during the last week of January and low temperatures set new daily records.

On Jan. 30, 2019, the low temperatures was minus 15 degrees, setting a new record. On the following day, Jan. 31, another record low was recorded at the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport. The record coldest low temperatures was minus 18 degrees, smashing the old record of minus 15 degrees set in 1899.

Not only were the temperatures bitterly-cold themselves, but wind chills made the temperatures feel even colder.

Wind chills recorded on Wednesday, Jan. 30, reached minus 40 degrees.

Many businesses closed and schools were canceled as a result of these record-breaking temperatures.

Some schools were closed for an entire week because of the cold and snow.

As a result of the cold temperatures, the following week an ice jam formed on the Grand River flooding portions of the city of Portland.

NOAA said ice jams are caused by melting snow and ice in the springtime. Warm temperatures and spring rains cause snow and ice to melt very rapidly. All the extra water causes frozen rivers and streams to swell up, and the layer of ice on top of the river begins to break up. The rushing river carries large chunks of ice downstream and sometimes a group of ice chunks get stuck in a narrow passage of the river.

On Feb. 6, 2019, about 50 residents were evacuated and sent to temporary shelters, according to Portland officials.

It felt as if the winter would never end, thanks to a late season snow in April 2019.

On Apr. 27, areas primarily south of Interstate 96 received over an inch of snow, which was unusual for early spring and many were ready for the spring weather to make its debut in West Michigan.

Record high lake levels

Following a very cold winter, a wet spring followed.

Warmer temperatures melted snow in the Midwest and above-normal amounts of rain added to the waterways and lakes for the end of spring and the start of summer.

As a result, some of the Great Lakes were expected to reach record levels over the summer.

In June 2019, Lake Michigan-Huron was 13 inches above 2018 levels and 30 inches above the long-term average level. While Lake Superior, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario all set record high water levels in June, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The high lake levels along the West Michigan lakeshore led to dangerous conditions for those visiting the beaches.

New statistics from the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project showed Lake Michigan drowning deaths were up compared to 2018.

Through July 31, 2019, there were 52 Great Lakes drownings, with 27 of those occurring in Lake Michigan, making 2019 a 80% increase through the start of August.

Along with the hazardous swimming conditions, lakeshore flooding and erosion caused problems for those living next to Lake Michigan.

High winds and rain sent water surging up the beaches and overflowed creeks into yards and up the steps of homes on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019.

Homeowners along the beaches in South Haven spent Friday, Nov. 1, cleaning up after overnight floodwaters left a big mess.

The very wet end to spring didn't affect just Lake Michigan, but inland lakes also saw an influx of water, which caused devastating flooding to local communities in West Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality confirmed in March 2019 they planned to issue a permit that would allow Texas Township pump water out of two flooded lakes that had damaged and threatened homes for more than a year.

At then end of May 2019, Texas Township began pumping water out of the flooded lakes into Bass lake. The plan was to lower Crooked Lake levels by more than two feet, and lower Eagle Lake levels by more than three feet during 18 months of pumping.

Early winter weather

One of the more recent stories of 2019 was early winter weather conditions.

The winter weather started on Halloween, a very unusual early snow fell as trick-or-treaters ran door to door across West Michigan.

Many hoped temperatures would warm up, but Mother Nature had other plans.

Nov. 1-15 was the coldest first half of November on record for Kalamazoo and third coldest on record for Grand Rapids.

Within the first two weeks, record low maximum and minimum temperatures were recorded along with a record snowfall event.

As lake-effect snow showers set up late Nov. 11, it prompted several Winter Storm Warnings for southwest Michigan.

Some areas in Van Buren County recorded more than 24 inches of snowfall. Atypical amounts for the middle of fall.

Kalamazoo looked to end the year about a foot above average in terms of precipitation, which takes into account both rain and liquid equivalent snow. It seems the ups and downs in temperatures will essentially cancel out, because the average annual temperature looks very close to the climate average, just slightly warmer.

While it's impossible to say exactly what 2020 will bring, we know Mother Nature will be sure to throw a few curve balls in the year to come.

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